Everywhere I turn, seems there’s salted caramel something going on–salted caramel apple pie, fleur de sel caramels and so on. The right combination of salty and sweet is so appealing. I wanted to see what it was all about, but never made caramels before, nevermind salted ones. Could making them at home really be as simple as it looks? Well, not completely! But it was a great learning experience, culminating in the tastiest turtles I ever tried, so all was not lost.

I adapted a tried and true recipe from the online community. Aunt Emily, whoever you are, I thank you for teaching me to make these tasty treats–even tho’ I don’t think I got it quite right the first time. I used the best butter I know, some Australian flake salt for good measure and bourbon–BOOYAH!

Adapted from Aunt Emily’s Soft Caramels

8 oz. Vermont Creamery cultured butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup whole milk (here in the Land of Steady Habits, I ♥ The Farmer’s Cow)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup Karo light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon bourbon (how ’bout some Maker’s Mark?)
3/4 teaspoon Australian flake salt

Have you tried Vermont Creamery cultured butter? I’m not sure I ever had a better butter. Locally, you can find it in Stop & Shop in the cheese section near the deli counter.

First things first: butter a 13 x 9″ baking dish and set aside.

Next place all the ingredients–EXCEPT the vanilla, bourbon and salt–in a large pot like this:

Set the pan on medium heat and set a timer for 15 minutes.

Stir occasionally till the butter melts and the mixture begins to boil. We hit the boiling point here in Katty’s Kitchen around the 14-minute mark.

The caramel needs to reach 244 degrees F (a.k.a. the “firm ball” stage) before we’re done. You’ll feel like you’re stuck at 220 degrees F for the longest time (well, I did!), so here’s where using a timer can be a huge help. Once the caramel begins to boil, set a timer for 25 minutes. 25 to 30 minutes is about how long it will take to get to that magic number. Wait for it. Don’t give up. I know it will feel like the thermometer will never rise above 220, but trust me, it will happen. Be patient. It’s a good lesson for both caramel-making and life in general. 😉

Remove from heat. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon Maker’s Mark, 1/2 teaspoon Australian flake salt. Pour into buttered pan. Sprinkle with additional 1/4 teaspoon flake salt, crumbled between your fingers. Let cool, then cut and store in the fridge.

My mom loved the caramels in their original state. I thought they’d be softer, however delicious. After they were in your mouth a bit, they’d soften, but not before your jaw would make that annoying popping noise. How was I gonna make these into turtles? That’s really why I wanted to make my own caramel in the first place. Hmm.

Undaunted, I melted down the caramels with more cream in hopes of creating a caramel sauce. This was just the ticket to getting the consistency I needed to give me turtle power. A l’il more Maker’s might have made its way into the mix, too–how else are we gonna make ninja turtles?! Once the caramel sauce is cooled, it’s just right for scooping and making turtles. Don’t forget to store the sauce in the fridge!

I melted a tablespoon or so of butter and tumbled pecans to coat them, then roasted them over medium/medium-high heat on the stovetop. On a sheet of parchment paper, I formed clusters of four to give the turtles legs. In fact, for those who don’t like pecans, you can give the turtles alternate legs. I made “Italian” turtles with almond legs, too.

Once the caramel sauce cooled, I used my small cookie scoop, half-filled, to grab a gob of caramel to press onto the nut clusters, then topped each one with two Valrhona dark chocolate feves. Can you say turtle-icious?!

Last but not least, “The Italian Jobs!”

You might think they’re just too cute to eat. You’ll get over it once you have a bite, though.

Important lesson learned:
You really CAN do anything you set your mind to doing, even if it (literally) does not take shape the first time. Keep trying!
Here’s to a delicious 2012!