I think the true key to achieving impressive feats – whether it’s hosting a five-course dinner party, formulating an experiment that produces publishable results, or completing a full marathon – is a healthy dose of naive enthusiasm. We were on Food52 looking for something else entirely when a picture caught our eye: golden-brown caramels, topped with toasted pepitas and fleur de sel. Hey, those look good, we said, let’s make them tonight. And so, with no prior planning we embarked into the unknown. There was a brief moment of clarity on the way home – I have a historic success rate of 50% when it comes to caramels – but then the enthusiasm flared and I forgot all about the disasters potentially awaiting us in the kitchen.
While it is nowhere near Halloween, we couldn’t resist these pumpkin pie caramels. Maybe it’s the foggy weather, maybe just the ready availability of the pepitas (languishing on the kitchen counter). Either way, they seemed the obvious choice, so we jetted off to the store immediately after work to pick up the rest of the ingredients. While one of us heated cream, pumpkin, and spices until fragrantly steaming, the other stirred every conceivable form of sugar together (maple syrup, corn syrup, and granulated) as the mixture was brought to a boil. Once the two had been combined, we began the long, nerve-fraying, wrist-aching process of stirring and watching the thermometer. We were aiming for the ‘soft ball’ stage, at which point the caramel would be thick enough to set without pulling all of your fillings out the minute you take a bite (that’s the scientific definition, anyway). After the longest 35 minutes of my life, it readily formed a malleable ball when dropped into a glass of water and the temperature had finally reached 240 F. We poured the deep golden caramel into a waiting baking dish and let it cool.
Luckily, we had a movie to get to at this point or we probably would have spent the next two hours staring at the dish and poking it to test for readiness. Left to rest in peace instead, the caramel set up nicely and we got to sprinkle great flourishes of salt over the surface before tucking it into the fridge. An overnight wait – the anticipation nearly killing us here – firmed it up enough to cut. The seemingly endless waiting was absolutely worth it – the feeling of a hot knife slicing through spiced, gooey bites of sugar at 9 in the morning is the most pleasurable addition imaginable to my standard morning routine. The caramels themselves were heavenly: soft, warm and spicy from the cinnamon and cloves, the pepitas rich and crunchy, and each mouthful crackling with a burst of salt.
Don’t let the horror stories you’ve heard scare you off! These caramels are all the sweetness you need in your life.
Salted Pumpkin Caramels
Recipe from Food52
- 2/3 cup unsalted pepitas
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/3 cup good maple syrup
- 1/4 cup of water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in chunks
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
- Dry toast the pepitas in a skillet until they start to pop.
- Line the bottom and the sides of an 8-in square glass pan with parchment. Butter the parchment on the sides of the pan. Evenly spread out the toasted pepitos on the bottom of the pan, on top of the parchment.
- In a saucepan, combine heavy cream, pumpkin puree and spices. Get this mixture quite warm, but not boiling. Set aside.
- In a second heavy bottomed pan, with sides at least 4 inches high, combine the sugar, both syrups and water. Stir until the sugars are melted, Then let it boil until it reaches 244 degrees (the soft ball point on a candy thermometer). Then very carefully add the cream and pumpkin mixture, and slowly bring this mixture to 240 degrees as registered on a on a candy thermometer. This can take awhile — like 30 minutes — but don’t leave the kitchen, watch it carefully and stir it more frequently once it hits 230 degrees to keep it from burning at the bottom of the pan.
- As soon as it reaches the 240, pull it off the heat and stir in the butter and lemon juice. Stir vigorously so that butter is fully incorporated.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let cool 30 minutes and sprinkle the salt over the top. Let the caramels fully set (at least 2 hours) before using a hot knife to cut them into 1-inch squares and wrapping them individually in waxed paper.