One of the parents at H’s school kindly gave me some caramels for Christmas and reignited my love affair with the bite-sized sticky goodness. I searched Google (of course) and came across the most incredible combination I have ever seen.
Gross, you say? I was willing to take the chance. I love caramels. Plus I had the brainstorm that I could send them to my brother-in-law, The Bacon Man. This is a man whose first date with the woman who would become his wife included bacon wrapped hotdogs. I was pretty sure he was going to like them.
So, I began by candying my 9 pieces of bacon. An unusual process of coating center-cut bacon liberally with chipotle powder, a dash of cayenne pepper, a pinch of kosher salt, and a generous amount of raw sugar and then baking it in the oven. Half way through I flipped the bacon and coated the other side with the seasonings and sugar and finished the baking process.
I felt the need to follow a sort of scientific method in this and test the bacon before I started the caramel process. It was SPICY! Even Mark (a man who over came his Midwestern upbringing and once won a hot pepper eating contest by eating an entire habenero pepper) thought that this bacon packed some heat. I was a little nervous, but hopeful that quantity of sweet caramels would tame the spicy somewhat.
Time to make the caramels and put that to the test!
The most exciting part of candy making is boiling the sugar. This combo is sugar and corn syrup. And the cool thing is you just let it go until it starts to turn amber and then you start measuring temperatures. I highly recommend an instant read thermometer so you get a temp reading fast and you don’t burn the caramel. Because if you burn the caramel the only thing to do is cry, toss it, and start over. I also highly recommend you don’t drop your instant read thermometer into the sugar. It comes out looking like a prehistoric bug covered in amber.
A less exciting, but still really important part of this is the cream mixture. It makes the caramels, well, creamy. And this is where you use salted butter and put in a pinch of sea salt if you want a salted caramel flavor. Also, keeping it warm will help the sugar not splatter so much when you add it to the hot sugar.
When you stir it together it gets all creamy and gooey and glossy and luscious. And then you stir in half of the bacon (chopped) and then the rest over the top of the caramel when you pour it into the loaf pan.
And when she says to have your loaf pan ready before you begin to cook the sugar she is NOT KIDDING. One you start cooking the sugar and cream mixtures you are effectively chained to the stove. I also struggled with the size she meant. Did she really mean a bread loaf pan? Can you get 72 caramels out a standard bread loaf pan? Maybe she meant an 8×8 pan? But, no. She really means a bread loaf pan.
And here’s what they look like all cut up.
I don’t recommend eating them all in one sitting. The spice does come through, but it was not as hot as the bacon alone. It was savory and sweet and rich. I felt really satisfied after 2 or 3. And if you’re not going to eating them all at one time you’re going to need to wrap each piece in wax paper.
It wasn’t as tedious or mind numbing as I thought. Mostly because I listened to an Amelia Peabody mystery while I wrapped them. (I love those mysteries and Barbara Rosenblatt is an amazing narrator. She gets all the voices just right.)
The recipe did make 70 caramels and the container was almost full when I was done wrapping. I keep them stored in the fridge and when I want one (or three) I take what I want out of the fridge and let them warm on the counter. I suppose we could also pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds to soften them. Otherwise they are more like toffees than caramels. (But they taste just as good!)
And they are delightful with a nice cup of tea!