Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Best Thing I Ever Made

I first made these Salted Caramel Squares for Christine's "Boarth of July" party (boar sausages and proscuitto were both featured meal items) because it's from the chef and owner of Huckleberry in Santa Monica, which Lindsey took me and Ann to this past January. Huckleberry was delicious and I figured these would be good. I did not know how good they would be.

I do not really consider myself much of a baker. I have a long and storied past of screwing up various baked items, such as the time my cookies spread all over the cookie sheet (still not sure why) or the chocolate cake I made with extra virgin olive oil. There's probably a way to do that to make it taste excellent, but mine was gross. Really, really gross. And I wasted a lot of really good olive oil.

Because of these seminal events of my childhood, I don't have a lot of faith in myself when it comes to baking. In general, I do ok at baking, but the things I bake are definitely not my best or favorite food efforts overall.

And then I made these Salted Caramel Squares. I brought them to Maybay's party last weekend and I do believe they were quite a success. One guy actually told me I changed his life. Not bad for a few humble ingredients.

Here's the recipe. I'm putting my pictures in the middle of the directions so you can see what things look like in progress.

Salted-Caramel Squares
by Zoe Nathan

TOTAL TIME: 2 HRS  (At least!)
SERVINGS: Makes 32 squares  (or more - I like to cut them a bit smaller)

Pastry Shell
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg white, beaten

2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer at low speed, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners' sugar. Add the whole eggs and beat until incorporated, then beat in the flour and salt.

 Press the pastry into the prepared pan in an even layer, 1/4 inch thick. Freeze until firm, 10 minutes.

(Kate's note - You don't really "press" this pastry - it's really sticky. I have had best success using a stiff metal spatula like you might use for icing a cake. If you don't have one of those, just use a table knife to spread this over the parchment.)

2. Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 35 minutes, until just set. Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment. Brush the shell with the egg white and bake for 20 minutes longer, until golden and cooked through. Let cool.

3. In a saucepan, bring the cream, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer. Cover; keep warm.

4. In a large, heavy saucepan, stir the sugar into 1/4 cup of water. Simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until a deep amber caramel forms, 7 minutes.
No color yet. This is approximately the 10 minute mark.
Zoe's stove is obviously more powerful than mine.

Appoaching the 20 minute mark. Starting to caramelize...slowly...

And we're deep amber. At about minute 25.

5. Remove the caramel from the heat and carefully add the cream. When the bubbling subsides, stir in the butter.

I never said this was good for you.

Insert a candy thermometer and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the caramel reaches 240°, 10 minutes.

10 minutes my ass. I think this stage takes me 20-25. Possibly 30. I don't know.
I think I get a little delirious around minute 18.
You have to stir constantly and watch the temperature like a hawk.

Success! Exactly 240 degrees, or in candy-making parlance, "soft ball stage."

Discard the vanilla bean and stir in the salt. Pour the caramel over the shell. Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours or overnight; bring to room temperature. Remove the bar from the pan using the parchment overhang; cut into squares.

If you follow this recipe exactly, these come out perfectly. I highly recommend you invest in a candy thermometer and go to town on these. You will not be disappointed.

I like to sprinkle some Maldon Sea Salt on the top.
Keep these in the fridge (if you have leftovers, which you probably won't.)


maybay said...

I would actually prefer not to know how much cream and butter are in them

Lindy said...

Questions: What does "add the cream carefully" mean? Is there something I can use in place of pie weights?

Kate said...

Ah. You have to add the cream very slowly because when you pour it into the hot sugar, it boils up VIOLENTLY. If you add it too fast, it will boil over and/or boil out of control and burn you. Not good.

I don't own pie weights. They always seemed like a colossal waste of money. I used dried beans that I had on hand (and which have now been baked a few times, so I just reserve them for this use). My "weights" are a mix of dried white beans and dried garbanzos. You definitely want them to cover the pan completely to a depth of about 1 inch for enough weight to prevent the crust from getting too poufy.

Kathleen said...

You are a deliciously evil woman. How am I going to lose five pounds with these yummies to be made?

Judy said...

This recipe looks insane -- in a good way! Loving this blog and hope you're doing well!