Discovering Caramels

I first learned about Fran's Gray Salt Caramels from Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl, who posted about them in October as the ultimate pick-me-up. My thoughts at the time went something like this:

  1. It's been ages since I've had a caramel, though we always got a few on any trip to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory when I was little...
  2. I've heard about salted caramels, but never actually had one--what a gaping hole in my food exploration!
  3. They look good and I'd really like to try one. Right now.
  4. Too bad these seem to be local to Seattle.

Yes, you can order these caramels on the internet, but I've mostly tried to avoid buying food online. It's my own arbitrary line in the sand to keep my cupboard's from overflowing with more of the latest artisanal this or that than I can actually eat. It's fair game if I find it in a store, but once I open up my pantry to the cornucopia of internet shopping, I'm done for. Not having any plans to visit Seattle, I did my best to stop salivating over this fantastic photo and forget about Fran's Gray Salt Caramels. (Apparently I'm not the only one drooling: congrats to Shauna on her photo taking top place in the Eatability category in DMBLGIT? #11, hosted by Moira of Who Wants Seconds?) However, The Accidental Scientist's rendition of Gourmet Magazine's October Butter Rum Caramels recipe got me mulling over the idea of making my own salted caramels. Though I'm quite experienced at working with chocolate, I have zero practical knowledge of caramel. I already own all the requisite tools and wouldn't need to buy a single ingredient. I have a handful of recipes to choose from. Yet, I've heard and read just enough to be afraid. This would require more research, not just into the actual making of caramels, but into a better understanding of what defines a top-notch caramel. In the elusive search for chocolate molds sold locally--I failed completely and am still waiting for the arrival of the ones I ordered from Confectionery House that I had hoped would be here already--I figured I'd stop by the Menlo Park Draeger's, which used to sell molds. Not anymore. Well, actually, they still sell a few butter pat molds, but those small, one-cavity rubber things just won't do. However, Draeger's does still have an excellent high-end and imported chocolates and, it turns out, caramels. Figuring I'd do a little research for my salted caramel scheme, I picked up the first ones I saw. This being a rather small world with a funny way of things coming full circle, just over a month after learning about and dismissing the possibility of trying Fran's Gray Salted Caramels, there I was with a box in hand. A few weeks later still, here I am bringing my discovery back to the Web.These are beautiful confections. I'm still trying to figure out how they get the swoopy ridge across the top. The website says they are all hand-dipped, so it must be masterful turning of the chocolate tail or some such skillfulness, though if I didn't know better I would think it was the work of fancy machinery. Personally, I'd opt for a slightly darker, earthier chocolate than the 56% Fran uses (I only have baking quantities of 64% and 70% in the kitchen at the moment anyway) and would go ever so slightly lighter on the salt: Oren, whose taste for salt hasn't evolved as far as mine, found it a little overwhelming. That's fine though; it means the rest are all mine. Really these comments are to optimize for my own tastes, though these caramels aren't far off from my ideal as is. I certainly encourage the salted caramel lovers of the world to seek them out. So does NASFT, which awarded them the 2003 outstanding confection winner. I paid $11 for a 3oz box of 7 at Draeger's. You can get a 6oz box from Fran's Chocolates directly for $22.