Did You Know That Pistachios Float?: Cardamom and Pistachio Caramels

I first heard of Australian chef Donna Hay years ago when I learned that a friend of mine who lives in Italy (and is a very talented baker) is a fan of Hay's eponymous magazine. I had never tried any of her recipes but when I learned that she was releasing a baking cookbook this fall, I ordered it. Modern Baking is a beautiful cookbook. In fact, most of the recipes are printed on top of full-bleed photo backgrounds, providing a striking visual presentation.

The cookbook is organized by flavor (the five major chapters are: chocolate; caramel, toffee, and coffee; sugar and spice; fruit and berries; and milk and cream), and each chapter is further divided into what I guess you would call regular recipes, "quick fix" recipes with a short ingredient list that can be put together quickly, and a "fresh and light" section with recipes that are ostensibly more healthy. To me, the "fresh and light" recipes don't seem very appealing. They include a fair number of raw recipes, as well as recipes with sweeteners other than refined cane sugar (e.g., rice malt syrup, rapadura sugar, maple syrup, honey, dates, coconut sugar) and ingredients that are widely regarded as superfoods (e.g., raw cocoa, goji berries, chia seeds, coconut oil, ground nuts, peanut butter, Greek yogurt).

I decided to stick with a conventional recipe for my attempt from the cookbook and I settled on the "Cardamon and Pistachio Caramels." I used to be a cardamom hater. That was until I went to a talk by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh last year and Goh mentioned that she used to hate cardamom as well until she started grinding her own. Since then, I have not used pre-ground cardamom. Instead, I always start out with dried green cardamom pods and grind the seeds myself with a mortar and pestle. Now I'm a cardamom convert. 

Once I ground the cardamom, the caramels came together easily. You bring heavy cream, sugar, butter, vanilla extract, and golden syrup to 255 degrees F; let the mixture cool for a few minutes; add pistachios and the ground cardamom; and pour the caramel into a parchment-lined 8-inch square pan. I let the caramels set overnight before cutting and wrapping them.
I don't know why, but I assumed that all of the pistachios would sink to the bottom of the pan. There's a photo in the cookbook showing a pan of caramels with all of the pistachios on top, and for some reason I illogically surmised that the food stylist had just turned the caramels upside down. But yeah, pistachios do float in caramel.

The recipe says that it yields 20 caramels, which is insane. I cut my 8-inch pan into 64 caramels and I thought they were very generously sized -- the caramel came up quite high in the pan, so even 1/64 of the pan was too big for a single bite. The caramels were slightly soft and after I cut them, they quickly lost their sharp straight edges. The photo above shows several 8-inch long strips of caramel before I cut them into individual pieces. You can see that the edges are rounded out and it doesn't even look like they were cut with a knife. Because of their soft texture the caramels conformed to the shape of their wax paper wrappers, and they had a satisfyingly chewy texture that was easy to eat.

These caramels were so delicious. I loved the warm cardamom flavor, which lingered on the tongue in the most pleasant way. The cardamom was so lovely with the pistachios, and it gave these caramels a bit of an exotic flair that made them stand out from other caramels I've made in the past. The recipe doesn't say how long you can keep these caramels (it only includes a reference to making them "a few days ahead,") but I made my caramels before the midterm elections and ate the last one just yesterday. I kept them in the fridge and they held up just fine. 

I'm already looking forward to the next time I make these caramels. And looking forward to making more Donna Hay recipes. Although I have to say that the beautiful design of the cookbook is slightly impractical. I mentioned above that most of the recipes are printed on top of photo backgrounds. Many of them are printed in white text on black or very dark backgrounds. In a small serif font. It makes the book more difficult to read, and I had to go out and buy some fine-tip gold and silver metallic pens just to be able to write notes in the cookbook. Still, this cookbook is a thing of beauty.

Recipe: "Cardamom and Pistachio Caramels" from Modern Baking by Donna Hay.

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Isla said…
Thank you for the cardamom tip. I am looking forward to your Donna Hay posts and I am jealous of whoever gets your metallic noted cookbook one day!