I got the opportunity to help out with the pastry side of things in a legit restaurant kitchen this past weekend.
It was magical. I need to do it again.
I was really nervous that I wouldn't know enough to be useful, or that people would be annoyed that I was just hanging around trying to learn stuff and getting in the way. Not the case at all. Everyone was so friendly! It was really obvious that they all cared a lot about their work and were genuinely excited to be there too, which was pretty refreshing to see.
I glazed something like 300 gourmet/fancy pants doughnuts and helped with some other stuff, which might sound tedious to you, but I totally geeked out and had a freakin' blast.
Now, on to the beer caramels.
The idea for beer caramels stemmed from wanting to experiment more with beer in cooking, particularly because my super-cool friends Matt and Meghan just opened their very own brewery, 4Paws Brewing, pretty recently. I happen to think their beer is pretty fantastic, so I thought I'd try to incorporate it into a caramel somehow.
I feel like these sort of turned into an "anti-caramel." Don't get me wrong, the texture and taste are both fantastic. But they also have a slightly bitter tinge (think of the way the darker parts of the crispy sugar on top of a creme brulee taste..) and are vaguely beery. My taste testers really seemed to enjoy them, especially those who generally find regular caramels way too sweet. The pretzels are optional...I made half of the caramels with, and half without. They add a little bit of interest, and strangely enough, don't become soggy (even if you keep the caramels in the fridge.)
If you've never made candy or caramels before....just be careful. Hot sugar is basically napalm.
Also...for the beer: I used a delicious blonde ale, but an amber ale or a brown ale would also work. I would NOT, however, use an IPA or any sort of crappy cheap beer (i.e. MGD, bud, keystone, etc.) Go for the craft beer!
two-12oz bottles of beer
1 cup heavy cream
5 TB unsalted butter
1 tsp. sea salt
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. vanilla
- Add one full 12oz. bottle of your beer to a small saucepan (you can actually do this in a saute pan, too). Reduce the beer, over low/med heat, town to about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons. This takes about 15-20 minutes. Once it's reduced, remove from heat, and set aside.
- Combine heavy cream, butter, sea salt, and 2 - 4 ounces of beer (from the second bottle...NOT the reduced stuff!) in a small saucepan. Place over low heat and bring to a simmer. Once your mixture gets to a simmer, turn off the heat.
- Meanwhile, in a medium but deep, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugars, corn syrup, and water. Place over medium heat. Don't stir, just swirl the pan around every so often.
- Your sugar mixture will start to boil. Keep your eye and your nose on it...it will be hard to tell visually if it's burning because of the brown sugar, but your nose will know. Once your mixture has boiled for about 5 minutes or so, remove from heat. Slowly add the hot cream mixture to the sugar mixture.
- Place back on medium heat, and cook until a candy thermometer reads 248F. Remember, you should be measuring the temperature of the sugar, NOT the temperature of the bottom of your saucepan (read: your thermometer should not be touching the bottom of the pan.)
- Once the caramel reaches 248F, remove from heat, and stir in the reduced beer and the vanilla.
- Pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Add pretzels, if you'd like. Otherwise, let it sit for a little bit, and then stick it in the fridge for a couple of hours.
- Once caramel has cooled thoroughly in the fridge, take it out of the pan, and slice and wrap according to whatever size you'd like to make them. I find it is easiest to cut them when you dip your knife in hot water every couple of cuts (make sure to wipe off excess water before cutting the caramels!)
- You can purchase candy wrappers online (use parchment, wax paper, or the clear plastic-y kind, but avoid foil and/or paper wrappers) or make your own by cutting parchment into 5" squares. You definitely want to wrap them, though, so they don't turn into weird misshapen blobs. I keep mine in the fridge, but they're fine (as long as they're wrapped) if left at room temp.
- Oh, what, you just noticed that you have 2/3 of a beer leftover? Enjoy that. :)