Chicago Day 4: Caramel

Hehe, what started as a day-by-day breakdown of Chicago morphed into a dissection of confectionery topics. Quite fitting actually. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we would start a project one day and then finish it two days later, so actually remembering what we did day-to-day is actually a bit tricky. One of the first things we did was make caramels!

I admit it. I’m scared of caramel.

It’s actually on my ‘resolutions’ list for 2012 to conquer my fear of caramel. So did I conquer it in Chicago? Not quite. But I’m definitely more comfortable working with it.

We were blessed with working with professional equipment, and this included induction burners on every table. For those unfamiliar with induction technology – it uses electromagnetic energy to heat up cookware. It only heats up when a compatible piece of cookware has been placed on it and it only heats up the cookware. In a way, it’s way safer than traditional cooktops. It’s very easy to control and heats quickly, making it ideal for a pastry kitchen. As it doesn’t radiate too much heat it’s excellent to have right on your counter.

One of the key things I learned from Chef was that caramel takes time. Keep it low and slow. Sometimes it got a little too low and slow in which case you have to crank it up a bit – but we were encouraged to keep the heat on medium-low. It was both a test of patience and skill. We made a few caramel-based recipes including: salted caramel candies, caramelized hazelnuts, caramel-filled bonbons and caramel syrup to soak a cake. I think one of the reasons I was so nervous was that if I messed up, I would be letting down my lab partner AND I would have to ask for more materials. For the most part, we stayed away from wet caramels. That type of caramelization involves sugar and water. I have found that this makes the syrup much more unstable and prone to crystallization. A dry caramel on the other hand only has sugar and is much more stable.

It was really interesting to use so many different variations of caramel. Yes, it is a ‘candy’ but it’s also a flavoring as we learned while making the syrup. We made a caramel, thinned it with water and added more flavouring to create a “caramel orange and spice soaking syrup”. It made the syrup really smoky and was a perfect foil to the orange flavour. The salted caramel and bonbon filling was fairly straightforward, but it was the hazelnuts that we were on the watch for. The process called for us to caramelize the sugar and ‘roast/toast’ the nuts at the same time. The idea was to cook the nuts over low so that the entire nut was toasted. The caramel would have to be allowed to develop slowly and create an even and dark golden coating on each nut. And yes – they were delicious!

I don’t have any pictures of the process (to busy and stressed unfortunately) but here are some repeats of the final results:

chocolate bonbons

Selection of chocolates made at The French Pastry School: raspberry lollipop in chocolate, pear caramel, hazelnut trio, rum truffle.

Chocolate Cake Soaked with Caramel Spice Syrup and filled with Chocolate Mousse, topped with Chocolate Curls (French Pastry School)

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Categories: Chicago, chocolate cake

Author:bainvancouver

Communications specialist by day, baker/cook/triathlete/dog-owner by night. I blog about my adventures inside and outside my kitchen. Come take a look - no big whoop!

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