Hey! I have yet another salty-sweet combo for you today. This time in the form of nutty, chewy, caramels.
I pretty much make a batch of these caramels every year–with or without nuts–for certain friends and family members around the holidays. These caramels ship well AND can be made several days in advance AND you won’t even have to rush the shipping…plus, they won’t get damaged by rough handling. I love a treat that doesn’t cause me stress when it comes to shipping and sharing.
These walnut caramels start out by cooking sugar with a bit of water and some syrup (golden, corn, and honey all work nicely). The syrup helps the sugar from re-crystalizing and keeps the caramel smooth and free of gritty granules. Once the sugar becomes deeply golden–as dark as you dare, I shoot for a rich bourbon/whisky color–warm cream, butter, vanilla, and sea salt are added. There’s a lot of hissing and steaming and fuss at this point, but everything mellows out and comes together. The caramel is then cooked a little longer until it comes to temperature–key for a set caramel–it’s then mixed with plenty of toasty walnuts, scraped into a pan, and liberally sprinkled with black salt. The caramels are chewy, nutty, crunchy, and salty-sweet. I think they are really pretty wrapped in gold candy foils–like little gold nuggets–but parchment or wax paper is nice, too.
Walnut Caramels with Hawaiian Black Salt
adapted from this recipe
I love the black salt on these because it’s super -dark color makes for a dramatic piece of candy, but don’t feel like you have to go out and hunt for fancy salts. I have a variety of salts on hand, mainly because whenever I travel (or friends/fam travel) my favorite souvenirs are edibles–specifically specialty/locally harvested salts and honeys. Every time I use one of my fancy salts, I remember the trip or the people or the place–it’s a nice, edible reminder. This black salt–also called Hawaiian Black Lava Salt–was a gift from one of my brothers-in-law. It’s dramatically black, a bit mineral-y, and super crunchy–which is a great contrast with the sweet and chewy caramel.
1 1/4 cups granualated sugar
1/4 cup golden or corn syrup, or honey (honey will impart a distinct flavor)
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (a touch less if using table or kosher) plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 generous cup toasted walnut pieces (I like halves and large pieces)
Prepare a standard loaf pan by lining with parchment, leaving an overhang on the two long sides, securing parchment with binder clips, and spraying the parchment and pan lightly with canola oil.
In a small sauce pan, gently heat the heavy cream, butter, salt, and vanilla. Bring to a bare simmer and remove from heat, set aside.
In a heavy bottomed, medium saucepan gently mix sugar, syrup, and water until everything is well moistened. Heat the sugar mixture over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and a clear syrup forms. At this point, it is important to not stir the sugar syrup–or it will re-crystalize and you will have to start over…if you must, you can swirl the pan, but mostly leave it alone. Continue to cook the sugar syrup, without stirring, until it becomes deep golden brown–it will start off a light honey color, but try to take it to a whiskey colored golden-brown. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat and add the cream/butter mixture and stir to combine well. The caramel will hiss and steam violently–I recommend using a long wooden spoon and covering your stirring hand with an oven mitt.
Clip on your candy thermometer and continue to cook the caramel over medium heat, without stirring, until the thermometer reads 260*F (I found that at higher elevations, above 4,000 ft, the caramel becomes too hard–when I lived in Nevada, I always cooked to about 250-255*F). Remove the caramel from the heat, quickly stir in the nuts, and scrape into the prepared pan. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before sprinkling with salt–this keeps the salt from sinking into the caramel, but still allows it to stick nicely to the top. Allow caramels to cool before cutting into squares and wrapping. Can be stored in an airtight container for 2 weeks.