Today, I walked into the office building behind Hello Kitty Man again. Hello Kitty Man, henceforth referred to as HKM, carries a Hello Kitty lunchbox. It is metallic, has a sparkly pink handle, and the front of it is plastered with Hello Kitty's proud face. There are a couple of noteworthy things about HKM:
- He is not a ten year old girl. In fact, he is a rather distinguished looking gentleman sporting a fine selection of tailored suits.
- This is not a lunch bag that he stuffs discretely into his briefcase. Oh no. This is a large lunchbox. One which he carries proudly.
- This is not a one time occurrence. I'd be willing to overlook a one time breach. I may even find it charming. But nope. This is HKM's regular lunch carrying vessel.
- Most importantly, it is not 1993.
In the middle of making my mental list of violations, I realized HKM was holding the elevator open for me. "You coming?" he asked in the most amazing British accent. A fabulous British accent, wasted on a grown man carrying a Hello Kitty lunch pail. Such. A. Shame.
Running into HKM was funny because I was in no position to judge anyone this morning. See, I was eating fleur de sel caramels and spitting out paper as I chewed. Think, biker spitting chewing tobacco juice but well, with candy. Because I'm classy like that. This past weekend, I spent many hours making fleur de sel caramels. It sounds simple enough in theory. I mean, the recipe has five ingredients. Five. You really can't go wrong.
Except you can. So, so wrong. The first time, I cooked the sugar too long. The recipe said light golden caramel color but apparently, I skipped kindergarten the day they went over colors. I completely flew by light golden caramel and landed squarely in the realm of dark brown caramel before finally mixing in the cream mixture. Enter Exhibit A which definitely had a hint of bitterness from the overcooked sugar. I'd probably lose what little foodie cred I have by admitting I kinda enjoyed the burnt taste so I won't admit that. Except that I ate the entire pan before moving on to attempt 2.
Attempt 2. I somehow figured the instructions were wrong and I didn't really need to cook the mixture until it reached 248 degrees. Because never having made caramels (or any candy) before suddenly made me an expert on the matter. So instead, I cooked it until it looked like I figured it was supposed to. Then, I figured I'd keep the good times rolling so I poured the candy into a container lined with wax paper instead of parchment paper. Exhibit B was a sticky, delicious mess. Of course that didn't stop me. I ate that batch as well, spitting out paper as I went along.
Attempts 3, 4, and 5 were also problematic. At least I'm consistent, right? Somewhere around attempt 36, the stars aligned. The sugar syrup didn't burn, the cream didn't burn, and lo and behold, when I combined the two, the mixture didn't burn.
The finished product, sweet and creamy with flecks of salt, was nearly perfect. Come lunchtime, I imagine it would be the perfect treat to find in one's Hello Kitty lunchbox.
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
Special equipment: parchment paper; a deep-fat thermometer
Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.
Bring cream, butter, and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.
Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.
Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F on thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes (I found 248°F resulted in a harder caramel, almost toffee like candy so I cook it until it reaches 240'ish). Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. When slightly cool, sprinkle fleur de sel over cooling caramel. After cooled, cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.
Adapted from Epicurious.