Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have made several batches of homemade caramels, and they have all turned out the same - soft around the edge of the 9x13 pan I use to cool them and hard as a rock in the center of the pan. Seriously, the caramels at the sides are soft and chewy, but the ones in the center are so hard that if they're bent at all, they crack (with a cracking noise).

I have noted that the part that is hard is also the part over the area on that pan where the caramels are first poured out. Coupled with this, the top of the entire pan of caramels is slightly crunchy. There is no discernible grain to them and they look and taste like they should (except for the center caramels, which is like a really grainy toffee). Of course, the recipe is from my mom, who manages to make them without any problems -sigh-

Anyone have any ideas about what I'm doing wrong?? Thanks for your help!

Here's the recipe I use: (I do not deviate from this, at all)

  • 2 c. superfine sugar
  • 3/4 c. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 2 c. whipping cream

Boil all ingredients except for 1 c. of cream over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining cream. Reduce heat and stir occasionally, until candy reaches 240°. Take off heat, stir well, and pour into buttered pan. Cool completely before cutting.

share|improve this question

3 Answers 3

The higher the temperature, the harder the caramel. That is basically the whole story. So I think what is happening to you is that the caramel in the middle is still going up in temperature due to residual heat, while the stuff at the sides cools down quickly because it can vent heat through the pan to the outside world. Have you checked the calibration on your thermometer? In any case, I think the things you can try are (1) cook to a slightly lower final temperature (back down a couple degrees at a time) and (2) set the pan over a tray of ice to cool it more evenly. Also, be sure to do a really good job of that final stir before pouring into the tray.

share|improve this answer
    
I think that proper cooling is the key; most "sensitive" items I bake have to be cooled in an ice-water bath in order to set properly. Ambient and surfaces temperatures as well as oven hot spots would also help to explain the difference in results between two people following the same recipe (a difference which rapid cooling would probably eliminate). –  Aaronut Dec 8 '10 at 2:15

I would think if an area of the product is harder than the rest then it will be due to cooling issues.

If the external areas are softer, then it should be the case that they did not reach as high a temperature as the centre or have cooled at a different rate. Central bottom areas of the pan are liable to cool more slowly, as they have are insulated by the other material and have less ability to diffuse the heat. Perhaps putting the pan on something heat conductive, to draw away heat underneath may help.

The other major issue is the cooking itself. If your pan is too wide, or too thin based (it needs to be thick, or the heat will not be even), then it is normal to have widely different heats within the pan. Some areas may be much hotter than others. Make sure your sugar thermometer is accurate (you can do that roughly by placing it in rapidly boiling water and ensuring the temperature is about 100C), and ensure that it is reasonably deep in to the mixture.

Points to examine:

  • Are you checking your temperatures right up to the moment you take them off the heat?
  • Are you arresting the heating process, via cold water submersion of the pan or other method?
  • Are you over/under stirring, particularly near the end (have you watched your mum make these?)
  • Is the pan you use very differ to that which your mum uses? (As this will effect cooling rates, particularly if the dimensions are different which effects the depth or surface area - the base thickness is very important).
  • Where does she cool hers?
  • Is your thermometer accurate?

If it makes you feel any better. Chewy caramels are really hard in my opinion, the recipe is simple, but experience counts for a lot. I totally burnt a few batches initially when trying to cook them.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for the tips! I'm going to try the ice bath and see what happens. –  Kate Dec 8 '10 at 3:51

As others have said, temperature is the key to the firmness of caramels, but not to the texture of caramels. You mentioned the inside is grainy. If that's the case, you might be getting incorrectly crystalized sugar in the center of the pan. One of the tricks to making caramels is to never scrape the pan. Let as much of the caramel flow out of the pan as possible, but don't scrape down the sides into the cooling dish. If you do, part of the caramel will turn grainy in about a day.

As far as temperature, forgot the thermometer. Temperatures vary by your altitude and the exact ingredients you are using among other things. Unless the recipe was written by someone who lived in the same house, used the same pans, and bought the same brands of ingredients, the temperatures should be considered a very rough estimate. Get a bowl of ice water and keep it nearby while the caramel is on the stove. Periodically drop a small amount of the caramel into the ice water and give it a few seconds to cool. Pick up the drop of caramel and see if it is the texture you want.

Summary:

  • Don't scrape the sides of the bowl. Throw that part of the caramel out (or eat it straight from the bowl).
  • Drop bits of the caramel in ice water to check the firmness while cooking. This method is far more reliable than a thermometer. (But don't burn yourself!)
share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.