Puddle of Caramel, Anyone?

So I tried making the fleur de sel caramels again, determined to make them come out a little firmer. Last time, I followed the directions to a T and boiled the caramel until it reached precisely 248 degrees. Candy making involves a bit of science and you should use a candy thermometer to make sure that you have your sugar mixture at the right temperature to get the consistency you want. At 248 degrees, a sugar mixture is at the top of the range of what is called "firm ball stage," when a blob of the mixture dropped into cold water will form a firm ball that is malleable, but will not flatten on its own. Caramels are cooked to this stage.

These sugar stages have these descriptive names because the cold water test is how home cooks used to make candy before you could run out to Williams-Sonoma and buy a candy thermometer. The sugar stages are, in order of ascending temperature, thread stage, soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack, and hard crack. (In the book and movie adaptation of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, there is a humorous scene where Gertrudis assigns former Mexican Revolutionary soldier Sergeant Trevino the task of making syrup to accompany her fritters, and he is temporarily stymied when he doesn't comprehend what the term "soft ball stage" refers to in the recipe he is following.)

This time around, I thought I would try cooking the caramel to just beyond 250 degrees, to the border of "hard ball stage," when a bit of the mixture dropped into cold water forms a hard ball. (I also took the precaution of testing the accuracy of my candy thermometer first to make sure that wasn't my problem; I put it in some boiling water and it read 212 degrees, on the dot.) Much to my dismay, the caramels actually turned out softer than they did last time. While I was able to cut them into neat 1-inch squares, if I let them sit for a little bit, I discovered that they expanded into little caramel blobs.

They were still delicious, but just a little homely. (I felt good enough about the caramels to gift some to our mail carrier -- although to be honest, I have some mixed feelings about him since although he does have to trudge through the rain and snow and such to deliver our mail, he also misdelivers our mail to the neighbors, or vice versa, at least a couple of times a week.) I'm not sure what the problem is, but I will probably make them again, since they are so tasty. Maybe one of these days I will finally get these caramels perfectly right!

Recipe: Fleur De Sel Caramels from epicurious.com.
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