Considering fleur de sel (French for flower of salt) is somewhat obscure, I had always planned to make a special trip for the flaky salt when I found time, perhaps to the Reading Terminal or a specialty cooking store. Who would have thought I would have stumbled upon a little tub of it when I was furniture shopping?
Discount stores like Marshalls and Home Good sell specialty food items mixed in with their cooking tools and kitchen appliances. Fine olive oils, flavored coffees, even fancy snacks grace the shelves for a fraction of the prices they are usually sold for; my belief is, as long as the expiration date isn’t a thing of the past, it’s a done deal. When my eyes spotted a container of fleur de sel for $2.99, I was a happy camper.
Since the salt is typically added as a finisher, I wanted to make something that looked and tasted equally elegant. This recipe for salty-sweet caramels can be summed up in one word: addictive.
Honey Vanilla Fleur de Sel Caramels
Adapted from Epicurious.com
1 cup heavy cream
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. Fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup honey
¼ cup water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Line an 8-inch square pan with buttered parchment. Boil cream, butter and salt, then remove from the heat. Boil sugar, honey and water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Keep boiling, but do not stir, until the mixture reaches a golden color (be patient!). Stir in cream mixture slowly and carefully (use caution: the mixture will bubble up like a volcano preparing to erupt). Add the vanilla. Continue stirring occasionally until the temperature reaches 248 degrees. Pour the mixture into the pan. After about 30 minutes, when the caramel has cooled somewhat but is still rather soft and sticky on the surface, sprinkle with Fleur de sel. Continue to cool, for another hour and a half, until the salt has set into the caramel and the caramel has firmed up. Remove caramel from the pan, peel off parchment and cut into squares.
On the grand scale of everything I have ever baked or cooked, this recipe is on the simple end with a taste that’s just the opposite. The concoction of melted butter, cream and salt adds the smooth and silky flavor that makes caramel so appealing. Something so straightforward as honey, sugar and water evolves into a golden, sweet, bubbling mixture with a grandiose flavor; from the first, immediate scent of these three cooking together comes a gentle, welcome reminder of the divine candies that will soon be at your fingertips.
The process of slowly combining the dairy mixture with the golden sugary liquid takes extreme care; it will feel just like the grade school science project of combining baking soda and vinegar, except extremely hot! From that point onward, the recipe becomes a test of your patience, as the temperature does not rise as quickly as one would expect, and the smell becomes almost too tempting to take. The liquid will deepen in color and thicken as it nears its final stages. In my opinion, it’s fairly easy to anticipate when the caramel mixture is ready by the scent, shade and texture alone, without a candy thermometer; however, it is better safe than sorry and you may want to invest in one if you haven’t already.
The final touch of adding the delicate flakes of salt adds contrasting flavor to the sweet caramel candies and certainly makes them appear slightly more elegant than Milk Duds or Caramel Creams. Another advantage, other than the incredible taste, is that the recipe makes several dozen small caramels (depending on how you cut them). The disadvantage: this recipe makes several dozen highly addictive caramels, making it almost impossible to share.