I have friends on Facebook who are ready to kill me for not having posted this recipe yet. I teased them with status updates and photos of the caramels, but neglected to give them a tangible means to tasting these for themselves. For this, Jamie et al, I apologize.
Salted Pomegranate Caramels were all about experimentation for me, because:
1) On October 30th, Greg and I went to a French Pastry School Experience in Chicago. We were taken on a tour and given a demonstration by two awesome chefs, who showed us how to make madeleines, caramel-filled chocolates, mango sorbet, and tuiles. This was totally amazing to watch, and the chefs (Chef Kristen Ryan and world baking champion, Chef Pierre Zimmermann) were funny, easily understood, and wonderfully receptive to questions. Even when they were not explicitly giving tips (which was often), they were unconsciously doing so by method. For instance, when filling a pastry bag, they set it in a plastic cup and folded the flaps over the rim of the cup. This freed up both hands to fill the pastry bag. I've never heard of this method (please see my chouxstaster), but I was floored. DUH. So simple! I was also wowed by the method for making caramel. Again, it was so simple: Just be patient. Anyway, I walked away inspired to branch out.
2) I was chosen as one of 100 entrants for a POM Party held between 8/8-8/14. This meant that I was sent 2 cases of fresh pomegranates (roughly 24-32?), a lot of coupons for bottles of POM juice, and a whole bunch of free swag. With that many pomegranates and juice at my disposal, I felt the need to do something unique and awesome. I bought a new digital thermometer and decided to bust it out on caramels....POMEGRANATE caramels. I decided to make these a prize for a contest winner at my POM Party.
I used a recipe for salted caramels (usually chocolate covered, but I wasn't feeling that brave yet), but subbed out the honey for pomegranate molasses. You can (allegedly) find bottled pomegranate molasses in specialty stores--but we all know I was not going to find that in Champaign, IL. So, using my one of my free POM juice coupons, I made my own. The pomegranate molasses recipe follows the caramel recipe.
Salted Pomegranate Caramels (modified from a NY Times recipe)
-1 1/3 cups heavy cream
-2 cups sugar
-1/2 cup light corn syrup
-1/3 cup pomegranate molasses (recipe below)
-6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
-1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
-3 teaspoons fleur de sel or sea salt
1. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil that extends over the sides. Grease the foil with vegetable oil. In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Add the sugar, corn syrup and pomegranate molasses and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 257 degrees on a candy thermometer, 15 to 30 minutes.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and, with oven mitts on, stir in the butter, vanilla and 1-2 teaspoons salt (**I think I used 1 or 1 1/2, because I was nervous about saltiness**). Pour into the prepared pan and let cool. After slightly cooled, sprinkle with the remaining salt.
3. When completely cool, coat a cutting board and the blade of a large chef’s knife with vegetable oil. Invert the caramel onto the cutting board; peel off the foil and invert again. Cut the caramel into 8 1-inch-wide strips; then cut each strip into 1/2-inch pieces.
Pomegranate Molasses (from Alton Brown)
-4 cups pomegranate juice (**I used POM Cherry juice for these caramels, because the store was out of normal POM juice. I LOVED the result and suggest you give it a shot!**)
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook (simmer rapidly) until the mixture has reduced to 1 cup, approximately 70 minutes. It should be the consistency of thick syrup.
2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Verdict: I am deeply ambivalent about these caramels. On one hand, they are amazingly delicious. They're complex in flavor--fruity and caramely and salty all at once. Everyone who has tasted them closes their eyes and goes, "Ohhhhh.....glrbabbrwllll..." On the other hand, they are juuuuuust this much too soft. I don't know if homemade caramels are usually really soft, but these are. They need to be refrigerated pretty much up until the moment of eating them, and even then, they're soft. I am positive this is my fault for using pomegranate molasses instead of honey, as I otherwise followed the recipe to a tee. However, if you can deal with ooey gooey caramels instead of firm caramels, then you should definitely make this recipe. It's worth it! If anyone has ideas on how to firm these up in the future, please enlighten me!
Also, I just have to say: Patience IS, in fact, the key to making caramel. Patience and a digital thermometer (it's just more accurate). If you're making your caramel over a reasonable medium-low heat, it will take quite some time to get to 257 degrees. Do not get impatient and crank up the heat, because it could burn and all of your hard work will go directly out the window (or into the sink, as the case would be). The heat will inch up about 1-2 degrees every minute or two. So slow, but so worth it.