maple bacon salted caramels

Although I am a huge fan of bacon, I have trouble placing it in the dessert realm. Don’t get me wrong, salty and sweet are an amazing combination and probably the reason that I chase chocolates with handfuls of chips. Knowing that salted caramel flavors have become a trend, I thought, why not add crumbled bacon to the mix.

It has been a while since I last made caramel and decided to try a recipe using evaporated milk and glucose. (Why!?!) This did not work out well. I ended up with golden paste that tasted like the base for pralines. Following the directions precisely with the use of a candy thermometer did not provide the deep amber colored caramel I had hoped for. Too soft golden paste = undercooked caramel. Completely bummed out, I had to try again using a different recipe.

Luckily, I had recently watched an episode of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa where she reviewed Fleur De Sel Caramels. The ingredients used in this recipe allow bakers to master caramel with or without a candy thermometer. The big sell for this recipe is that the ingredients are familiar to my pantry. I cannot explain what prompted me to choose a recipe with glucose aside from knowing the benefits (softer treats/more elasticity). That being said, getting past the chemical smell of glucose is challenging.

I recommend using an ice bath to test the firm ball stage since the thermometer will only read temperature. In this specific case, the caramel mixture should reach a temperature of 245-248° before removing it from the heat. During my first caramel attempt using evaporated milk and glucose, I solely relied on the thermometer which resulted in praline paste. Using an ice bath will allow you to check the consistency (can it be balled up and hold shape in the ice water). It is okay for the caramel temperature to exceed 248° in this recipe as long as the firm ball stage has not yet been reached. Note that I did not use a candy thermometer the second time around. Thanks Ina!

Once you determine your favorite caramel recipe, think about the endless array of topping choices – chocolate, fruit, nuts, marshmallows and maybe even bacon.

maple bacon salted caramels

parchment paper
vegetable oil (for pan)
¼ cup water
1½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp fine fleur de sel (or any sea salt)
½ tsp pure vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean
coarse or flaky fleur de sel (for sprinkling)
maple bacon (cooked and coarsely chopped for sprinkling)

Prepare one 8x8-inch square pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment so that the edges hang over two sides (see photograph above). This will allow you to remove the caramel block with ease. Lightly brush the parchment with oil.

Be sure to measure and combine the proper ingredients before cooking. Below there are two mixtures that should be separated into two different heavy-bottomed saucepans (“sugar” and “heavy cream” mixtures). Both should be cooked at the same time. 

Sugar Mixture

In one saucepan, combine the water, sugar and corn syrup. Bring this mixture to a boil over medium-high heat until the mixture is golden brown. (Ina Tip: Do not stir, just swirl pan.) When this mixture is done, turn off heat and prepare to add the finished "heavy cream" mixture.

Heavy Cream Mixture

In one saucepan, combine heavy cream, butter and fine sea salt. Bring this mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off, set aside until "sugar" mixture is ready. 

Combining Mixtures

Once the sugar mixture is done, add the “heavy cream” mixture. At this stage, the caramel will bubble violently. Stir in the vanilla extract (or scrapings from one vanilla bean) with a wooden spoon and return to heat. Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until the firm ball stage is reached (248˚ on candy thermometer). Pour the caramel into the prepared 8x8-inch pan and refrigerate for 2-4 hours until firm.

Remove the caramel block and cut the square in half. Roll both halves from the long side creating two logs (photographs above).

Sprinkle the top of each log with desired amount of coarse or flaky fleur de sel and bacon pieces. Trim the ends of each log. Cut each log into eight equal pieces. (Ina Tip: Caramel is easier to cut if knife is greased with flavorless oil.)

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa.