One year Starbucks put salted caramel hot chocolate on their menu. What an incredible drink! The way the smoked sea salt played off the sweetness in the chocolate and caramel was music to my taste buds. I missed it dearly when it was gone and eagerly awaited its return the following year. It never came, and I fell into despair. Okay, not really, but I was sorely disappointed. This year, however, they did something even more amazing! Salted caramel mocha…just like the salted caramel hot chocolate, but with some of the sweetness cut with coffee. Yum!
Around the same time as the original drink came out, I started seeing recipes for salted caramels and salted chocolate covered caramels about the blogosphere. Where this trend started I don’t know. Were other bloggers as wowed by Starbucks’ creation as I was? Or does some brilliant barista read the same blogs as I do and think, “Hey, that would make a brilliant drink!”
One day my husband and I were discussing the virtues of bacon. (Okay, maybe not “one day”. We talk bacon a LOT!) It really does make everything better. Wrap it around a scallop. Sprinkle it on a salad. Add to a pan of roasted brussels sprouts. Oh, magical bacon, is there nothing you can’t do?
Then inspiration struck. What if I put bacon bits in carmel? They’re smokey and salty. I bet it’ll taste amazing! So I tried it. And it did! Will this take off the way salted caramels did? Probably not. (It’s hard to convince people to eat candy with meat in it, although I assure you it does NOT taste like meat candy…just the smokey, salty goodness playing off the sweet caramel.) I’m also sure I’m not even be the first person to come up with the idea. Still, it was a hit at my husband’s 50th birthday party this past weekend, and an even bigger hit when he brought some into the office. So I know I’m onto something!
- 1 3/4 cups light corn syrup
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup crisp, cooked bacon, chopped into small bits
- Generously butter a 9×9 inch baking dish. (I find glass or enameled stoneware work best with this recipe, or if you have one of those silicone baking pans now’s the time to use it.)
- Combine corn syrup, sugar, butter, salt and 1 cup of the cream in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart pot. Mix well with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula.
- Place over medium-low heat and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cover and let boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Uncover and wait for foam to subside. Wash down sides of pot with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.
- Continue boiling, stirring without touching the sides of the pot, until the mixture reaches 234ºF (also known as the “soft-ball” stage).
- Very slowly add the remaining cup of cream, being careful not to let the mixture drop below a boil.
- Continue stirring and bring the mixture to 244ºF (the “firm-ball” stage). Remove from heat.
- Working quickly stir in the vanilla and chopped bacon, then pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
- Let cool completely, then remove from pan and cut into squares.
- Wrap pieces in wax paper or plastic wrap, or use pre-cut papers specially designed for wrapping candy. Store in a cool, dry place.
One thing to be aware of when you make this recipe is that these are soft caramels. If you leave them sitting out for a while after you cut them (as I did with some when my toddler decided to wake early from her nap), they will loose their shape and start spread. So get them wrapped quickly. Or, if you’re really feeling ambitious, cover them in chocolate!