When I was a kid, I used to wonder why the bulletin-board and TV ad images of fall–colorful leaves, cooler temperatures, pumpkin pie—had so little to do with what I observed in my corner of Louisiana. Outside my elementary school windows, the live oak leaves were green until spring, when they fell all at once in March. The weather didn’t change much, and no one I knew baked pumpkin pies. My town had no village green; instead, a bayou ran through its middle, and no one’s ancestors came over on the Mayflower. (Which reminds me–why in the hell did we waste so much school time talking about the Pilgrims? No other pack of dour, religious zealots commands so much educational attention.)
What south Louisiana does have in the way of fall centers on the seasonal harvest: pecans falling from the trees; oysters plucked from cooler, saltier waters; baked fresh sweet potatoes; and sugarcane moving from the field to the mill, filling the air with burnt-marshmallow smoke. To me, the essence of MY fall isn’t leaves and pumpkins–it’s the smell of the sugar grinding mill billowing out clouds of steam, the smell of a cut-over cane field fermenting in the rain, of being stuck in traffic behind cane-cutting machinery as it chugs down a two-lane bayou road.
At this time of year, I crave the browned flavor of Steen’s cane syrup, and I’m always looking for new ways to showcase the bittersweet elixir. Enter the salted butter caramel: a cubic inch of Steen’s-infused, chewy goodness, inspired by this David Lebovitz recipe. I followed his recipe’s methodology and proportions, simply substituting Steen’s for the corn syrup or brown rice syrup specified in the original recipe. The swap worked beautifully….the caramels weren’t too dark, either in color or flavor.
Lebovitz’s recipe requires the use of a candy thermometer, but otherwise, it’s simple enough. Sugar and cane syrup cook together to 310 degrees, then warmed cream is added. The mixture cooks to 260 degrees, then a little butter is added and the caramel is poured into a loaf pan lined with buttered foil. After a short cooling off, flaky sea salt is sprinkled atop the caramels, completing the sweet-salty-chewy confection.
If you make salted butter caramels and you live in the humid, coastal south, be sure to wrap each one individually in small slips of waxed or parchment paper. Store the wrapped caramels in an airtight container, as the salt and sugar will attract moisture from the air, making the caramels quite sticky unless sealed up tight. Stuck-together caramels can be remelted with some heavy cream to produce a pourable caramel sauce. (Lebovitz uses this sauce to fill tiny chocolate tartelets, topped with smear of ganache and a bit more salt.)