Soft, buttery, homemade caramel is something I look forward to every holiday season. It’s an unpretentious treat, wrapped simply in clear wax paper with no embellishment or decoration, but it’s one that continues to lure me in year after year.
But this year, I decided it was time to kick it up a notch. Plain caramel is good— nay, great. But dark chocolate-covered salted bourbon caramel? Now that’s taking it to a whole ’nother level.
I’ve always found homemade caramel to be a fickle beast that is difficult to keep under control. It’s very hot and sticky, and can turn from luscious caramel to a burned disaster in a matter of seconds. I’ve learned that when it comes to making caramel, it’s best to kick everyone out of the kitchen and focus on the task at hand, because once it’s burned, there’s no going back.
This particular recipe makes a very soft, taffy-like caramel that practically melts in your mouth and is delicious on its own or, as suggested, dipped in a high-quality dark chocolate. What I love about this version is that all of the ingredients (save for the bourbon) go in the pot at once. At that point, all you have to worry about is stirring and removing it from the heat at the right time.
A few tips: Make sure to use a very heavy pot (I used my favorite Le Creuset cast iron French oven) so that the caramel heats evenly. If you don’t have bourbon, feel free to use vanilla instead. I like to use a really coarse sea salt for the topping, like the pink Himalayan salt I get from Artisan Salt Company. To me, that intense combination of sweet and salty is what makes these candies so utterly addictive.
As a food blogger, I do think it’s important to ’fess up to blunders, so I will let you in on a secret of mine: I nearly ruined half a pan of caramels while preparing this recipe. After dipping the caramels in the dark chocolate, I thought it would be OK to put on a cooling rack to dry, sans parchment paper. About halfway through, I realized my caramels were slowly sinking through the holes in the rack! Luckily, I was able to salvage the caramels (though I must admit, they weren’t pretty) and set the remaining dipped caramels on parchment paper as instructed. Lesson learned for this impetuous cook!
I must warn you, once you start eating these decadent chocolate-covered bourbon caramels, you may never be able to go back to plain caramels again. Enjoy with a glass of red wine or a cold mug of milk. They also make perfect holiday gifts for neighbors and friends – that is, if you can manage to part with them!
Chocolate-Covered Bourbon Caramels
14 Tbsp. butter
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
2 tsp. sea salt
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tsp. bourbon
For chocolate coating
2 cup Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. shortening
Sea salt flakes, for sprinkling
In a heavy-bottomed pan, such as enameled cast iron, combine all caramel topping ingredients except for the bourbon. Bring to a boil and stir until sugars are dissolved and the mixture is well combined. Using a candy thermometer, watch for about 230 degrees (if not using a thermometer, watch for a rich caramel color- about 5-10 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the bourbon. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then pour into an 8×8” silicone pan or a regular pan lined with parchment. Refrigerate for several hours. Once chilled, cut into small squares.
To make chocolate coating, melt chocolate chips and shortening over very low heat. Coating is ready when the chocolate is smooth and liquid.
Dip the cold caramel squares in the chocolate and shake a bit with a fork, removing extra chocolate. Place on parchment paper to dry, after a light sprinkle of sea salt.
Makes about 3 dozen.