I bought the Liddabit Sweets cookbook on an impulse – because I really cannot control myself when it comes to such things. I have never even tried their candy! But since I bought it, I was determined to use it. It did not take long to find a recipe that stopped me in my tracks: beer + pretzel caramels. Woah. I had to give these a go.
The beer flavor comes from reducing 6 bottles of (“preferably locally brewed”) beer into ½ cup, which takes about 3 hours. Perhaps the beer I used was not sufficiently potent, or maybe I did not reduce it enough – confession: after 3 hours I just wanted to get on with making the candy and only reduced the beer to ¾ cup – but my caramels did not have much of a beer flavor. My apartment however had plenty, smelling like a frat house the morning after a party for days. For this reason I have substituted molasses for the beer reduction.
This recipe was about getting out of my comfort zone. Making caramel seems like a daunting task but it is really just about being present, paying attention to what you are doing and having your ingredients prepped. All you need is a candy thermometer and, in the words of the amazing Julia Child, the “courage of your convictions” because when you are alone in the kitchen “whoooo is going to see!” – watch her potato show for some inspiration (about 14:30 min into episode).
The caramels are perfectly delicious at this point (sans chocolate) but really, what is not made infinitely better with chocolate!? Tempering chocolate is another thing that feels technically daunting, but don’t be fooled. Again it is really just about a candy thermometer – if you are a food nerd, you can read about the technicality of it all here – but all you have to know is that tempering prevents your chocolate from looking chalky and gives you that lusciously glossy finish.
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup molasses or maple syrup
- 3 cups pretzel bits*
- 12 oz dark chocolate (for tempering and dipping)
- Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13 rimmed baking sheet or casserole pan (just not a glass one) – line with silpat or parchment (optional but will make your life easier later).
- In a large (6-8qt) wide-rimmed pot combine the sugar, butter, heavy cream and kosher salt. Stir with heatproof spatula to moisten all of the sugar and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat to medium, insert candy thermometer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer reads 240˚F/115˚C (soft ball stage) – 10-15 minutes. At this point you want to watch the pot carefully and have your pretzels and prepared pan ready. Stirring more frequently, cook until thermometer reaches 252˚F/122˚C (hard ball stage).
- Remove the pot from heat and stir in the molasses, then the pretzel bits. Mix thoroughly (but quickly) scraping the bottom to incorporate everything.
- Pour the caramel onto prepared sheet pan and spread with spatula, trying to distribute the pretzels. Allow to cool 1-2 hours, until firm to touch.
- Once cool, run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn it out onto parchment-lined cutting board.
- With a sharp knife, cut caramels into 1- by 1½ -inch pieces and put into fridge while you prepare the tempered chocolate (instructions below). Then dip caramels so bottom half has a nice coating of chocolate and let cool until chocolate has set.
- Store caramels in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Bring to room temperature before eating!
- Bring a pot of water to a steady simmer – choose a pot that allows a (metal or glass) bowl to sit on top without touching the water.
- Place ¾ of the chocolate in bowl over the simmering water and bring to 115˚-120˚F.
- Remove from heat and add in the rest of the chocolate – this is called “seeding” the melted chocolate, which helps to bring the temperature down. Bring the chocolate to 80˚F, stirring constantly.
- Once at 80˚F place bowl back over simmering water and bring chocolate up to 88˚ - 90˚F (over 91˚F and you will have to start the process over).
- Chocolate is ready for dipping! Keep the thermometer in the chocolate and if the temperature drops below 88˚F just put the bowl back over simmering water for a minute.