I've been in a candy-making froth for days! I wanted to make my own chocolates for Valentine's Day this year.
First, I made caramels.
(This is the fancy-schmancy recipe, but it's more of a pain)
(This one takes time -as does all candy- but it's pretty easy)
I alternate methods each time I make it, trying to get the PERFECT CARAMEL, but so far my best advice is:
(WARNING----super long, detailed description of caramel making. If you're not interested, just scroll through to the next photo.)
1. Use a AND do the hard/soft ball tests. (Where you drip of the mixture in ice cold water to see how it will set up) The mixture can burn QUICKLY and the whole pot will be ruined. It takes (on my stove) about 12-15 minutes to reach the correct temperature. However, when it starts getting up close, watch it like a hawk. Don't go pee, don't take a phone call, just watch watch watch!
1b. I use a pastry brush dipped in warm water to wash down the sides of the pan while it cooks. Sugar molecules have jagged little edges and like to grab on to 'other stuff'. If this happens, the whole mixture turns into a sticky, clumpy pile of inedible GUNK. Also, make sure your pan is ultra super clean. If there are any little leftover ANYTHING bits (like a speck of pepper, or a flake of oatmeal, or just those slight edge crusties that pans can get) , it can cause the sugar to crystallize.
2. I usually take it off the burner just BEFORE it's as hard as I'll want the final product (using hard/soft ball test)
3. To stop the mixture from continuing to cook, I plunge the bottom of the pan in a sink full of ice water. If I don't, I get crusty, crunchy bits in the bottom of the pan that taste good, but look ugly. And they're a different consistency from most of the caramel. However....I have a yucky electric stove (ARGH) which makes it easy to burn candy. Oh, how I miss a gas stove! We just don't have gas lines out here, and everything is wired for electric. Also, I use fairly cheap pans. I'm sure a more hoity-toity pan would distribute heat more evenly.
4. Use TONS of oil to grease the dish you pour the caramel into. I've tried foil and waxed paper, without much luck. I was forever scraping bits of both off the bottom of the caramels.
5. Recipes always say to wrap the final candies in a square of waxed paper. This looks ADORABLE, but every time I do it, the waxed paper sticks to the caramel. So.....I store them in a flat tin (like a cookie tin) on a layer of waxed paper, with the caramels not touching. If I ever send it or deliver to someone, I put it in plain plastic ziplock bags or in a cellophane bag, which is slightly better looking.
6. If you decided to dip the caramels in chocolate, Make sure they are 100% cooled before you do it, or the chocolate will want to slide off. If you are going to sprinkle THAT with anything (I use different sea salt or colored sugars) sprinkle it on while the chocolate is still hot so that it adheres to the surface. If you wait too long, the sprinkles fall off.
Then I dipped the caramels in dark chocolate. I use a 3 pronged appetizer fork, but they make special 'chocolate forks' if you're interested. I placed the dipped caramels on waxed caramels, then sprinkled a few grains of sea salt on each.
This is Bolivian Rose sea salt. It is a huge grain, but pretty mild. I bought a deeper red, smaller grained salt that's more intense called Hawaiian Alaea sea salt. They're super expensive if you buy LOTS, but you can usually buy very small quantities at specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods.
I melted white and dark chocolate to use in the molds. I bought chocolate molds AND soap molds. They both worked equally well. I use a squeeze bottle for filling in medium sized areas.
I filled in the face portion of the cameo with white chocolate. (Actually, I ended up preferring white almond bark. It sets up harder, and preserves the mold shape better.) I used a teeny paint brush to push the lighter chocolate into delicate areas.
I wish I could find a way to make these into 'edible jewelry'. Remember the candy necklaces and rings you used to buy and eat when you were a kid? I loved those, but I think the chocolate would melt too easily.