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chocolate pimente d’espelette caramels and dreaming of Basquelandia

IMG_1725For the last several years, I have made Laura ‘s caramels (she writes the glorious Glutton For Life blog.) It’s a terrific recipe, just a little spicy, a little salty and perfectly chewy. The most challenging  part of the whole endeavor is cutting and wrapping  250 caramels.

This year, I’ve adapted Laura’s recipe (and added a few hints to the instructions) for a chewy caramel that reminds me so much of being in Basqulandia with Kate Hill and sipping hot chocolate at Laia, I got misty eyed.

IMG_1686The same pan you use to make jam will probably work perfectly for caramels. At least 5 quart, heavy duty (like Le Creuset).

If you don’t have a candy thermometer, don’t attempt these candies. Seriously. But if ever there were a perfect stocking stuffer, this is the time to ask for one for the holidays. This is my favorite.

Use very good butter, very good cream, and do not use chocolate chips, use baking bars. (Chips have a coating that disrupts the perfectly shiny beauty of these caramels.) I know. Corn syrup. It makes them so much easier to handle than an all sugar caramel. Don’t judge.

IMG_1708Pimente d’Espelette is fruity and briny and spicy. It is unlike any other chile I know. I used quite a bit in the caramels and like the fierce heat that grows. Temper the heat by using half as much, or omit it if you prefer no spice with your chocolate.

IMG_1711Finally, you may want to use wax paper to wrap these candies, and they look great that way, but foil wrappers are so pretty, why not go all out? I order mine online because foil wrappers sold in most kitchen stores are too small . Make sure any wrapper  (or squares of wax paper) are 4-inches square. The little white papers between each foil? To keep the foil free of fingerprints.

Yes, it’s a little scary, but c’mon, caramels are bad ass. You can do it.

Kate’s Basquelandia Caramels
Adapted from Laura’s Chocolate Caramels on Food52
Makes A LOT (225-250 candies, depending on how you cut them)

4 cups heavy cream (try to find pasteurized not homogenized)
1 tablespoon pimente d’espelette
1 tablespoon instant espresso dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
5 cups granulated sugar
2 cups corn syrup
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
8 ounces (2 sticks) salted European butter, cut in pieces
2 teaspoons hazelnut liqueur, like Frangelica (substitute vanilla)
2 tablespoons sel gros, fleur de sel, Maldon salt or another large grained salt (I think smoked salt would be amazing but I can’t find where I stashed mine.)

Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a baking sheet. Place in a safe spot where it will not be moved once it is filled with screamingly hot caramel. (This repeats Laura’s note; it’s a good one.)

In a heavy bottomed 5 quart preserving pot or Dutch oven, stir together 2 cups of the cream, the pimente and espresso. Add the sugar and corn syrup and stir well. Stop stirring, turn the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil. Clip on the candy thermometer.

When the mixture hits 220°F, add the remaining cream, butter and chocolate and begin to stir relentlessly. It will take another hour until the caramels come up to 245°F. Keep stirring. Modulate the heat to avoid scorching (hot spots on your pan will also cause scorching. Do not scrape the bottom of the pot or that scorched taste will permeate the candies.

When the caramel reaches 245°F, remove from the heat and stir in the hazelnut liqueur. Stir for five minutes, then carefully pour it into the prepared baking sheet. Having a friend assist at this stage is so awesome and will help you avoid bad bad bad burns.

Wait 20 minutes then sprinkle the salt over the top. No need to press it in.

Let the pan sit undisturbed until completely and utterly cool, several hours. Lift the incredibly heavy caramel in one piece out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Using a very sharp, very heavy knife, cut the caramels into logs about 2-inches long and 3/4-inch wide.

Sample one now. Before you wrap the other 249. Dream of Basquelandia.

12 thoughts on “chocolate pimente d’espelette caramels and dreaming of Basquelandia”

  1. This recipe looks amazing and I’d love to try it today! I was wondering if you are using a standard 1/4 size sheet pan or something larger?

  2. Love your variations, Cathy! We grew our own piments d’Espelette this year, dried and ground them, so I may have to try another batch with this! (One comment – I notice you told people not to scrape the bottom, but I just want to reiterate it’s important to keep this in mind when pouring out the batch.) xo

  3. These sound delicious. I agree smoked salt would be good. I think it would complement the burnt sugar taste of the caramel nicely. I recently made some oatmeal cookies with butterscotch chips that I sprinkled with smoked sea salt and really liked that.

    Fun story – I was at the National Building Museum gift shop this week with a coworker shopping for some final Christmas gifts who picked up your book from the food books display. He was considering it because his husband likes to preserve food. I told him I knew who the author is and that I definitely recommend it. What a thrill it must be to see your work in print like that.

    Congratulations on a great year and best wishes for a wonderful 2015.

    1. Ha! Well, you really can’t leave them alone on the stove… and you should keep stirring pretty regularly. Most important is not leaving them alone for any period of time. They burn and scorch really fast.

  4. Just want to say that I made a half batch of these and used a half sized heavy baking sheet. Only needed to stir for about 15 minutes. Used French Grey Fleur de Sel. WOW WOW WOW! What a great recipe! They turned out absolutely magnificently. THANK YOU for this great recipe!

    1. So glad you liked them! And I’m delighted to know they made a half recipe easily. That’s dangerous information. 🙂
      (PS Did you use a quarter sheet pan?)

  5. Made my second batch last night. It didn’t harden so now I have a LOT of delicious caramel sauce! Having a dinner party on Sunday. Any suggestions for a dessert I can use it with? Thanks!

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