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A question about a recipe: My grandmother's caramel icing—does something look off here?

I'll try to keep this short. Growing up, my grandmother made the most divine caramel icing I've ever tasted. I have the recipe, but I can't seem to get it just right. It tastes like I remember, but it isn't as glossy and pretty as I recall and it doesn't spread nicely. I've shortened the cooling time twice now (the recipe I have doesn't seem right in that regard). Baking fiends, does anything look strange to you, or is there something I'm forgetting? I'm basing my memories off of times making it with her while standing in a chair, so it's been a while. I'm rambling. Here's the recipe:

3 C sugar
1/2 C sugar to brown
3 tbsp flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted margarine
1 C milk
1 tsp vanilla

Have milk and margarine at room temperature

Sift flour, sugar, and salt into large pan. Add margarine and milk. Place candy thermometer on side of pan. Begin cooking over moderate heat, stirring often. While this is cooking, brown the 1/2 cup sugar in a small Teflon pan. It will burn if the heat is too high. Watch carefully and let melt to a light brown. (I don't stir, but shake pan several times to distribute sugar evenly.) When melted, immediately pour into large mixture, stirring well. Cook until soft ball stage. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and beat (a long time) until creamy and of spreading consistency (it will become a little dull). Working like a one-armed paper hanger, spread between layers and on sides and top. You don't have to be quite as swift if you make a sheet cake. You can add a few drops of water if it starts to set up too fast.

asked by Caroline Lee Smith 3 months ago

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3 answers 627 views
C3530c17 ce9c 45b2 9755 cac310550f38  pi day 2015
added 3 months ago

It looks to me like you're basically making fudge. From my fudge-making experience, you might be cooking it slightly too long which will make it set up harder or stirring a little too long. Also with fudge you let it cool until it's just warm before stirring, if you stir when it's warm you get a grainier consistency. Don't know if this helps...

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5931bcf1 b22d 41db bdb0 e856dde60d58  image
added 3 months ago

I have a great caramel icing recipe, a bit similar to yours but without flour and with butter (not margarine*), but it turns out well only occasionally. Why? I have no idea. The reason why I am telling you this is because it could be that you have the right recipe that your grandmother used, but somehow the execution is a fail. Actually, I think that for a majority of us bakers out there, making caramel icing is very trick and fails at least on one occasion. Also, I read what Liz D wrote and I agree with her. Maybe you are cooking it for too long. I know soft ball stage is 235F-240F. I would not cook it beyound 235F. Or if this is not the is sue, ou are maybe beating it for too long which is what I tend to do more often than not. So by the time you try to spread it, it is too hard. This is my trick. Stick the caramel in the microwave for a few seconds and quickly spread it on the cake. You may have to do this more than once as you gradually spread the icing.

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5931bcf1 b22d 41db bdb0 e856dde60d58  image
added 3 months ago

Correction. Read this instead of my prior response.

I have a great caramel icing recipe, a bit similar to yours but without flour and with butter (not margarine - don't use, butter tastes so much better). However, it turns out well only occasionally. Why? I have no idea. The reason why I am telling you this is because it could be that you have the right recipe used by your grandma, but somehow the execution is a fail. Actually, I think that for a majority of us bakers out there, making caramel icing is very tricky; and we probably fail at least once. Also, I read what Liz D wrote and I agree with her. Maybe you are cooking it for too long. I know soft ball stage is 235F-240F. I would not cook it beyound 235F. Or if this is not the issue, you are maybe beating it for too long which is what I tend to do more often than not. So by the time you try to spread it, it is too hard. This is my trick. Stick the caramel in the microwave for a few seconds and quickly spread it on the cake. You may have to do this more than once as you gradually spread the icing.

Are you channeling your best self with this comment? (If you're not sure, check out our Code of Conduct.)

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