There is just something about salty and sweet. This is nothing new. It is why there are so many salted dessert combos, it is why people dip their french fries into their milkshakes (eww), it is why I had to, had to, had to make these. Now this is a first run, and it was not perfect. In fact it was as far from perfect as it possibly could be and still have a final product that was edible. However, they tasted fantastic and I have every confidence that next time they will have the golden caramel color they should rightfully be displaying... being a salted-caramel square and all.
So what could go wrong with a baked good you ask? Ohhhh my friend, is this your first time here? Baked goods and I are not friends. We are even less friendly now that we have a mortal enemy... OUR OVEN. However, this time I cannot blame the oven as much as I really want to. It's always easier to blame someone or something else isn't it. Unfortunately, the mistake is all mine. I am always trying to squeeze my kitchen experiments in between other activities so I am usually distracted and or tired, and this time was no different. I read the measurement wrong, I'm not even sure what my problem was as what I read isn't even in the recipe. Maybe I am dsylexic as well... it's not the first time I've wondered. So instead of 2 1/4 cups of sugar for the caramel, I put in 3/4 of a cup. I have no idea, don't ask. Anyway.... it looked a little something like this.....
Having never attempted caramel from scratch I didn't know any better. I happily let the sugar water mixture bubble away it ignorant bliss.
Surprisingly adding white to white did not produce amber... hmmm funny how that works. I then dutifully waited for the bubbles to subside waiting for the colormetric miracle to kick in and turn my caramel... well ...caramel. While toying with a new name for the recipe... albino caramel? Milk caramel... bah.
I added the butter and looked again... a little more yellowy but still not caramel. This is right around the time I started visualizing all the caramels I see made on food network... let me tell you... they are caramel in color NOT WHITE. What is going on in the kitchen nightmare? That is when I started reviewing the recipe and saw my error.... take hand smack forehead.... insult the caramel's mother, and try not to cry (I told you I was tired). Think, think.... can carmel be saved some how? Should I start over... that's when I did a little tally of the price of vanilla bean and heavy cream already in mixture.... not really an option to start over. What if I cook the dickens out of this sloppy creamy milk will it turn into something resembling caramel? Certainly not without more sugar. Do a small bit of math and figure out how much sugar is missing... throw that back into a pot... now we already added the entire amount of water, but then again we cooked it to death so let's try another 1/8 of cup.... heat, stir, stir, stir... remember you are not suppose to stir... watch as it turns into this....
This also does not look anything like caramel... keep stirring... okay it's just solidifying... add a little more water... AHA!
Now, the caramel never got any darker, and it supposedly never reached 240 either, but by some miracle it did solidfy, and it did taste really great! Really, really great. Make these. And share them... it makes a large batch. I couldn't find my large pan so I had two small ones, and one would have been enough, and I still brought in half to work and shared with everyone.... and now I still have a pan at home. Oh how will I make it through with the abundance of salty-sweet goodness? I will just have to manage.... and I will have to try to make caramel again this weekend, and next weekend, and the weekend after that need be until I get it right!
Adapted from Food and Wine
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg white, beaten
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer at low speed, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners' sugar. Add the whole eggs and beat until incorporated, then beat in the flour and salt. Press the pastry into the prepared pan in an even layer, 1/4 inch thick. Freeze until firm, 10 minutes.
Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 35 minutes, until just set. Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment. Brush the shell with the egg white and bake for 20 minutes longer, until golden and cooked through. Let cool.
In a saucepan, bring the cream, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer. Cover; keep warm.
In a large, heavy saucepan, stir the sugar into 1/4 cup of water. Simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until a deep amber caramel forms, 7 minutes.
Remove the caramel from the heat and carefully add the cream. When the bubbling subsides, stir in the butter. Insert a candy thermometer and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the caramel reaches 240°, 10 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and stir in the salt. Pour the caramel over the shell. Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours or overnight; bring to room temperature. Remove the bar from the pan using the parchment overhang; cut into squares.