Cook from the Book: Candy is Magic

Around here we have a soft spot for caramel. Real, full-flavored, complex caramel made with fire-toasted sugar pulled off the heat a split second before it turns burnt and bitter (the way we make our Salty Caramel). Candy wizard Jami Curl, owner of Portland’s candy mecca QUIN, is a girl after our own hearts. She knows you can’t fake caramel flavor.

“We don’t make whimpy caramel at QUIN,” says Jami, author of just-released confectionary cookbook Candy is Magic. “And the recipes in the book are for caramels that are truly caramel in flavor—deep, rich, and dark. None of those cube-shaped, not even caramel bricks they sell at the grocery store!”

We are weak in the knees for her almost candy bar-like Coconut + Toasted Pecan + Chocolate Caramels. The recipe is featured in her new cookbook alongside advice on how to craft more than 200 gorgeous sweets, from lollipops to marshmallows to gumdrops. Jami’s goal is to take the intimidation out of the candy-making process. “Honestly, the hardest thing about the caramel recipes is the whisking at the end—you’ll have some in-shape forearms after all the whisking that’s required to achieve great texture!” she says. “Because the caramels shun the use of a thermometer and ask the candymaker to rely on visual cues, it takes some of the nervousness out.”

Jami, who we partnered with to create Osmanthus & Blackberry Crackle ice cream, gives us a peek into Candy is Magic with her recipe for rich, crunchy, and gooey. (And don’t forget to checkout our Q&A with Jami.)

Coconut + Toasted Pecan + Chocolate Caramels

Makes about 160 caramels if made in a frame or 115 caramels if made in a pan

  • 438 grams glucose syrup
  • 800 grams granulated sugar
  • 220 grams canned full-fat coconut milk
  • 6 grams kosher salt
  • 18 grams vanilla extract
  • 300 grams unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
  • 50 grams dark chocolate (70 to 80 percent cacao), chopped
  • 100 grams toasted pecans, chopped

Set up a 12- by 14-inch candy frame or lightly butter a 9- by 13-inch pan.

Weigh the glucose syrup directly into a heavy-bottomed pot, then set the pot over the medium-high heat. Allow the glucose to warm until it liquefies and then starts to bubble. Once the glucose has bubbled a bit in one spot, swirl the pot to distribute the heat.

Add the sugar, about one-third at a time, sprinkling it over the glucose syrup. Using a high-heat spatula or wooden spoon, poke (no stirring) the sugar down into the syrup after each addition. Keep watch to make sure no giant lumps of dry sugar remain before you add the next installment of sugar. If you see lumps, poke them down into the glucose. Once all of the sugar is added and has been poked down into the liquid so it’s wet, stop poking.

Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan and add the salt and vanilla extract. Stir to mix, then set the pan over low to medium heat. You’re not looking to boil the coconut milk; the idea is to simply warm the ingredients so they’re not cold when they go into the hot sugar.

Meanwhile, let the glucose and sugar cook, swirling the pot occasionally, until the mixture is dark amber, or the color of a copper penny. Time-wise, you’re looking at 13 to 15 minutes for the caramel to reach the target color. At first the sugar will turn pale brown, then darker brown. This may happen in spots around the pot, so it’s important to swirl the pot as the sugar cooks. Once the sugar is a uniform color, cook it for a second or two longer until you feel good about the color, remember that you want it to match that dark amber target.

Remove the pot from the heat and very carefully add the warmed cream mixture, immediately followed by the butter and then the chocolate. Whisk the candy for 5 minutes, until completely emulsified. This means that the fats have been completely mixed into the sugar with no chance of separating. All of the chocolate will have disappeared into the caramel and the mixture will be homogenized, with no oily separation or bits of anything burnt floating around. Now stir in the pecans until evenly dispersed.

Pour the caramel into the prepared candy frame or pan, nudging it into the corners as needed. Allow the candy to sit until cooled and set, at least 3 hours or preferably up to overnight, before cutting.