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Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels Recipe and Stirring the Pot

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.

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 [1].   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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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