An optional element for November's Daring Bakers challenge was caramels. I love soft, chewy caramels, and so many people had raved about these ones from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert.
I drove out of my way to Whole Foods in order to buy golden syrup -- which was nearly $5 for an 11oz jar. I stocked up on heavy cream. I had visions in my head of passing these out for Christmas, and everyone marveling at how delicious homemade caramels were. But I attempted two batches, both following the directions precisely, and both times they turned into toffee, not soft, chewy caramel. :(
I don't know what I did wrong. All I know is that I used two different candy thermometers, and it was a struggle just to get it to read 220°F, much less the 265°F the recipe asks for. The first time, I cranked up the heat so high that the caramel ended up burning (the bottom of my Dutch oven is still scorched). The second time, armed with a new thermometer and resolving to be more patient, I kept it on a moderate heat but let it cook for longer. (The instructions give NO estimated times whatsoever, which I find to be extremely unhelpful.) Even so, at the 20-30 minute mark, I started to get anxious because the caramel was deepening in color but the temperature still hadn't gotten much above 220°F. I finally decided that rather than repeat the burnt mistake of the first batch, I'd risk undercooking this one. When it cooled, however, it was far from undercooked. It was solid as a rock once more. And yet, I never even got it up to the appropriate temperature!
So, I don't know what's going on. Other DBs had similar problems, and were just as frustrated with the experience as I was. Others, who are more familiar with making candy (I'm a novice), said they didn't use thermometers at all and just went with their instincts, and they got soft, chewy caramels. Grrr. I do still have two jars of golden syrup left, so maybe one day, when I'm not so irritated with the experience, I'll try it again and ignore the temperatures entirely.
The good news is that it's really delicious toffee. I couldn't cut them up nicely, so I have a bunch of uneven pieces wrapped in wax paper, but if you ignore how they look and just focus on how they taste, it's not disappointing at all.