Having totally failed to review the last Savour School course I went to (which is a crying shame, because it was the Decadent Chocolate Biscuits course and it was *amazing* and I loved every minute of it), I thought I’d better make a point of writing about the Caramels course I went to yesterday before I forgot about it. (My life is such that I currently have five half-written posts on various topics that I haven’t managed to find time to finish – let’s hope that this one doesn’t get added to the list).
I’ve wanted to do a proper caramels course for a while, to get a bit of theory rather than playing around blindly with all my non-dairy milks, but also just because I love caramels.
And this is good, because I now have a lot of caramels. Oh yes, I do…
Yesterday’s class started at the un-godly hour of 8am, which filled me with trepidation – I’m currently so very tired that I’m having trouble reading music, which is not a good sign. This is not the best state in which to be working with boiling sugar, and in fact, having zombied my way out the door, I got halfway to the train station before realising that my sandals were absolutely not appropriate for a kitchen, and had to go home to change. (Thank goodness for so many years working in a PC2 environment, or I probably wouldn’t have remembered that – I didn’t even consider my excessively short sleeves until I was already there. Oops.)
Underlining the potential dangers of working with boiling sugar was our teacher, Paul, who was giving his first class with one hand bandaged after burning himself with boiling sugar a week earlier. I silently reiterated my personal goal of leaving the class at the end of the day with no second or third degree burns…
The way classes work at Savour is that the class as a group will complete a certain number of recipes (eight, in yesterday’s class), but that we will work in groups of two or three on a table generally on only some of the recipes. We will all stop what we are doing at the start of a recipe, to see how it’s going to work, but then those working on other tables will return to their own tasks. This works better in some classes than in others – sometimes one is busily piping batter or crystallising chocolate and misses key steps (it’s not that one can’t stop to go and have a look at things, but I’m generally fairly slow, and feel that I have to pull my weight) – but yesterday it worked extremely well, partly, I think, due to the small class size (six people, three of whom actually work professionally with either patisserie or chocolate, plus myself – and while I’m really quite bad at all the pretty, detailed stuff, I’m very comfortable and reasonably efficient around recipes that involve boiling sugar), and partly because the recipes all worked along similar principles.
So by the end of the day, I personally had weighed up for four recipes, cooked two caramels from start to finish and had assisted with two or three more, made five lots of chocolate shells (very, very slowly – I have no natural talent for this, and was lucky to have a very patient assisting teacher), marked three batches of caramels for cutting, cut part of one batch, piped soft caramel into shells, dipped firmer caramels into chocolate, and wrapped innumerable caramels in foil. I’d also watched chocolate being tempered (I was offered the opportunity to do this, but I’m really not confident with chocolate, and preferred to observe), and also seen most of the process for about three other caramels. The only ones I totally missed was the anise caramel, which was an identical process to one I’d already made myself, and the two runs at the pineapple ginger caramel, which I would have liked to see, but again, is a process that I’m pretty confident of being able to follow. My time was almost certainly better spent on the chocolate shells.
We always start by weighing up for all the recipes, which is important both for making the class run smoothly and also because the sorts of recipes one learns at Savour are not generally amenable to stopping and waiting while you find and weigh up the next ingredient. My table was assigned lime caramels, coffee almond caramels, caramel cream and anise caramels; the other table weighed up the chocolate caramels, salted caramels, vanilla pecan caramels, and pineapple ginger caramels. We also put together the frames that the caramels were going to set in.
We then watched as the vanilla pecan caramels were made. This particular caramel starts by melting the sugar and sorbitol (another kind of sugar), and then adding hot cream and eventually the other ingredients. In other words, it’s the scarier of the two methods one can use to make caramels, because for one thing, melting sugar is always a little scary and tricky (in a home kitchen, getting the heat right is really difficult, and also, the sugar is *hot* and sticks to everything), and for another, adding cream makes the whole thing boil up and spit alarmingly. My short sleeves basically barred me from working closely on the caramels that used this method, which made perfect sense.
These caramels were one of my favourites – they were neither too hard nor too sticky, and the salted and sugared pecans had a lovely crunch to them. I’m not usually a pecan fan, but I do like their texture after roasting.
Once the vanilla pecan caramels were setting, my table got to work on the lime caramels, which were a little less scary because you start by making a sugar syrup, not a dry caramel. I made about the first half of this recipe, and then swapped over to someone with long sleeves when it started to spit wildly.
These caramels were a little chewier than the pecan caramels, and I found them almost overwhelmingly sweet, perhaps because lime can get a bit cloying that way? Also, unlike the pecan caramels, there was no salt in these caramels. (Random thought: I wonder if a tiny touch of chilli would work in these?) They were lovely in the context though, and I did notice that the combination of caramels that we did over the day complemented each other very well.
The next caramels to be made were the pineapple ginger ones. I didn’t have much involvement in this recipe, because I think this is where I went off to mark caramels for cutting and to make chocolate shells (into which we would be piping soft caramel later). I do know that this recipe got made twice, because some ingredients were missed out the first time, and it wasn’t gingery enough. This was quite delightful from my perspective, because I really liked both versions of the caramel, and we wound up with twice as many…
The chocolate shells, incidentally, are a multi-step process. First, one polishes the moulds. Then, one paints them very lightly with chocolate, making sure to get into all the corners. Once this chocolate has dried, one fills the entire tray with chocolate, scrapes off the excess, and then taps the tray hard on the benchtop a few times to remove air-bubbles. Then the hard part – one holds the tray upside down and level over the bain maries of chocolate with one hand, and bangs the side as hard as one can to get as much chocolate out of it as possible with the other. Ideally, one does not drop the whole tray of chocolate into the bain marie. And then one scrapes off excess chocolate again, and leaves the tray on its side so that the chocolate can set. Oy.
I think the salted caramels were also made while I was fighting the good fight against the chocolate shells…
These ones were actually quite interesting – apparently, they were not a truly successful caramel, being a little grainy and a little dark, but I loved the fact that they were a bit on the bitter side – after so many intensely sweet caramels, I was ready for something a bit less cloying! Another fascinating thing about these caramels was the fact that they were very dark but also very soft – I’ve always made caramels that boil everything together except the butter, so the colour and the hardness of the caramel are closely linked, but if you start by making a dry caramel, then you can actually get the sugar to quite a dark colour before adding anything else, and then cook the mixture overall to a lower temperature, creating a softer texture with that darker flavour. This is definitely useful to know!
We finished the morning session by cutting and wrapping up our first three batches of chocolate, before breaking for a nice, non-sugary lunch of bread, salads, roast potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and various other sorts of really nice, plain, non-rich food.
The afternoon session started for me with the chocolate caramels, something I’d really wanted to be involved in, because of all my trouble creating vegan chocolate caramels last year. And, in fact, they were relatively simple – and, interestingly, very, very soft. Which makes me feel a lot better about the trouble I had getting my chocolate caramels firm enough last year. Our recipe only boiled the caramel to 114°C, which is really quite a low temperature (most caramels go to 118°), and then adds the chocolate after the heat has been switched off, to prevent burning. This suggests all sorts of possibilities for experimentation, and I’ll definitely be playing with this recipe more.
Also, it tasted lovely – rich and dark and very chocolatey. Just as it should.
Meanwhile, the second batch of ginger-pineapple caramels were being made, now with added glacé ginger. Did I mention that I loved the ginger pineapple caramels?
I then moved on to some more cutting and wrapping while the caramel cream was made, and we all gathered in the final stages to argue about which sort of liqueur to add to it. We went with Frangelico, which meant that my next task was to help glue roasted hazelnuts into my chocolate shells with more chocolate, followed by piping caramel cream around the hazelnuts. This was really quite fiddly, and I was quite pleased when nobody seemed eager to make the coffee almond caramels, and I got to volunteer!
The almond coffee caramel involved infusing cream with whole coffee beans before adding it to a sugar syrup, and by this point, a lot of people were wrapping, piping and cutting things, so I got to be reasonably independent on this recipe, which was fun. I was surprised by how much I liked the taste of this recipe in the end, because I really do not like coffee, and I’m not a huge almond fan, either, but once again, I found myself charmed by a sweet that wasn’t *too* sweet after some of the other caramels. Also, this caramel seemed to taste the way coffee smells, not the way it tastes, which is definitely a plus.
I then did a bit of clean-up and went over to watch chocolate being tempered, before returning to the next marking and wrapping gig. There is a lot of wrapping in this class, but that’s what happens if you are making caramels – there’s no way around it, and it was actually nice as a break between other tasks, especially because there were always several people doing it, so it went pretty fast.
With the chocolate tempered and the coffee caramel set, we only had the anise caramel left to make. I decided it wouldn’t be fair to ask do that one, too, so I continued wrapping, and then moved on to helping dip the coffee caramels in chocolate. I seem to have improved my dipping skills since the last class, which is good – or perhaps it’s just that dipping a smallish caramel is a lot easier than dipping a domed, 4 cm round biscuit containing three layers.
There’s something irresistible about using one’s dipping fork to make the cute little ripples on top, too…
Caramels dipped, we only had the anise caramel to wrap and a bit of clean-up to do. The anise caramel, incidentally, was stunning – it’s another caramel that I would never have chosen to make at home, both because it’s a hard caramel and because I’m ambivalent about aniseed, but it reminded me of a Werther’s Original, with a pleasant aniseed taste in the background – not overwhelming, just cutting the sweetness. Lovely. I also love the way you can see the tiny speckles from the star anise – it was infused into the cream, and then the cream was strained, but obviously tiny flecks remained.
And suddenly, it was three o’clock, and we were done! We were given our bags stuffed with more caramels than seemed entirely plausible (the other up-side of a small class), and were congratulated on being a good class. And it was a good class – I think one of the best ones I’ve done there. The teaching was excellent as always, the recipes were good, but also, the class worked together very well and helpfully. It’s not that I’ve been in classes where people were unhelpful or un-friendly, but there was definitely a very mutually supportive spirit about this class – people with expertise in particular things took charge of those areas and helped others who were less confident (as one of the latter, I appreciated that), or would step back and allow others to get more practice once they felt that they had mastered something.
Really a great way to end my week, and I’ve definitely learned skills and recipes that I will be re-using. In fact, that recipe for rosemary and orange caramel that Paul rattled off as we were preparing to walk out the door may even happen in the next few days. Assuming I can cope with having more sugar in the house…
(but then, that’s what scientists are for…)
Note on dietary requirements
Those with food allergies or other dietary requirements considering this course might like to know that everything we made yesterday was gluten-free, egg-free and vegetarian. And lunch catered very nicely for the gluten-free and the vegetarians – in fact, I think pretty much all dietary requirements were catered for over lunch. Obviously, the caramels themselves all contained cream, butter, milk, or all three, so they are not vegan or dairy-free. We also made a lot of nutty caramels, and there is absolutely nothing low GI about any of this, but with the exception of the pineapple caramel, the recipes were all low fructose.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~One year ago: Raw-ish Vegan Sachertorte Pistachio Truffle Tart Two years ago: Recipe: Decadent eggless strawberry mousse tart