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November 06, 2008

Dry Caramel, salt

This time of year always reminds me of caramel.  I grew up in a fairly small town (8 streets tall, four streets wide), and every Halloween, we joined forces with the neighboring town to host a big parade on the Sunday afternoon before Halloween.  There were roller-skating clowns (which still to this day freak me out), and fire trucks decorated with orange streamers, cardboard skeletons, and that fake cobweb stuff.  Politicians would ride on the back ledge of their car dealer-loaned convertible, followed by the local high school homecoming king and queen, Miss York County, and if we were really lucky, Miss Pennsylvania, waving to the crowds as they went by.  The local VFW men in their jackets, service pin-laden sashes, and member hats, would lead the parade with a flag line, and we'd all stand and salute or put our hands over our hearts as they walked by.  Marching bands, flag teams, majorette squads, old-timey cars, Cub Scout troops, and social and civic clubs from across the county would dress up and compete for what was probably a $50 "Best of" prize in their category.

In junior high and high school, I was in marching band (I know you're not surprised one bit), so I spent many a cold October Sunday in my polyester uniform and plumed hat walking the three-mile route playing Africa and Tusk and, yes, Celebration on my glockenspiel.

My grandmother lived along the parade route, and before I was old enough to be in the parade (which was the equivalent of being a total rock star) my cousins and I, all decked out in jeans and heavy sweaters, would sit along the curb, plastic pumpkin baskets in hand, waiting for the best part of the parade -- the fire trucks.  Why?  Because the firemen tossed candy from the truck, and it would scatter across the pavement and toward our feet like an accidentally overturned basket of crabs, and we'd elbow each other out of the way to get the candy we wanted.  Smarties, Snickers, Sweet Tarts, Necco Wafers, Tootsie Rolls, Charms Blow Pops... you name it, they had it, and they threw it right at us.  It was BETTER than trick or treating, because all you had to do was sit there and wait for it.  None of that pesky walking around in your sweaty costume, breathing through the tiny airhole in your plastic mask.  And did I mention the pesky walking around part?  TOO MUCH WORK.

At the end of the parade, we'd all trudge up the small hill that was my grandmother's front yard (it's barely a slope but when you're six, it's Everest), and head inside for hot chocolate, doughnuts, and some heavy negotiations amongst us kids about who wanted to swap out some of our candy for the better stuff.  For a long time, I was the youngest of many cousins, so I know I got swindled ("no Carol, I promise, it's totally fair that you give me seven of your full-size peanut butter cups for this Tootsie Roll that somehow didn't come in a wrapper"), so don't think when the tides turned and I was able to lord over my new set of younger cousins, I didn't do the same.  I totally did, because  the mission at hand was to amass as many Kraft caramels and Sugar Daddies as I could.  Ah, Sugar Daddies... you had to just suck on them because chewing them would rip out a molar.  But moreso, I loved getting caramels during the parade because I'd always unwrap one and drop it into my mug of hot chocolate and let it almost melt by the time I'd finished drinking.  Then, I could scoop out the caramel with my spoon and it would be just the right smoothness, and it would be all warm and drippy.

So every year in October and November, I crave caramel.  Even though it's one of my favorite flavors, it feels wrong to eat it at any other time.  Almost like I'm cheating on fall.

So, now that I've made you suffer through tales of marching band and being the Don Corleone of my cousins, it's probably about freakin' time I talk about this dish.

So, Dry Caramel, salt: here we go --


In a medium-sized saucepan, I heated the sugar, glucose (the clear, bubbly stuff above that actually reminds me of this stuff), cream, and butter over medium heat until it reached 230 degrees (F).





I poured it onto a Silpat-lined sheet tray to cool.  The book says it needs to cool to room temperature, but it mentions nothing about it hardening, which mine did.  Hmmmmm....

After it has cooled, you measure/weigh a certain amount of the caramel base and put it in the food processor with some tapioca maltodextrin, then you process it until the "caramel base is completely absorbed."  That last part quotes directly from the book and leads me to believe that maybe, perhaps, my caramel base wasn't supposed to harden (FAIL) and that I would probably break my food processor trying to do this step.



Here goes:


Can I get a what-what?

I think it worked.

I covet the glasses this dry caramel is served and photographed in in the book (p. 297), and wish I had thought to buy some, but alas, I did not.  The only small-ish, shot-ish glasses I have are vintage and they're green, so I called my friend, Linda, across the street and asked what her barware situation was like and could I bring my dry caramel over and serve it there?  She happily obliged, so I took the food processor bowl off the stand and marched it right over to her house where I spooned it into these little glasses, and topped it off with a pinch or so of sea salt.


So, how'd it taste?

I'd had a dry shot at Alinea in July, so I knew what it would be like to have something powdered go in and then explode with flavor as it hit your tongue.  It was fun to see everyone's hesitant yet curious faces go from I-don't-know (as the powdered caramel hit their tongues) to Whoa-and-cool as it re-liquified in their mouths.  We all had seconds and thirds, and it was delicious.  I had some extra leftover, so I packed it in a plastic deli container and took it to my parents' house the next day when I went up for a quick visit.  My dad and I bypassed the whole polite manners part of putting it in a glass, and just used a spoon, so it was kind of cool to be able to bring this new caramel preparation back to the same town where I fell in love with caramel as a child.

Note: You'll see in the right-hard margin a small "Links" section.  In that section, I'm linking to a "Hydrocolloid Shopping" list that someone else put together and made into a Google Doc, and that my buddy, Joey, found for me.  So, if you're having trouble finding some of the specialty items used in the Alinea cookbook, that link might be a helpful resource.

Up Next: Salad, red wine vinaigrette... or perhaps, if you behave yourselves, Sea Urchin, vanilla, chili, mint.  Because, Scott, my trusty fishmonger, has put the entire New England coast on sea urchin duty.  I'm a little scared.

Domino sugar
Tapioca maltodextrin and Glucose from L'Epicerie
Organic Valley heavy cream
365 organic butter
Maldon sea salt

Music to Cook By: Sondre Lerche; Faces Down.  I like to think this Norwegian poppy, somewhat-dare-I-say bouncing, strummy-strummy-la-la kind of music is the soundtrack playing as I'm walking down the street in some fantasy world I live in because I rarely walk anywhere and instead scorch the earth driving my SUV everywhere.  But really, if I did walk down the street, in a jaunty cap of some sort, I like to think "Modern Nature" is what's playing as I do so.

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Carol. This is GOOD!

I loved your story and BTW, I STILL go to my grandmother's house and beg for candy. I works, almost always.

The shopping list is a GREAT idea, as it complements the the ingredients index in the cookbook, a terrific resource.

I have a little trouble imagining the reliquification experience. Would this complement anything from traditional cuisine...could you serve it before or along with something as pedestrian as an apple crisp, for example (sorry Chef Achatz)? Or is it just better appreciated for its individual course "wow" factor?

When I was in 5th grade I took 3rd place in the fire safety essay contest from the York Dispatch...and for a prize I got to sit on one of those vintage fire trucks in the Halloween parade. :) I don't remember throwing candy, though.

Hang in there, as I can imagine your 'other' life is pretty chaotic right now!

You lived my childhood too!

I have not dined at Alinea but this procedure is used by numerous restaurants as a "powder" or "dust" to accent dishes especially with dessert courses. Works like magic!

Very cool, Carol! and the "Hydrocolloid Shopping" list is genius - I've been recently shopping and this list is very welcome.

OMG, Crystal Gravy. Classic.

Bravo, Carol; since my wife has an aversion to chocolate, I'm always on the lookout for caramel, butterscotch, toffee kind of things, and this may fit the bill very nicely.

Thanks for the memories of parades, marching band, etc. however our uniforms were of heavy wool. The line-up must be the same in every town.

Congratulations on your first "chemical" creation!!!!!!! I could feel it popping in my mouth.

Thanks for the sources link - it saves all of us research time.

BTW, ALINEA was very kind to resend my copy of the book which the USPS lost. I'm now set to follow along.....Yeah!!!!

i cant help but notice that no one has hooked my girl up with the what-what she requested..

I got your back.


this recipe is my next adventure.. thanks

OMG, I so remember playing candy Godfather. I bartered hard for Sugar Daddies and Mary Janes. I wonder if dry caramel would be good on ice cream? I will conduct some research and get back to you.

One year, I told my lil bro I would trick or treat for him while he went hunting for the first time. I TOLD him he wasn't allowed to have the candy b/c he shot a rabbit. The TRUTH is that I was (and maybe still am) a greedy snot.... :-) Because I wanted to appear merciful, I gave him the candy I didn't like. Being the oldest had its perks until he got taller than me. That sucked.

Ha ha! Awesome! I've spent the past 11 Halloweens of my life going to a parade with my former in-laws that was EXACTLY like this. I had to collar my stepson constantly to keep him from running under fire trucks for loot.

This looks like a great start Carol. Man, I can't wait for my copy of this book to show up.

Ah Carol, your post brought back my own Sugar Daddy memories. 7th grade gym class. 1966. All of us had on those charming blue snap up outfits with our name in white letters across the back, and since my last name was long, it made a huge arch across my back. One of my fellow gym class members had discovered a lump under her arm and we all gathered around her as the gym teacher took a look-see. As she tentatively touched the "growth," it fell off. It seems the girl had forgotten she had stuck a Sugar Daddy in her armpit for safe-keeping and later snacking. I believe she had bubblegum behind her ear too. Thanks for the memories.

Carol, can you substitute light corn syrup for the glucose?

**Carol Says: I am not an expert on these kinds of substitutions, so I'll leave it to any of the pros who read this site to follow up with a comment if they know. I did a quick search, and of course, some folks said "sure" and others said "never."**

I'm willing to bet this would make a wonderful topping for pear or vanilla bean ice cream, or on apple slices as a "deconstructed carmel apple." Not having made it yet, I'm not sure if it would be overly salty for those purposes. Isn't Tapioca Maltodextrin fun to experiment with? You were wise to blend in the food processor. I've gunked up some whisks during some failed TM experiments. As you probably know, the higher the lipid content of your base material, the higher chances of success when creating TM-based "soil." Appropriate ratios of base-to-TM appear to vary wildly from base to base.

very cool. my alinea cook book is on its way.

Ah, band memories. And Crystal Gravy. It's like the nineties have returned with a vengance. Love it!

Funny you mention NECCO wafers. I had no idea they still made those horrendous things. The Skeeter got some for Halloween, and he's not a fan either.

Although I was saddened that Grandma's green shot glasses did not make another appearance, I was pleased to learn that Linda also has fabulous taste in glassware. I'll also bet twenty that you used the opportunity to play some Rock Band, too.

How did I know that link was going to be for crystal gravy...

You're off to a wonderful start!

The Dan in Real Life soundtrack was composed by Lerche and is pretty awesome, IMO. There's a great cover of an Elvis Costello song on it to boot.

About the corn syrup/glucose question, I went to my textbook from school to find the best answer I could:

Glucose syrup is a type of corn syrup, specifically 42DE (dextrose equivalent) syrup. The DE will tell you the sweetness of the syrup, the consistency and how able to caramelize the syrup is. Glucose syrup at 42 is only moderately sweet and doesn't caramelize easily. The corn syrup in the grocery stores probably doesn't have a DE number on it so you can't really tell what those attributes are. For most applications, regular corn syrup and glucose syrup can be interchanged. So I say, give it a try, but you should really try to use glucose syrup if you can.

I love it, thanks!! Please.. sugar, glucose, cream, and butter... What is the quantity of each ingredient?

**Carol Says: Barbara, I don't give a specific ingredient list or exact measurements on this blog. Ever. A lot of people worked really hard for many years to create these recipes, so you should buy the book. Just giving it all away for free is wrong.**

Following along at home ... Yes heating sugar syrup to 230 should have resulted in something that hardened up like that. 230 is the stage known as "hard crack" (tee hee) which results in a hard, brittle candy.

So much fun to follow along with you.


First off, totally agree on the caramel - my absolute favorite sweet, to say nothing of the most complex and interesting flavor.

Second - kudos to you. I loved French Laundry at Home, but with Alinea at Home you're cementing a rep as the ballsiest home cook on the web. Keep it up, this makes for awesome reading. I probably won't have my copy of Alinea until Chanukah, but cannot wait to go back and follow along!

In my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa we had the exact same parade - it was called Rivercade in celebration of the nearby Missouri River. One year Fred Grandy (Gopher on Love Boat) was the Grand Marshall. And of course the Iowa Pork Queen always made an appearance.

I'm not sure the marching bands every had the audacity to play Tusk. I remember thinking that was such a funny song to be on the radio, especially with Diana Ross and the other disco acts of the time. It was definitely not typical Fleetwood Mac, at my young impressionable age it sounded more like the soundtrack to some satanic cabal, by which I mean I loved it. I think the high school band did play Funky Town one of those years, though.

I've always felt bad for the band director - attempting to ameliorate the masses with pop adaptations while secretly wishing he had taken a chance on that audition for the Omaha symphony. A lifetime of regret re-realized each day with a 6 a.m. marching band practice in the bitter Iowa cold.

Having been an avid UK reader of TFL Blog I could completely relate to all the recipes contained witin that and what Keller was setting out to do. However, at present I am a little sceptical about Alinea. It shows great courage to try and replicate these at home however of the 2 dishes that you have presented so far, I am yet to see how these are/can be used to provide a complete dish as we know it. It is clearly a great feat of cooking to replicate these recipes but I feel that (like El Bulli) they would need to be served as part of a multi multi course tasting menu to show their worth as there is no interplay of textures and tastes that you would associate with a conventional plate of food.
I will keep tuning in to see how you are getting on but I am not feeling the love for this at the moment.
AB England

**Carol Says: AB, I understand what you're saying, absolutely. Alinea and The French Laundry are different restaurants, and both cookbooks are unique. Alinea doesn't deliver what most of us perceive as "a conventional plate of food," you're right. But the one thing I'm already finding is that the core essence of these dishes triggers some surprising memories and taste associations. It's certainly a new way of thinking about food, for me especially. I hope you'll stay with me, and keep the dialogue going. I'm sure you're not the only one who feels this way, and that's okay. As long as we can all be respectful of one another's opinions, I'm all for healthy debate and discussion in the comments.**

I think I might actually try this ...

I really must remember NOT to read your things at work with my door open, because I almost sprayed a coworker with tea as he walked past while I was reading about the Halloween parade. My little itty bitty Southwest PA (Pennsylvania represent!) hometown has one of these - still - every July and every single fire company from about 17 boroughs and townships around shows up and throws the delicious candy. Also - I was the freak in the band, too. Except I've got one up on you: OUR plumed helmets had mirrors, which (when bored - which was often) we would use to blind innocent parade watchers with our band fierocity.

I followed FLAH and I'm here for Alinea. I'm super-interested in the Alinea flavor essence-ness-thing that's going on. I've now gotten several good friends hooked - keep on rockin' with your bad self.

PS: not gonna lie - missed Granma's shot glasses.

Thanks for the TOTO link - I needed that today!

glockenspiel? seiously?

**Carol Says: Oh yes. Very serious. I played the oboe, and since oboes are not marching band instruments, I got moved into the percussion section. It was awesome. I mean, embarrassing. (not really, it was kind of awesome)**

What a cool dish. That reliquification thing sounds interesting--I'm gonna have to try this!

i think i can get behind caramel in any form.

slightly OT, but have you tried the salted caramel hot chocolate from starbucks? good lord, it's heavenly!

Excellent. I'm glad to see you're listing resources.

I could see your site developing a "pantry section"- a tutorial to remind readers as to the functions of the non-obvious ingredients.

FLAH carryover, when I received my Alinea cookbook, I identified like four dishes for which I had the ingredients/tools.

I did the bacon last week, and although I had to build my own sex swing (used while consuming bacon), I am hooked.

Thanks for ingredients sourcing (Mosaic is showing some potential for sharing exotiic ingredients), glucose and tapioca whatever are on the way.

I am so excitied.

om my god, the memories!!! I played cymbals in mb becasue I played oboe!!!and I was going to major in classical oboe performance


Anyways...I have been following FLAH for about 6 months now and I love it. I love that you rant when you want and don't praise something if you don't think it deserves it. I've been cooking out of the Bouchon book for the restaurant that I work at. A lot of my features, I owe to Keller, Cerciello and the Keller team!!!

I love what you're doing and as a trained cook(how dare i call myself a professional when I'm still learning!!), the stuff you're taking on intimidates me, yet inspires me to be ambituos beyond my comfort zone(in a lunch rush!)

couple of questions thogh...the caramel...does it have a texture that is dry like cornstach/powdered sugar, or is it stickier/denser like pixie sticks. I understand that it depends on how much you robo coup it. how does it keep?
Here's a caramel thing that i like, caramel corn with bacon lardons...

secondly, I love Grant, Heston, and Ferran for deconstructing food and recreating it to be something different, but still bring up memories of what it essentially is. But what is your opinion of the chemicals and how it is what some would say unnatural...I mean, isn't that what cooks are trying to stay away from...the preservatives.. Moreso, is there any "danger" in it. Keep in mind that I eat whatever my body craves and I don't let that stop me from eating stuff like kraft mac and cheese. don't get me wrong...I LOVE what these cooks are doing. I have wanted to go to Alinea since the beginning when Grant was at Trio.

I love what you are doing and keep going!!!!

thankyou for reading this long post and rock on!

OMG, I *so* remember that Crystal Gravy bit!

Like AB who commented earlier, I was wondering how I might incorporate Alinea recipes into a menu that I could actually prepare - myself - and serve to people in a single evening. (There's like, 900 people cooking in the Alinea kitchen each night, right? So the chances of my preparing an entire Spring meal anytime soon is less than zero.)

What I've started playing around with are a few extremely abbreviated menus (5-6 courses MAX) which incorporate different components of the Alinea recipes. For example, I'm looking at a Thanksgiving-ish menu with a pumpkin mousse-type dessert with the Dry caramel, salt (it helps that the recipe is probably the easiest one in the entire book). And I'd like to try making some sort of cranberry "caviar" (using the calcium lactate/sodium alginate spherification technique) in place of the usual cranberry sauce. Just to ratchet up the wacky-holiday-dinner factor a bit. :-)

It helps that I'm all about the learning/mastering the techniques, rather than recreating the Alinea "experience". Speaking of techniques, I was surprised that your caramel hardened at 230 degrees. I thought that was the soft ball stage; I would have expected it o be somewhat more pliable than it looked. Do you think the caramel might have continued cooking after you took the pan off the stove? And would it have made any difference when you blended it if it hadn't hardened so much?

Enquiring minds want to know...

Personally, I was color guard since you can't play a violin in the marching band. Our big claim to fame was the finale song: Karnevil 9 by ELP. You have never heard this song at its best unless you have heard it played by 75 band nerds at a football game. I now get to relive my 80's marching band memories through my tuba playing son. I feel 17 all over again.

That caramel sounds fabulous-something I could do!

Can I buy this from you in bulk???

just wanted to tell you that the horrible wretched noise when you put the hardened caramel into the food processor is always one of the scariest things for me. even though i know the machine will break up my caramel/brittle/whatever, it still feels totally wrong every time.

we use things like that powder a bunch at my work.

and, on the glucose/corn syrup question i am guessing the real purpose of that ingredient is to keep the caramel mixture from recrystallizing as you heat it, in which case corn syrup should work fine. alinea probably has glucose on hand and not corn syrup, hence its usage.

You know, your French Laundry blog hooked me into wanting to purchase that book... which has now made my Xmas list. Unfortunately, I caught the tail end of your blog and was not able to join you for the journey. It did, however, make for a great few days of reading and dreaming.

With Alinea, I had planned not to purchase the book as the equipment and such would be impossible for me to purchase... but after two recipes, I've had to add this to my Xmas list as well now.

I look forward to getting my book, and following you on your journey!

On a side note, Grant was in one of the local Williams and Sonoma stores signing copies of book recently! Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it out there...

Your description of the caramel melting in the hot chocolate at your grandma's tells me that you were a foodie way back then!

I'm so glad I have you to remind me of all the childhood details that have faded from my memory. As I was reading this I had visions of fudge...a lot of fudge. I'm so glad this recipe did not fail...I was a little worried considering the candy thermometer was out and you were not using the "drip into water to see if it forms a ball" method which clearly is the only way to make fudge successfully every time. Sally and I are so proud of your cooking skills!!

** Carol Says: Aw, hon. And this here recipe didn't even call fer none a nat nere Bisquick Sally was so famous for!**

boo hoo. My carmel nevber browned by the time it reached 230 F. It's cooling now, but I figured I better follow instructions.

Next time I think I'll carmelize the sugar, then add other ingredients.

Carol, I haven't been following your blog that closely, but did you say that you waited for Miss York County to parade through the streets? Are you from York County PA???? Because I am. and that gives me faith that York County is not the dregs of society as I thought.

**Carol says: Yes. I grew up in a small town in York County, PA. So not the dregs, trust me. Bad perms even today? Yes. But it ain't all bad....**

My high school marching band also played "Africa." I think this was a legal requirement for all bands marching in the '80s?

I am completely and utterly intrigued by your blog. So well written, and hilarious. Thank you for taking the rest of us on this journey!

Hey Carol,

So, I know I am way behind on all of this but I just made the dry caramel for myself a few weeks ago and mine ended up (on the second try, I might add, cuz the first time, my pot was too small to allow the caramel to get to the proper temperature without bubbling all over my stove) tasting more like tapioca maltodextrin than caramel. Did I do something wrong? I followed the recipe to the letter, save the glucose corn syrup business, but I boiled the corn syrup down until it had a closer consistency to glucose.

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