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Homemade Caramels with French Grey Sea Salt

[caption id="attachment_549" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="The caramel stuck to the pan in only one place, which produced this lovely work of art."][/caption]

One of the things I'm beginning to love about the holidays is the freedom to unapologetically retreat for hours at a time to the kitchen. Today I'm preparing a rich vegetable stock with roasted vegetables and dry red wine. Tomorrow I'll use that stock for a hearty vegetarian shepherd's pie to take to a friend's house for dinner. Yesterday, though… Yesterday was a great day for caramels. Cold, rainy, and cloudy — really, what else is there do on a day like that? Cue favorite Good Will Hunting quote:

Maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.

I've made caramel before, but never with any success. It has always been a miserable fruitless endeavor that ended in a sticky mess of liquid brown stuff. Sure, it tasted alright, but it didn't look like the pictures! (And that matters, okay?)

Yesterday I gave it another go. Vance's family has a long history of making Christmas cookies and candies together. In an attempt to find some sweets we'd both enjoy to continue that tradition, I landed on a recipe for caramels. I pulled out all the stops — got out the biggest pot, the best quality local and organic ingredients, and (the key tool I was always missing in the past) a candy thermometer. I also set aside the whole afternoon, as everything I'd read told me it would take two hours of continuous stirring to get it right.

Miraculously, I ended up spending "only" one hour stirring, 15 minutes of which was taken care of by the wonderful husband. Caramels truly are a labor of love. The more love you put into them, the better they'll taste.

Finished Caramels

I'll give you one piece of advice about making caramels: Do it in the largest, heaviest pot you can find. You want a pot that heats evenly and holds more than three times the volume of liquid called for in the recipe. At its highest boil, your pot will most assuredly overflow if you pick a pot that holds any less (speaking from experience). Okay, here's another piece of advice (free of charge!): don't ever walk away from the pot. Grab a stool, turn on some Cooking Channel, and keep on stirring.

Homemade Caramels with French Grey Sea Salt

This recipe is adapted from one originally found in The Atlantic magazine.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup organic unsalted butter
  • 4 cups organic unbleached sugar
  • 2 cups corn syrup
  • 4 cups organic whole milk
  • 1 cup organic cream
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • French Grey Sea Salt (or visit the Spice and Tea Exchange for another salt of your choosing)

You'll also need a candy thermometer, a huge pot, and waxed paper. Also recommended: a stool to sit on while you stir.

Preparation

Begin melting the butter in your largest pot over

When life hands you lemons…

Last week I broke down and custom ordered a box of produce from our co-op, rather than ordering the Season's Pick box with whatever surplus produce is in season. I just couldn't stand the thought of another yellow squash. Call me elitist, but part of the joy of fall and winter is the disappearance of the unwelcome crooknecks from the produce bin. But no, they just never stop growing in Florida, despite all my hopes to the contrary.

All that to say that this week when I picked up the box, there was a surprise waiting in the bottom. I'm sure my eyes were the size of golf balls after I spotted the yellow monster. I didn't order any surprises this week — what was this ugly thing?

Biggest lemon ever

"That's a lemon," the volunteer said.

"No way is that an organic lemon," I thought. But it didn't matter. I paid for the 10 pound box of veg and took it home, wondering all the way what I would do with such a prize.

Finally I settled on lemon curd, that mysterious light-yellow gloppy spread I've seen on fancy brunch tables alongside scones. I can't remember ever trying the stuff, but there must be some reason it's served only on special occasions.

I searched all over to find a recipe for lemon curd that measured the lemon juice by the cup, rather than by the lemon (since mine was at least the size of four "normal" lemons, but who knows how much juice was in there). I finally found one that not only had the lemon measured in cups, but also looked quite simple.

Six eggs

I combined all of the ingredients, sans butter, in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisked for over 10 minutes. I whisked and I whisked until both the ingredients and my arms had been whisked into submission. Then the phone rang.

Seeing as it was Ted, I had to pick up the phone. And whisk. And talk. And then… the lemon curd died.

Well, it didn't die. Really, it had foamed up to about twice its size, giving the sneaky illusion that it was thickened and silky when really it was just a wet mess of uncooked egg and lemon. Of course I didn't realize that until after I'd taken it off the burner and whisked in the butter. Devastated, arm aching, I shut the stove and all of the kitchen lights off and retreated to my bedroom with my laptop to start work on the project Ted had called me about.

Vance was out running during all of this — the whisking, the phone call, me laying in the middle of the kitchen floor for a while with Chester. He returned to find everything where I'd left it in the kitchen, and me with a huge frown and a picture of Diddy on my computer in the middle of our bed. It was truly one of those just-burned-the-Boeuf-Bourguignon moments straight out of Julie and Julia

Double Chocolate Tartine Cookies

[caption id="attachment_62" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Double Chocolate Tartine Cookies, ready to go in the oven."]Double Chocolate Cookies, right before baking[/caption]

Nearly every Sunday I get the itch to bake something deadly, and this week was no exception. Around 8:30 PM I decided it was time to bake something so loaded with chocolate it would melt my face off. And I believe I've done it.

I also didn't want readers of this blog to be under the illusion that everything I post here is going to be the healthiest thing they've ever eaten. A little indulgence never hurt anyone; a lot, on the other hand, has. So resist the urge to eat the whole bowl of this magical dough in one sitting.

[caption id="attachment_58" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Always use the finest chocolate you can get your hands on."]Scharffen Berger Bittersweet Chocolate[/caption]

You'll need to construct a double boiler for this recipe if you don't already have one, but don't let that scare you. Just set a large stainless steel bowl over a small pot of simmering water on the stove. Dump the chocolate in, stir constantly, and wait for it to melt and shine like Turtle Wax on a bowling ball.

[caption id="attachment_60" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="As soon as there are no lumps, remove the chocolate from the heat."]Melted Chocolate[/caption]

The final batter is a bit like chocolate frosting (both in flavor and in texture)! You'll want to eat the whole bowl, but save some for the oven. They're even richer when they're warm and melty after only seven minutes of baking.

[caption id="attachment_61" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="The finished cookie batter."]Double Chocolate Cookie Batter[/caption]

Do you have any other favorite heavenly chocolate recipes? After you've tried this one, let me know what you think!

Deluxe Double-Chocolate Cookies

Adapted from Scharffen Berger's Deluxe Double-Chocolate Cookies, recipe courtesy of the Tartine bakery in San Francisco.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces SCHARFFEN BERGER 70% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose organic flour
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons organic Cocoa Powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup unsalted organic butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup organic whole milk

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350°. While the oven is preheating, line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper. (Jamie note: You can also use Silpat here. To make the parchment easier to deal with, I spray a little nonstick cooking spray directly onto the sheet pan and use that to prevent the parchment from moving around.)

Chop your chocolate up into small pieces and melt it in the top of a double boiler (or in a stainless steel bowl set over simmering water — be sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl). Once the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat.

In a smallish bowl, stir together all of the baking

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