Remember when I shared that my Bonus One had sent me a box of delicious beer caramels. Unusual, and really sort of interesting... very tasty actually. I make a pretty good caramel from an old recipe, and I thought I could adjust it a bit, use some beer in it, maybe something dark and yummy... and make my own beer caramels.
Sometimes I think things I really shouldn't.
I'm three versions in... two have failed miserably. Miserably.
First I took my original recipe and just substituted beer for cream. Nope... doesn't work, it lacks that creamy goodness of the caramel and sorta seems "empty" somehow, it lacks substance, the texture isn't "just right". Next, I thought I'd reduce the beer until the flavor was very concentrated, and just substitute it for a portion of the cream. Still didn't translate well, and I really can't say why. The beer flavor just wasn't there, maybe it was too washed out by all that cream even if it was concentrated.
And now, here we are at my third attempt. This looks promising, so I thought I'd share.
Here in Kentucky we like our bourbon...there's something about the limestone in this area that makes our special spirit extra special. Bourbon is aged in oak barrels. We now have a beer, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, that is aged for about 6 weeks in those barrels after the bourbon is removed. Truthfully, it's a little weird, sorta beer, sorta bourbon, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. That same company is now making a stout that is aged in those barrels too.
Bourbon, beer... caramels.... hmmmm... somehow, in my mind, this combination could work. (We all know how my mind tends to wander to strange places...)
But still... how do I get the creaminess of the cream in the caramels AND the flavor of the beer and bourbon AND get the texture right?
I started with 2 cups of sugar, one cup white, one cup brown. I toyed with adding a bit of sorghum rather than the brown sugar, but, honestly, it just seemed easier to not have to drag out the jar of sorghum. My original recipe calls for half a cup of butter... but what if I add a whole cup, maybe that would make up for some of the cream, help achieve the correct texture? Seems worth a shot. I added about half a cup of corn syrup, and a bottle of the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout. And I turned the burner on, and while the mixture was warming I filled a coffee cup with half and half, not real precise I know, but it's close enough, and I line a 9" x 13" pan with foil, then spray a little oil on said foil.
First off, let me say... I should have let the beer go flat. Would have been far less bubbles that way. As the mixture began to cook down and get thick I inserted a candy thermometer into the bubbling goo. The higher the temperature goes on the candy thermometer, the lower my heat goes under my pan. It's a slow process folks. By the time the caramel temp hits 230 degrees I have my heat on very low. I'm also stirring constantly once it reaches that stage because it will burn... fast.
Important note here, just in case you guys decide you want to try making these... this stuff is HOT. Hot, hot, HOT. Not only is it hot, if it gets on you, you cannot get it off. It sticks to your skin and will burn you in ways you didn't even realize you could be burnt, so be careful while you stir, go slow and steady not brisk and strong.
I'm not sure how these will taste, but my kitchen smells wonderful, all yeasty and sweet... mmmmmm.
When the mixture hits about 230 degrees I start dripping the half and half into it, SLOWLY, stirring with every drop. I want to add it all, but do it so slowly that the temperature of the mix doesn't lower too much. Once it's all in, the mixture cooks until about 245 degrees. Between the soft ball and hard ball stages.
CAREFULLY I pour that hot bubbling mixture into the greased and foil lined cake pan. Look at how shiny that is... it's a good sign. I sprinkle a bit of kosher salt on the top of it, and then add crushed pretzels. No matter how tempting it is to push those pretzels into that mix... don't. You might get your fingertips blistered... don't ask me how I know.
Now comes the difficult part. This stuff has to cool pretty much over night. You really shouldn't cut it until it is completely cold. Then comes the boring part... you should wrap the caramels in waxed paper. But, after all of that comes the fun part... eating them.
So, how did they really turn out? Well, on a rating scale, comparing them to the original caramels that I like so much... these are very good. The texture is not the same, but it's close, and considering the base of these are beer rather than cream, it's not too far off. The flavor is good, not as beer-like as I had wanted, but that may develop more over a day or two. The pretzels, while seriously messy to cut, are the perfect compliment, a little salty, a little crunch in comparison to the creamy and sweet caramel.
Could I tweak the recipe a bit more... you know, I would like a more concentrated beer flavor, but if that doesn't ever happen, I can live with these just fine... they are pretty darn good.
Well, maybe really darn good... yeah, I'm happy... I guess the third time really is the charm...