It took a little while to earn Adrian’s trust, such that he would let me make the caramels. We served them as a dessert amuse bouche at Providence in L.A. and he was endlessly concerned that I’d burn, crystallize, or de-fame these highly anticipated, yet small details of the culinary parade we served with two-Michelin stars behind us. I suppose he had a point – even now, sitting 3000 miles away from the restaurant on a bluff above a fishing village, somewhere in Southwest Nicaragua, and having just given out my last homemade caramel to our surfing guide, Eddie, I know Adrian’s wisdom to be true – great caramels make friends for life, and shoddy ones…well…certainly don’t.
The ingredients for caramel are as straight forward as the smile that indicates your confection is being enjoyed to the upmost; butter, cream, syrup, and sugar – the ratios change depending on whether you want a caramel sauce or a caramel candy. The technique and recipes are straightforward as well, but don’t take this to mean mindless or simple. Like all confections, diligent attention to detail must be taken, and a strict adherence to “the rules;” use clean (read spotless and crumb-free) equipment, take the mixture to temperature, and watch watch watch.
Because corn syrup is not my favorite invert sugar, I employ Golden or rice syrup in this modification of the original recipe. If using one of these darker syrups, you’ll need to be a extra vigilant and stir it as it’s cooking, since it can cook quickly in certain spots of the pan and it is trickier to see the developing color than if you were using corn or glucose syrup (though these would work, in the same proportion, as we did at Providence.)
Though we strictly adhered to the unsalted butter rule, I indulge in salted cultured butter here which renders an unmatched flavor. If you only have unsalted butter, just add a few extra flecks of salt to the cream. I also love to scrape A couple of vanilla beans and add them to the mix after you take the mixture to 260 degrees for a little rich kick.