Does your mixologist have a waxed mustache? Suspenders? Do they make their own artisan bitters? Then there’s a pretty good chance you have had mezcal. Mezcal is a smoked tequila that all the cool kids are drinking. After a particularly tough day a few weeks ago I was having a pity-party and texted a friend #sendmezcal. A few days later the FedEx guy rings my doorbell and hands me a box. Inside was a bottle of Sombra mezcal! I have the best and most literal friends.
Now, the smart thing to do would have been to drink it. But I see baking opportunities everywhere, so I immediately thought caramels! Plus, I’m not supposed to be drunk during the day because it “lowers productivity” and makes me “late to pick up my kids from school”.
But I’ve never made caramels before so I had to do some research. I decided to adapt a recipe for salted bourbon caramels that looked pretty doable for a candy thermometer n0ob like me. For the salt I wanted something that wouldn’t compete with or overpower the mezcal. A few years ago I bought some vanilla bean salt from a spice shop in Traverse City, MI. Perfect!
A few things I learned from making caramel for the first time:
- You have to work fast! There is a lot of constant stirring so gather everything you’ll need before you start. Next time I will have spatulas, whisks, and all my pre-measured ingredients lined up and ready to go.
- During the first stage, be patient and wait for a nice dark color to develop. I was nervous about burning it but remembered reading that it should look like an old penny. I waited the full 10 minutes after it came to a boil and I think I could have even let it go a little longer.
- When you add the condensed milk and butter it bubbles like crazy. My life flashed before my eyes and I thought it was going to overboil and splatter everywhere. Nope. It just bubbles like crazy.
- Once it’s ready to cut, use the longest-bladed knife you have and work quickly. You need to separate the caramels as you cut them. If you leave them next to each other they just stick back together. They’re cute like that.
- I used a ruler and marked the top of the caramel with a toothpick every .75″ to get 10 rows of 10 caramels. The depth of the caramel in an 8×8 pan is .75″ so this yields caramels that are exact cubes (squee!). About 85% of baking success is just making everything the same size.
For wrapping the caramels, I cut waxed paper rectangles that were 2.5″x5″. I put the caramel in the center then pulled up the two long sides until they met, then rolled them down to the caramel and gently twisted the ends. Actually my six-year-old wrapped the caramels but it was MY IDEA to do it that way.