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
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!
Jump to Comments (40)

Tags: gift, sweet and savory

Comments (40) Questions (0)

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over 3 years ago Shallot

Would this have enough smoky flavor without the liquid smoke? I'm guessing liquid smoke is an artificial flavor....

Burnt_offering

over 3 years ago Burnt Offerings

Yes and no. Liquid smoke is essentially water through which smoke has been passed and concentrated. It is truly liquid smoke. I made a 1/2 recipe of these and added a single drop. I don't think it made them too smoky. The buttery caramel flavor is dominant, the tea is probably second, and the smoke and salt are nice background notes.

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I agree with Burnt Offerings. When I was working on the concept in the first place there was not enough smoky flavor w/o it. I used to think it was some weird chemical, too, but it really is just liquid smoke.

Burnt_offering

over 3 years ago Burnt Offerings

For the editor's: 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 she 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. What a wonderful food gift to share! I will be sharing these chewy morsels with neighbors over the next few days.

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I'm ecstatic these worked out for you! Thanks for overcoming your intimidation, and giving them such a lovely review!

Burnt_offering

over 3 years ago Burnt Offerings

I'm a little intimidated to test these since I have never made caramels other than toffee apples for Halloween, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I've got a candy thermometer, and with your terrific instructions, I think I can pull it off. LOVE that you can reheat them if I screw it up the first time. The neighbors will love testing these (they get to test almost all my test recipes).

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Start with a half batch, so if it's a disaster you haven't wasted as much! Like you say nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Steve_dunn02

over 3 years ago Oui, Chef

Mmmmm...I am a HUGE fan of smoked teas and love the idea of a smoky caramel. Unfortunately, when I make my lapsang souchong just the smell of it drives my wife a little nutty as it reminds her of a campfire (poor thing must have been traumatized around one as a youngster). She loves the flavor of smoke but not the smell, might have to make these when she's out of the house.....but I WILL make them! - S

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Wow! Thanks, Steve. Would love to hear your opinion if you make them. I love smoked tea, and it definitely adds an interesting flavor to the caramel.

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

So cool to add a smokey hint to caramel! They totally do represent you well, and your amazingly creative approach to cooking. I've botched a couple recipes of caramel at this point, but I think these will inspire me to keep trying!

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thanks, 5&spice! I really like the smoke in the caramel, it adds a nice depth of flavor. I have botched caramels plenty of times, but have learned some tricks because of it. If they come out too soft you can melt them and heat them a degree or 2 higher then repour them. Also if they come out too hard you can melt them with some additional cream and heat them a degree or 2 lower then repour. If you burn them you should just pitch them!

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Wha???!! You can reheat them and repour them? That's amazing! My mind is blown! That's really exciting to know - it never even occurred to me to try that. I suppose in order to reheat the goopy caramels, you have to first not lose the entire thing to running all over the counter, floor, your hands, and face though...

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I figured I didn't have anything to lose but time, and found it worked. In case of a tragic carameltastrophe, the best recourse is to turn what ever remains in your pot into caramel sauce! What ever you do, don't get the hot caramel on your hands and face!

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Luckily I've only ever gotten the cooled - but still quite runny - caramel on myself.

Jc_profilepic

over 3 years ago Sadassa_Ulna

I was hoping you'd post something for this week's contest and your choice seems perfect! You are so creative and this recipe really illustrates that. I love that you started with a family tradition (and then smoked it, ha!) These sound incredible. Guess I'll be picking up some hickory seasoning today . .. ;)

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Wow, Sadassa_Ulna, thanks! If you get a chance to make them, let me know what you think!

Img_0733

over 3 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I'm so glad you submitted this--I missed it the first time you posted it, and it's so you--creative and interesting, fun and delicious.

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Aw thanks, drbabs! You're making me blush.

Summer_2010_1048

over 3 years ago Midge

What an excellent choice, hla. I've never made caramels but this recipe is inspiring; I'm crazy about lapsang souchong so I know I would love them.

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thanks, Midge! I'm crazy about lapsang souchong, too! Caramel making is kinda fun, in a nerdy chemistry class way. I figure it's just sugar, butter, and cream - the worst that happens is you ruin it, and it's not like you were using truffles.

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over 3 years ago gingerroot

These sound so good! I am so happy you submitted these. I'm really curious about the liquid smoke - I have made mock kalua pig (to replicate a traditional Hawaiian whole roasted smoke pig which is roasted in an imu or pit, covered with banana leaves, you can use a slow cooker, pork shoulder, rock salt and liquid smoke) with liquid smoke but never tried it in a sweet application.

Img_1958

over 3 years ago gingerroot

Eek! It's been a long day. Not sure any of that middle section makes sense. Should be "traditional Hawaiian whole roasted smoked pig"

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I think the smoky flavor is nice with the sweet, salt, and black tea flavors. The tea and smoke add a layer of intrigue!

Lorigoldsby

over 3 years ago lorigoldsby

these would be a wonderful hostess gift...to answer a foodpickler's earlier question...although the hostess may go MIA for a chance to spend some "quality time" with HLA's caramels. ;)

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thanks, lori, caramels do go over well as a hostess gift!

Massimo's_deck_reflection_10_27_13

over 3 years ago lapadia

Beautiful photo and yes, interesting flavored recipe...one that I missed the first time around, glad you re-submitted! There is something about them that reminds me of the NW, or is that just me? :)

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thanks, lapadia! I did use the Tao of Tea Pine Smoked Black which is based in Portland. Plus alder salt seems very NW!

Dscn1244

over 3 years ago goldenblind221

Oh gosh, these sound lovely. I can't wait for the weekend to try this recipe!

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thanks! If you get a chance to make them, let me know how you like them. I've got other caramel recipes posted as well (if you're interested.)

Dscn2212

over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Oh my goodness, amazing flavors right from the description, and such a lovely story!

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thanks, boulangere! I wasn't going to submit anything this week, but mrslarkin convinced me to!

Dscn2212

over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

And we're so glad she did!

Mrs._larkin_370

over 3 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

haha! Ya done good, kid. Now the tradition is yours to share. These sound fantastic!

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thanks, mrslarkin, for your kind comments & encouragement!

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almost 4 years ago zest in the midwest

Holy cow! These sound just amazing! I love the idea of pairing indulgent caramels with some smoke flavor. Printing out the recipe now to play on my day off.

Gator_cake

almost 4 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Cool. I hope you like them. The smoke flavor is present, but subtle. Let me know how it goes!

Cakecake

about 4 years ago campagnes

What creative flavor ideas! Love the sound of this!

Gator_cake

about 4 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

My sister said the taste made her want to have more in her mouth. Its a bit like you can't quite figure out what that flavor is, so you need to try it again.

Bike2

about 4 years ago Sagegreen

Wow! I love the sound of these with the flavors. Hope you will post a photo, too!

Gator_cake

about 4 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thanks! I think I'm finally getting decent at caramel making. I will post a photo later.