Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels Recipe and Stirring the Pot

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

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Do you have any “pot stirrers” in your life?  You know the type.  They’re the people who can never leave well enough alone: the ones who always find it necessary to try and create drama in any given situation, (which usually doesn’t even concern them), by saying or doing something that they know will start verbal fireworks among the others involved.  These crafty saboteurs lie in wait for the opportunity to “stir the pot” and thrive on the shitstorms they create.    And, they always act shocked at the carnage they leave in their wake.  Ah, yes, the pot stirrers!   I hate them!

For years, whenever confronted with a pot stirrer, I have tried to take the high road and give him or her the benefit of the doubt.  “Who knows?” I would tell myself, “Maybe they don’t realize what they are doing?”.    But the other day, as I stood at my stove making these caramels and thinking – I got mad.   You see, a few weeks ago, a pot stirrer that I’ve known for for a long, long time finally went too far and destroyed a new relationship that I valued very much.  Behind my back, she picked and prodded and flat out lied to my new friend and pretty much drove her off.  Now, I realize that this doesn’t say much for the character of the new friend.  She should have come to me directly.  But, new relationships are fragile.  They need time for trust to blossom and grow.  When someone else is piling manure on top of those blossoms, it’s hard not to get put off by the stink.

As I stirred my pot of caramel, I thought back over the years and realized that this wasn’t the first time this pot stirrer has caused problems for me.  She has tried to stir up trouble for me in almost every relationship that I have.  She’s subtle, but deadly.  I can’t have someone that toxic in my life.  So, she’s gone.   And, while I’ll miss the many good qualities she had, I won’t be sorry to see her petty, manipulative side go.  I’m breathing easier already.

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I always make homemade caramels when I am down in the dumps.  They’re one of my favorite “lick my wounds” foods.  By far the best caramel recipe that I’ve found is Alice Medrich’s version from her book, Pure Dessert.   Medrich’s recipe uses two ingredients in her recipe that make it unique:  golden syrup and ground vanilla beans.   Golden syrup is a thick, amber-colored form of inverted sugar syrup, which is a by product of evaporating sugar cane juice into sugar.  It has a color and thick, slow pouring texture similar to honey, but I find it a little sweeter and richer.  It has an almost  nutty flavor.   Most caramel recipes call for white corn syrup, which other than being sweet, doesn’t have much flavor.   Using golden syrup instead gives the caramels a deep, burnished color and much more intense, almost smoky, caramel flavor.

Ground vanilla beans are just that – vanilla beans that are ground into a powder.   You probably won’t find them at your local supermarket, but they are easy enough to find online.   You can certainly use vanilla extract instead of the ground beans, but the beans definitely add more of a musky, vanilla “oomph” to the caramels.

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To make the caramels, the first thing you have to do is combine the golden syrup, sugar and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and get it bubbling.  Please use a candy thermometer.  This is one time when you cannot judge by looks.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  Just trust me.

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While the syrup/sugar mixture is coming up to temperature, heat the cream and ground vanilla beans together until they just begin to simmer.   Then let it steep until you need it.

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When the syrup/sugar mixture reaches 305 F., it’s time to swirl in some butter and pour in the cream.  But, watch out!  When you add that cream the whole mixture will sputter and bubble up like Mt. Vesuvius with an attitude!  Pour the cream in very slowly, tilt your head back and wear oven mitts.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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Thar she blows!

Eventually things will simmer down a little, and your caramel mixture will gurgle contentedly until it reaches between 260 F. and 265 F.   It will take a while.     This is not the time, however, to do a load of laundry, paint your nails or walk the dog.  You need to stir, stir, stir.  And, don’t turn your back for a minute.  That lovely, bronzy, molten goodness can turn on you just like that!   {{{snaps fingers}}}   And then, there will nothing left for you to do but throw it away.

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When your caramel reaches the desired temperature, quickly and carefully pour it into a foil-lined baking pan.  Then, wait.  And, wait.  And, wait some more.  It will take several hours for the caramels to firm up enough to cut.   Try to keep them in a cool, dry place, especially if you live in a humid climate, like me.  I turn the a/c way down low whenever I make these.  We freeze our butts off, but it’s worth it.

Once the caramels are firm and cool, you can cut them into bite-sized pieces.  I use a long, heavy knife, coated with a little vegetable oil for this.  The oil helps you get nice, clean cuts.

I also like to sprinkle a few flakes of fleur de sel on top of my caramels, comme les Français.

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Oh, baby!

Do these look fabulous or what!  No one could possibly feel depressed with a stash of these beauties in the house.   I can feel my spirits lifting already.   In fact, I’m practically weightless!

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This is the only kind of pot stirring I’m interested in!

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36 responses to Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels Recipe and Stirring the Pot

  1. On April 06, 2011 at 8:44pm, Shelby said...

    Oh those caramels do look fab!

    I can totally relate….however, most of the pot stirrers in my life are out of my life now. It also helps that we moved away from home to a new area where we haven’t had a lot of interaction with anyone yet….so I haven’t met any new pot-stirrers! I’m glad you decided to clean up and get rid of her! Kind of sounds to me like she is jealous of you….usually that is the case….someone is not happy with themselves, see what they want to be in someone else, so they have to make your life miserable as they can just to make themselves feel better because they AREN’T you!

  2. On April 06, 2011 at 8:45pm, Shelby said...

    P.S. Susan, I LOVE YOU! ;) I may not comment often but I do come here and read your posts and I LOVE your blog!

  3. On April 06, 2011 at 8:49pm, Susan said...

    Thank you, Shelby! Likewise! :D

  4. On April 06, 2011 at 8:59pm, Aly ~ Cooking In Stilettos said...

    Ugh – detest the pot-stirrer because, of course, when the crap flies, they high-tail it out so they don’t have to deal with the fallout. I have dealt with one for over 20 years and I’m NOT looking forward to seeing her this weekend at a mutual friend’s 40th. I’m so sorry that you lost a new friendship Susan but, I do have to say, it will be HER loss, not yours because you are amazing! And I’m glad you got rid of the toxicity because you don’t need to have to deal with it at all.

    The caramels look phenomenal. I never thought of using Golden Syrup for them. I picked up a jar of it for a Nigella recipe so it’s good to see I can try this recipe as well :) Your pictures, as always, are phenomenal – such beautiful work!

    • On April 07, 2011 at 8:29am, Susan said...

      Thanks, Aly! You’re a doll! Good luck this weekend with your pot stirrer.

      Definitely try the caramels with the golden syrup. They are soooo good!

  5. On April 06, 2011 at 10:27pm, Stephanie S said...

    I think everyone has/had a pot-stirrer in their life. Mine is unfortunately a relative and while it would be lovely to remove the drama, it would only make things that much worse in the long run. But thanks for the new comfort recipe :)

    • On April 07, 2011 at 8:31am, Susan said...

      Oh, yes. I have those too. I’m working on them next! ;)

  6. On April 06, 2011 at 10:48pm, Stephanie said...

    This looks like a fabulous recipe!! I’ve had caramels on my list forever but I keep putting them off because I almost always burn caramel sauce the first time round, then the second batch is great.

    • On April 07, 2011 at 8:34am, Susan said...

      I’ve burned my share as well. But, it’s so worth it when they turn out well! :)

  7. On April 06, 2011 at 10:57pm, magali said...

    Hi, I love your blog, that´s the reason why I left an award for you, I hope you can come and visit, thanks for sharing your great recipes.
    Magali

  8. On April 07, 2011 at 12:56am, Marie said...

    Life is too short to deal with toxic people. Too bad, their loss, no caramels for them!

    • On April 07, 2011 at 8:35am, Susan said...

      Lol! :D

  9. On April 07, 2011 at 1:36am, Rosa said...

    What beautiful caramels! An addictive treat.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  10. On April 07, 2011 at 7:48am, Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes) said...

    Ugh! I hate pot stirrers too. They seem to derive some weird pleasure from creating drama. The caramels look awesome :D

  11. On April 07, 2011 at 9:41am, jen @ one curly fry said...

    Wow, these caramels look wonderful! I’d be afraid to have that many caramel squares in my possession :)

  12. On April 07, 2011 at 10:52am, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    I would not be weightless if you made these because I would eat them all in a heartbeat.

    So sorry you had to go through that *HUGS*. You so do not deserve anyone stirring up your pot! Glad you’re getting rid of the toxic people in your life. Go be with people who appreciate you the way you deserve.

    I have a pot-stirrer in my family who is basically taking all of the fun out of dysfunctional. Unfortunately, there isn’t much I can do about it!

  13. On April 07, 2011 at 2:35pm, Shirley @ gfe said...

    Pot stirrers and energy vampires are closely related. There’s no time for either in a full, wonderful life and that’s what you have, Susan. Bravo for you! :-) But don’t give up on stirring the pot yourself … at least when these caramels are bubbling in it. ;-) They look sensational, dear!

    Shirley

  14. On April 07, 2011 at 4:28pm, Phyllis Kirigin said...

    OMG. I think you have outdone yourself. These are truly a must try. Are vanilla beans dry enough to crumble in a spice mill?

  15. On April 07, 2011 at 6:40pm, Lori said...

    Love your blog and today’s message and recipe are especially sweet. I’m forwarding it to a lovely friend who’s dealing with a pot-stirrer right now.

  16. On April 07, 2011 at 7:38pm, Joan Nova said...

    I think when you reach a certain age you realize there’s no reason to continue toxic relationships. I, too, have recently ended ‘friendships’ with a couple of pot stirrers. I bet you do feel better now that you vented and had a few caramels.

  17. On April 08, 2011 at 4:17pm, The Food Hunter said...

    I’ve had a few “pot stirers” in my life too through the years…It’s never easy but it’s best to move on. I just wish I would’ve thought to make salted caramels at the time. :-)

  18. On April 08, 2011 at 9:27pm, Donna Karl said...

    I have known (and know) a few “pot stirrers”. It is best to stay far, far away from them. One almost ruined my relationship with my daughter, her new husband and my precious grandbabies.
    But the caramels, those are worth stirring the pot for!

  19. On April 09, 2011 at 1:00pm, Foodiewife said...

    I had a pot stirrer like that in my life. I miss the good times, but I finally realized that we have different values. I got tired of removing knives from my back. As far as this pot, I was drooling the whole time. Caramel is my drug of choice. I’d be one very happy camper if I had a batch of these. They look wickedly good.

  20. On April 09, 2011 at 1:12pm, Helen in CA said...

    Oh my gosh I’m going to have to go hunt down some golden syrup and try these. I love caramel even more than I love chocolate!

    As for the “pot-stirrers” Count yourself lucky when you can cut them out of your life with minimal damage. I have one that I work with and he thrives on the chaos he causes.

  21. On April 09, 2011 at 5:44pm, Suzanne said...

    I love caramels! These looks truly divine. If I started eating one, I don’t think I could stop eating the rest!

  22. On April 10, 2011 at 9:42pm, Arielle Newcomb said...

    Those caramels look great! Does this recipe result in a chewier-caramel? My mother has a recipe for “Rahmtafeli,” which are essentially caramels made from whipping cream or condensed milk, butter and sugar which are amazing, but they have a drier/harder texture, depending on how long you cook them for, how much butter you add, etc.

    As for pot stirrers… I know exactly what you mean, and it’s definitely true. The ones who stir up the pot for their own enjoyment are simply people you don’t want around. I can see why caramels were the result of such a situation. Hang in there!!

  23. On April 11, 2011 at 12:15pm, Lucy said...

    I definitely know a few pot stirrers – people who enjoy meddling in other people’s friendships! You clearly made the right decision with this person – your caramels look divine.

  24. On April 11, 2011 at 3:28pm, Mrs. Meg C said...

    I’m so happy for you that you managed to remove such a toxic person from your life! I don’t comment often, but you mentioned in the comments that you’re working on dealing with those pot-stirrers you are related to. And I have to say if you or anyone you know figures out how to deal with them I’m sure there are a whole lot of your readers that would like some advice.

    I work with a relative who’s a pot-stirrer. I’m desperately trying to find a way to get out of THAT sticky situation!

  25. On April 15, 2011 at 12:58pm, Kelly said...

    The caramels are amazing (I could never be that focused when I’m upset!) but it’s that word you used I’m in awe of. Shitstorm. I am adopting it and using it to describe the negative energy my mother stirs up between her two daughters. It’s perfect. When I’m in the middle of one of them, it’s why I have to go out and dig, or haul away debris. Shitstor, YES!

  26. On April 20, 2011 at 10:29pm, Secret Diamond said...

    I am a sweets-aholic. They look absolutely scrumtous!

  27. On April 30, 2011 at 7:44am, Tara Booth said...

    I’m in the middle of trying this recipe-305F made my sugar/syrup turn black. Are you sure it’s supposed to be 305F not 205F??

    Thanks Tara

    • On April 30, 2011 at 10:25am, Susan said...

      I’m sorry that you’re having trouble with this! Yes, it is definitely supposed to be 305F. Are you using a candy thermometer? Have you checked to make sure it is accurate? This happened to me once too, and the culprit was a faulty thermometer. I had used a fancy schmancy digital candy thermometer and it was way off. When I tried the recipe again using the old fashioned kind, it worked fine – and has ever since. But, even those can become inaccurate over time.

      You must also watch the caramel like a hawk. It only takes a second for it to go from just right to burnt! When it turns a deep amber color, it is probably ready regardless of what the thermometer says. And, make sure not to keep the burner heat too high. This can also make the bottom burn before the rest of the caramel is ready.

      Hope this helps! :)

      • On April 30, 2011 at 11:06am, Tara Booth said...

        Turns out it was my (brand new!) thermometer. I kept an eye on it and whipped it of before it started to burn. I over did the second stage (the boil with cream etc added) and ended up with delicious dark caramel brittle! Oh well! I did learn something today and the end results are still yummy!
        Thanks and I’ll definitely try it again….with a new thermometer!

  28. On October 19, 2011 at 8:52pm, Abbarina said...

    Hi Susan,
    I came across your blog as I was looking up caramel and stirring. Your caramels look amazing! I just made caramels for the first time last week in a product that has automated stirring and it worked excellently! It took the mundane chore out of the stirring by hand, and the results were really yummy, smooth caramel. (I’m sending some in with my kids tomorrow for their teachers!)
    Anyway, in case you’re interested in looking at it, it is by KitchenStir. It does a lot more than caramel…but for the caramel making alone, it is worth it!

  29. On November 23, 2011 at 8:47am, jennifer said...

    The first time I made this reciepe, not sure what happened, the caramel sort of seized up.. it became grainy once i added the cream slowly and bits a time. bits of grainy just wouldn’t melt regardless of how much i keep stiring it. Any tips of preventing it from seizing up? I really want to make it again..

    Thanks

  30. On December 14, 2012 at 1:03pm, Aly ~ Cooking In Stilettos said...

    I stocked up on a bit of golden syrup for holiday baking (and I’ve been buying *a few* cookbooks from the UK lately and you know how much golden syrup is adored across the pond). I am going to have to try this.

    I totally agree with you re: pot stirrers – there are a few in my life and I keep them at a distance (and the really toxic ones got the stiletto some time ago). Kudos to you for breaking the ties.

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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