Smoked Tea Caramels

By • December 23, 2010 40 Comments

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Author Notes: Why did I pick this recipe to be remembered for? When I was a kid one of the best things about Christmas was the caramels my mom would make. She would cut them into the tiniest pieces, and we kids would help her to wrap them. Many never made it into the wrapping paper. She still makes them to this day, and every year sends them out to all of her kids. Two Christmases ago I tried my hand at making salted caramels. They came out a bit too hard, but tasted delicious. Last Christmas I went on a huge caramel making extravaganza and really played with different flavor profiles. These caramels are my favorite of the many iterations I tried. I'd like to think I'm keeping a tradition alive in my own fashion, though I've veered away from my Mom's recipe.

These caramels are a good representation of me - a good balance of sweet and salty, a little bit fickle to make, and just unusual enough to be interesting! - hardlikearmour

Food52 Review: I was both very intrigued and a little intimidated by this recipe since I had never made caramels before, but have always wanted to try. Thanks to hardlikearmour's meticulous, and easy to follow directions, they came out perfectly on my very first try! I also went back and reviewed the video that Amanda and Merrill posted a couple of weeks ago on making caramel; big help there as well. The steeping process allows the cream to infuse with the tea and smoked flavor from the salt, and hardlikearmour was right—it DOES boil violently when you add it to the hot caramel! The flavor profile on these is REALLY wonderful and different, yet they are exactly as advertised. You get a distinctive tea flavor with a subtle smokiness and the nice hint of salt, but it doesn't overpower or compromise the warm, buttery caramel flavor. Obviously, they are the perfect companion to a nice cup of tea. Now that I have conquered my caramel trepidation, I will definitely be making more in the future. They are a wonderful food gift to share and I will be sharing these chewy morsels with neighbors (almost) every time I make them. - Burnt OfferingsBurnt Offerings

Makes about 100 caramels (9- by 13-inch pan)

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 teaspoons Pine Smoked Black loose leaf tea (or other lapsang souchong tea)
  • 1 teaspoon alder smoked salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 - 3 drops liquid smoke (Wright's hickory seasoning)
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoons coarse fleur de sel or chocolate finishing salt (optional)
  1. In a medium sauce pan heat the cream, butter, tea, and salt over low heat for 20 - 30 minutes. The goal is to infuse the cream with flavor, but keep it below a simmer. Mixture should taste like salty smoked tea. Increase heat to medium low.
  2. While cream mixture is heating, line a 9- by 13-inch pan with parchment paper, so the paper is only going up 2 opposite sides (essentially forming a sling to remove the caramel with later). Spray with neutral flavored cooking spray.
  3. Dissolve the cream of tartar in the water in a 6-quart stock pot. Add in the sugar and corn syrup, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat swirling pan occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Once sugar is dissolved and mixture is boiling you will need to keep a pretty close eye on the pan. If you are using a candy thermometer you will notice the mixture hovers near the boiling point for a while then starts to climb fairly rapidly. As the mixture approaches 310 degrees F, you will want to start swirling it fairly frequently as caramelization is imminent. Once caramel color is to your liking remove pan from heat. The pan will retain some heat so I like to remove the caramelized sugar mixture from the heat at about 325-330 degrees F, or when it is a golden brown color.
  4. Slowly pour the warm cream mixture through a mesh strainer into the the sugar mixture. It will boil violently and create hot steam, so use caution. Stir with a wooden spoon until sugar has all dissolved into the cream.
  5. Return caramel mixture to medium to medium-high heat and bring the mixture up to 244-245 degrees F, or lower end of firm ball stage (if you drop about a 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into a bowl of refrigerator cold water it should form a ball, that is not soft but still malleable.) Stir often, scraping the bottom of the pan. As you get close to your target temperature you may want to turn the heat down to low if you are using a gas stove, or off if you are using electric to slow things down. Your caramels can go from too soft to tooth breaking within a short time frame. You will also want to stir close to continuously as you get close to your target temp to prevent burning.
  6. Remove from heat and quickly stir in the vanilla and liquid smoke. (Note: I like to put the drops of liquid smoke into a tablespoon measure, and add the vanilla to it. You don't want to add the liquid smoke directly from the bottle to the caramel mixture as it would be easy to add more than you want.) Pour caramel mixture into prepared 9- by 13-inch pan. After 10 to 15 minutes sprinkle with fleur de sel or chocolate finishing salt if desired, ideally getting several grains per piece of caramel. Allow to cool to room temperature. Use parchment paper to remove from the pan, then cut caramel into 1-inch squares, or whatever size pieces you prefer. Wrap individually with waxed paper, and store in an airtight container.
  7. Note: Caramel making is a bit trial-and-error based on humidity and other factors. If your caramels come out too soft, modify the final temperature up 1-4 degrees. If they come out too hard, modify down. This recipe scales down by half to an 8-inch square pan if you want to make a smaller amount or feel like experimenting!

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