This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Balsamic Vinegar and Sea Salt Caramels (Gluten Free)

One of the highlights of spending Christmas with my parents in Florida (besides the salt-water swimming pools and the Siesta Key drum circle) was the visit to Katy Rose Olive Oils in Sarasota.  Before any real foodie gets condescending about it, let me say that in southwest Michigan the idea of an oil and vinegar bar is pretty damn exotic.

Update: 5/20/14:  There are half a dozen of these in the Atlanta area, and I picked up red apple balsamic vinegar at Oli + Ve in Roswell for another batch.  

You walk into this place and it is rows of "casks" of olive oils and vinegars.  You can taste each one, and/or they will fill bottles for purchase.  Everything they have is gluten-free, and they stock other gluten-free items, such as pastas and candies, elsewhere in the store.

The foodie impulse, of course was "one of EVERYTHING!" I ended up with a large bottle of an herbed olive oil, a medium bottle of a fig balsamic vinegar (so delicious on fruity salads!) and a tiny bottle of the red apple balsamic vinegar.  The last is a thick vinegar with a rich, dark tart apple flavor, and I had a specific purpose in mind for it.  As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was destined for homemade caramels.

Now the caramels are made, and so very, very tasty.  I'll share the recipe, but know that you can either substitute another (high quality) fruity balsamic vinegar or leave it out altogether and they will still be very, very tasty!

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup corn syrup
2 1/4 cups (lightly packed) brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse ground sea salt
1 1/2  tablespoons red apple balsamic vinegar
Extra butter for greasing

  1. line a 9"x9" pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. 
  2. In the saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. 
  3. When it is melted, add the sugar and stir well until it is all incorporated.
  4. Stir in corn syrup and cream
  5. Cook over medium heat for two to three minutes, then raise temperature to medium-high.
  6. Stir constantly until the mixture boils, then reduce back to medium heat. 
  7. Keep at an even boil until the mixture thickens (30 minutes to 1 hour), stirring frequently to prevent separation. 
  8. If sugar begins to crystallize on side of pot, use a wet basting brush and cold water to rinse down the crystals so that they do not affect the texture of the caramels.
  9. When mixture reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit (firm ball stage) on a candy thermometer or a spoonful dropped into ice water gives you the right texture, remove caramel from heat.  
  10. Add sea salt and vinegar and stir briskly for a few seconds to incorporate. 
  11. Pour immediately into buttered parchment-lined pans.
  12. Allow to cool for several hours or until completely firmed.
  13. Cut into small pieces with heavy duty kitchen shears, a knife, or a pizza roller.  Greasing the cutting edge with butter will help prevent sticking.  Wrap each piece in wax paper. 

The fruity flavor of the vinegar will be subtle at first, but will develop more over time. 

1 comment:

  1. There are actually several stores like this throughout MI! You can find the Olive Cart in South Haven, The Olive Mill in Saugatuck, and Fustini's in Holland, to name a few. You can also find a limited selection of the Olive Mill at Beer and Skittles in Kalamazoo (great store, by the way). SW Michigan is more foodie friendly than it gets credit for.

    Anyway, thanks for the recipe. I'm excited to try it out!