chocolate espresso caramels
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant espresso or espresso powder
1-1/8 cups sugar
5/8 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
Line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper. If you don’t have one, a 9″ square will work, but the caramels will be a bit flatter. There’s no need to oil the parchment as the caramels shouldn’t stick. Set aside.
Combine the cream, vanilla extract, and espresso powder in a medium-sized saucepan and heat until scalding. Remove from the heat, add the chopped chocolate and allow to sit for a minute. Stir the chocolate until it has completely melted and the mixture is smooth, and then set aside (you’ve essentially made a ganache here).
Choose a large (3 to 4 quart) heavy-weight saucepan to cook your caramel in – it needs to be large enough to accommodate the bubbling up that will happen (it will bubble up a lot), but deep is better than wide so your thermometer will be covered by enough volume to register an accurate temperature (most digital thermometers have a guideline indicating minimum depth).
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in this large saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar has melted. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Using a pastry brush and some cold water, brush down the sides of the pot to ensure any sugar crystals that may be clinging to the edge are melted. Alternately, you could put the lid on the pot and let it boil for a couple minutes covered – the steam that builds up under the lid will also melt away the sugar crystals. Do not stir the sugar at this point. Stirring may cause recrystallization. Instead, just gently swirl the pan a few times.
Continue to cook the sugar until it’s amber coloured and it begins to give off a bit of smoke – the bubbles should have reduced in size by this point too. Remove the pot from the burner and allow to sit and continue to caramelize off-heat until desired level of caramelization is reached. A lighter colour will give you a sweeter caramel, while a darker colour will give you a more bitter caramel. It’s totally a matter of taste (I cooked mine to about the colour of a shiny penny).
Once you’re happy with the colour, pour the cream mixture into the sugar and add your thermometer to the pot. Bring to a boil and add the butter.
Continue cooking over high heat, whisking constantly until it reaches 248°F. Normally I’ll cook my caramels to a slightly higher temperature because the humidity is usually quite high in Vancouver, but 248°F worked perfectly for me.
Once it reaches temperature, you need to work quickly as the temperature will continue to rise.
Remove from the heat and stir in the salt. Pour the mixture into your pan – carefully, it’s very hot. Don’t scrape the bottom or sides of the pot in case there are some hard bits (I scraped this stuff off onto a separate piece of parchment for myself).
Allow to sit for at least a couple hours, preferably overnight. If you like, you can sprinkle a bit of fleur de sel on top of the caramel after it’s cooled for 5 or 10 minutes (if you do it too soon, it will just melt into the caramel, but if you wait too long, it won’t stick).