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I don't know about you, but I'm a total sucker for things like small-batch granola, locally sourced ricotta, and organic salsa. Because my appetite is so much bigger than my bank account, I've made a conscious effort to view these fabulous artisanal foods as inspiration. One of my favorite local foodmakers is Liddibit sweets [Ed. note: Co-founder Liz Gutman is also our Serious Chocolate columnist!]. Their beer pretzel caramels blow my mind. And if they can do it, why can't I? It's candy, not quantum physics.
I knew that I wanted to include a hint of sea salt in my caramels. It really balances the sweetness and intensifies the butter taste. But I also wanted to flavor them with something else—something seasonal and unique. Maple syrup fit the bill. A generous half cup infused my caramels with pure, sweet, fall flavor. Each bite is salty, chewy, and full of maple sugar.
My recipe is quite simple, but you do need to have a candy thermometer—and patience. Once the cream mixture is combined with the sugar mixture it can take a while for it to reach 248°F (the firm ball stage). Watch the pot carefully. It tends to hover around 220°F for a while and then spike fairly quickly.
The only other tricky part is knowing when the mixture of sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, and water is ready. For caramel recipes without maple syrup, the mixture is simmered until it's amber-colored. But the maple syrup gives the mixture an amber hue right from the start. I timed it carefully and determined that six minutes was the perfect cooking time. You will notice that your syrup has darkened a little bit, from golden amber to more of a toasty chocolate amber.
Of course you know this already, but don't even think of using pancake syrup. Only the real stuff will do. Grade B will give your caramels a more pronounced maple flavor, but grade A is totally fine too. If you happen to have maple extract on hand, add half teaspoon to the cream.
This recipe makes approximately 40 one-inch square caramels. They keep well for two weeks, stored in an airtight container at room temperature. The caramels are extremely rich, and a little goes a long way. I suggest dividing the batch into four small gifts (ten caramels each).