Little did we know that starting this blog just eight months ago would completely change our lives in so many ways. Last year around this time, if someone were to predict that in 2016 we would be spending our days taking pictures of peanut butter banana smoothies and key lime pies, we would have thought they were completely crazy. But here we are, loving every second of this new adventure exploring the infinite nature of food from all around the world, discovering new recipes, cooking with exotic spices that we have never used before, and broadening our knowledge in the kitchen. We love the spontaneity of every day, like waking up to find out it’s National Chocolate Cake Day and changing our plans from making a vegetarian soup to a decadent cake topped with a rich caramel whiskey sauce, or being invited to participate in making fancy avocado toast or a chia pudding party! The constant variety keeps the process fun and exciting, and each day brings something different, like this momentous dessert we are thrilled to be sharing today! We had been dreaming about trying the mouthwatering apple cider caramels from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for our next post, but at four thirty in the morning, fate was kind enough to wake up Adam with the idea to replace the apple cider with blood oranges. He was considerate, and waited for the sun to rise before waking up Ryan with his early morning suggestion. With a well-rested mind, and building on Adam’s unexpected citrus concept, Ryan added some tasty suggestions and these extraordinary treats were born. Before we knew it, we were in the kitchen making something entirely different than originally planned. These rich and chewy seasonal caramels are soft, sweet and buttery, bursting with fresh blood orange flavor, and so addictively delicious that you might wake up at 4:30am thinking about them too.
These soft and chewy bite-size squares are attractive with a deep crimson color from the intense blood-red orange juice, and a sweet, tart, almost raspberry-like flavor. This bright, beautiful citrus is blended with smooth caramel: lush with browned butter, vanilla, sugar and cream, and accented with flaky sea salt and a hint of cardamom. This aromatic spice is often used in Indian cooking, and pairing it with the berry-like sweetness of blood oranges is a match made in heaven. Each bite is irresistibly tender and soft, and the tangy citrus blends perfectly with the sweet, buttery salted caramel to make a deliciously smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture that will keep you coming back for more.
Even if you have never made caramel before, this recipe is simple and easy to follow. It begins with four cups of freshly-squeezed blood orange juice, which is shockingly colored in shades of magenta-tinged crimson. The juice is poured through a fine-mesh strainer to remove all the pulp, making the caramels as smooth and creamy as possible. This strained juice is boiled for 45 minutes, getting smaller and smaller as the water evaporates, until at last, a quart of juice becomes just a half-cup of intensely-flavored and deeply-colored syrup, powerfully filled with the concentrated essence of sixteen blood oranges. To this potent reduction we add a classic caramel base: two kinds of sugar, unsalted butter, and a touch of cream. After cooking this bubbling mixture at a very specific temperature—252 degrees fahrenheit—it is removed from heat and flakes of sea salt, ground cardamom, and fragrant vanilla are stirred in briefly before the molten caramel is poured into a pan to cool. All that remains is to cut it into individual pieces, wrap them in squares of wax paper, and try your best to not eat all of them in one sitting. This recipe makes 64 individual candies, making them perfect to serve at a party or gameday celebration. They can be tasty homemade gifts, and their ruby-tinted color makes them ideal for Valentines Day. Of course, they are so delicious that if you decide to keep them all for yourself, we totally understand. Your secret is safe with us.
Blood Orange Caramels with Cardamom and Sea Salt
makes 64 caramels
4 cups blood orange juice (about 16 oranges)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
8 tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110g) brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
wax paper, for wrapping the caramels
Pour the blood orange juice through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the pulp. If the juice still seems pulpy, you can pass it through the strainer a second time. Pour the strained juice into a 2- or 3-quart saucepan, place over high heat, and boil until reduced to 1/2 cup of liquid, about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, and skim any foam off the top as it builds up.
While the juice is cooking, line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper: cut two pieces the width of the bottom of the pan and long enough to hang over either side, and lay them crosswise in the pan, pressing them into the bottom and sides of the pan, creating a sling that you will use later to get the caramels out easily. In a small bowl, combine the cardamom and sea salt, and set aside. Measure the other ingredients and have them ready to go, since once the juice is done reducing they all need to be added quickly.
Once the juice has reduced to just 1/2 cup of thick, syrupy liquid, remove pan from heat, and stir in the butter, sugar, brown sugar, and cream. Stir briefly until the butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Clip a candy/deep-fry thermometer on the pan, making sure the tip is in the mixture but not touching the bottom, and place over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 252°F/122°C, then turn off heat and remove the thermometer. Add the cardamom-salt mixture and the vanilla extract, stirring as you add the vanilla to keep the mixture from sputtering too much. Stir briefly to combine, then pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan, nudging the pan gently to ensure it spreads evenly. Let cool, either at room temperature or in the fridge. When completely cool, get a sharp knife and rub a little neutral vegetable oil on the blade using a paper towel. Lift the caramel square out of the pan using the paper sling, and place it on a cutting board, using the parchment to cover the board. Cut the big square into 64 pieces, occasionally reapplying oil to to the blade as needed. Wrap each caramel in a small piece (about 4×3 inches) of wax paper, and gently twist the ends to seal them. Store either in the fridge or at room temperature, and enjoy!
— Before you begin, try pouring 1/2 cup of water in your saucepan, so you can see what that volume of liquid looks like (Don’t forget to pour it out though!). That way, when you are reducing the juice later, you will know what to look for.
— As you are cooking, if you are unsure how much the juice has reduced, you can (carefully!) pour the mixture into a heatproof measuring cup to see how close you are to 1/2 cup. Measure quickly, then pour it back into the pot to keep it cooking.
— As the caramel is cooking, you will likely have blackened marks around the sides of the pan from juice or pulp that burned. Don’t worry about this, as it will not mix into the caramel or affect the flavor. Just let the pan soak with soap and warm water after you’re done cooking, and it will clean easily.
— Storing the caramels in the fridge gives them a firmer texture than at room temperature. It’s simply a matter of personal preference!
— Juicing this much citrus can take forever by hand. Using an electric juicer makes this task quick and easy.
— Candy or Deep Fry thermometers are widely available in stores and online.