A Personal History on Candy: Earl Grey Chocolate Caramels

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

-Proper candy for a refined adult. Or, you know, sugar fix. Whatever.-

Cutting caramel is a methodical practice. Turn the sink on to a mere dribble and wait for it to heat to scalding. Run the knife under the water and patiently wait for the heat to transfer through the tang until the metal radiates in your hand. Quickly clean off the water with a towel and then cut through the brick of caramel. The piping hot knife should glide through effortlessly and leave the sides of each individual bite of caramel nearly seamless and smooth as cut class. Repeat for each cut.

It’s slow going to be sure, but this type of methodical handwork has its benefits. Once the caramel comes into contact with the tip of the knife the heat causes the candy to release a plume of aroma of gently burnt sugar and milk. In my case, also of chocolate and Earl Grey tea which the caramel has made stressed and bold. A scent that, for some reason, reminds me of Vivian Leigh’s voice in Gone with the Wind.

The experience is pleasant and somewhat unique for me. Not because I not only don’t make a lot of candy (I don't), but because I simply don’t eat a lot of candy. I never really have.

Some people might have you believe otherwise. After the fire when I stayed at Elise’s home I filled her kitchen with colorful bags of it for the first week or so, and subsisted on little more than artificial flavors, Red Dye 40, and corn syrup so refined it would make my teeth shake. Elise chastised me about how a food blogger and cook could eat such junk and harassed me until I ate a salad.

(Thing is, when I’m in a state of shock or general depression, that’s the only time I turn to candy. I ate so many Skittles the first few days that I actually got sick. Nowadays when I see a bag of them all I can taste is the rainbow of fruit pain. However, with the rare instance, candy isn’t much a part of my diet.)

-Chocolate Caramel: Seriously hard to make look appetizing.-

Even as a kid I didn’t eat a lot of candy, which, judging by my Halloween haul, you might find surprising. My Halloweens were productive and planned with near military-level stratagem and as methodical as my caramel cutting. I lived in a well-to-do middle-upper class neighborhood where people were more than happy to give you a five dollar bill for your UNICEF box and drop a king-sized Snickers bar in your bag. Our neighborhood, a oblong and lengthy block that was probably a good 3 miles or so with plenty of cul-de-sacs dotting the route was a goldmine with a thick chocolate coated vein running through the whole of it. A legendary route of the kind that kids dreamed of and parents loved. It was safe enough for parents to let their kids wander freely and lucrative enough for kids so that after 10 minutes you had enough candy to last for weeks. Even better, fewer kids were shuttled in from other neighborhoods as we were quietly tucked away in a hidden bubble of Orange County, California. You knew every other kid going door to door and no strangers messed up our time. It was ideal for all who lived there.

My brother and I would canvas the neighborhood early when the October twilight was still bright and casting long, spindly shadows that slunk along with us door to door. Later in the night, once the number of children began to dwindle, we would make a second round in different costumes from previous years. Diet-minded adults eager to get rid of the bags of candy they bought would begin to literally give us handfuls of candy if not outright pour their bowls out into our bags, which were actually-greedily- pillowcases. Eventually we would run back home and drop off one or two heaving pillowcases full of candy off before swiping more pillowcases from the linen closet and heading out for more.

By this point it wasn’t even about candy. It was about the game. Seeing just how much sugar we could milk from people and gather. How fast could we canvass the block and how many times? How much could we run door to door in the nest half hour? How clever could the costumes be? (My last year of trick or treating, at age 12, was a particularly proud moment for me. My coup-de-grace was wearing a death shroud and having a harvesting sickle strapped to my back. With me I carried around an old briefcase that I had painted on the words “I.R.S. Audit Team.” I think nearly every house I went to took a picture of that. The adults didn't stand a chance.)

-People these days look down of trick-or-treaters who can shave. What is the world coming to?-

At home the bloated pillowcases crackled with candy wrappers that demanded attention. Our last haul came in at nearly ten pounds of candy. We knew we wouldn’t eat it all. Our mom, a third grade teacher, would take some to her classroom. Dad would take a sack to the office, usually one he had filled with 3 Musketeers bars he had picked out of the rest. We would all be eating the stuff even up through May until mom eventually just threw it all away, disgusted at the fact she had filled our Easter baskets with Halloween swag.

I would maybe eat four pieces of it a day. I didn’t really want most of it. I just don’t eat, and never did eat a lot of candy. Too many processed sweets and my body practically goes into insulin shock.

However, the one exception were the small caramel candies. The little square of Brach's classic burnt sugar. It was and is even more so today a small-name, old school brand of candy; the kind most kids usually pay little attention to. As if there were nuggets of gold found at the bottom of a stream I panned them out of the piles and chewed up every single one I could find until my jaw went store and every crevice between my teeth was tacky with the chewy leftovers. Caramel was, and is, one of my weaknesses when it comes to candy.

Still, making it is something else. And, unlike store bought candy, you have more control. You know what's going into it and with practice you learn to guide the flavor and texture to taste. So, once in a while, I make candy. The batch will usually last a few weeks as I only eat a piece or two a day. Enough to get a saccharine fix and make the jitters go away.

This particular caramel is unique and may surprise you a bit. The milk is cooked with sugar from the get-go as opposed to being added later in the process. A good dose of unsweetened chocolate is stirred in along with a spoonful of Earl Grey tea. The result is something dark and sophisticated in flavor, the cinema noir of confections. A sparse crust of crushed cocoa nibs add a bit of dimension and textual character to the candies and make them all the more engaging. I've also learned the a small glass of Madiera is deliriously perfect pairing with these.

This is a good beginner's candy recipe if you've never done it before. All it requires is a good eye, a candy thermometer, and some patience. Then, get out your knife and carefully cut the caramel into squares. Enjoy the aroma, and, then, enjoy your candy.

Chocolate Earl Grey Caramels
Adapted from The Essence of Chocolate

Unsalted butter for the pan
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (99% dark preferable), finely chopped
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves, finely ground
2 tablespoon cacao nibs, crushed (optional)

1. Line a 9x9 pan with 9x17 piece of parchment paper (the paper will droop over the sides) and butter well.

2. Stir together the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and salt together in a heavy bottom pan. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until it reaches 250F. Remove from heat and let cool for a five minutes.

3. Add chocolate and tea. Stir together and pour into the pan and spread with an offset spatula. Gently press on cacao nibs and let the caramel sit for a few hours.

4. Cut apart into 1-inch squares. Serve or store in an airtight container.


  1. My parents kept our house candy-free, but always reaped the benefits of our pillow cases of candy on Halloween. I am a little nervous to make caramels, so I think I'll just stay with the store-bought.

  2. recipe to come? I'm actually making an earl gray ganache as a macaron filling this morning, so this sounds right up my alley! Love Earl gray + chocolate!

  3. All that build up and no recipe? Your caramels look amazing. (I trick-or-treated every year until I graduated high school. We didn't get a lot of full size candy bars, but it was hard to give up dressing up and bothering total strangers.)

  4. This looks amazing and I am the same with Halloween candy. Caramel is all I deem worthy of stealing from my children. Where is the recipe?

  5. Recipe added. Sorry, I was on vacation this weekend and the recipe slipped by me. =)

  6. Can't wait to try this!! The berry cake and savory galette are now both regulars in my line-up. Thanks! I am always eager to read your Tuesday contribution!

  7. This sounds fantastic Garrett! As I was trying to fall asleep last night I was imagining flavour combinations and caramel + chocolate + earl grey tea was one of them, so this is especially inspiring. Thanks for cheering up my Tuesday!

  8. These look very yummy, but thinking of using brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup.

    I've used it when making certain ganache sauces for chocolate tarts, but haven't tried brown rice syrup with caramels, yet. I am wondering if it might be a good substitute?

  9. Faery: Not sure on that substitution as I have never tried it. I would imagine if it works for regular caramel candy then it should be fine.

  10. Upon adding the chocolate, my mix became too dry and almost fudgy in texture. Rather than pouring the mix into the pan, I ended up having to scoop and pat it in there. Any idea what I could have done wrong? Did I add to much chocolate? Is this some weird temperature alchemy thing? I did make my own simple syrup to substitute for the corn syrup. Could it have been that?

  11. Linda: Simple syrup is not the same as corn syrup. Corn syrup has chemical properties that prevent crystallization and that preserves freshness and keeps caramel soft and chewy. It is a mandatory ingredient for caramel candy. It can never be substituted with simple syrup. Corn syrup is perfectly acceptable and okay to eat. It is high fructose that you have to avoid

  12. Ah-ha! To clarify, I wasn't subbing because I'm afraid of corn syrup; I accidentally purchased vanilla flavored corn syrup, was hellbent on sticking closely to the flavors in the recipe and was too lazy to go to back the store so I made simple syrup instead. I'll keep that in mind next time!

  13. those candies look mouth wateringly good!

  14. these look wonderful - when you say 1 tablespoon earl grey tea, do you mean a tablespoon of liquid tea that has been brewed, or a tablespoon of loose tea leaves?

  15. Lenie: the leaves! good question. =)

  16. You really make want to go buy caramel just to cut is and smell it! Forget eating it!
    We don't keep a lot of candy around our house either, minus the chocolate of course! These will be a delightful treat for the next time my family gets together! Have you made any modifications to this before? Adding nuts or another flavor?
    ~Nancy Lewis~

  17. nancy: I have not made modifications to this recipe so I can't fully comment on what the effects of any would be.

  18. We went around with pillow cases for Halloween, too...although I think it was more for lack of funds for a "real Halloween bag" than anything else. :) Although as a child I never quite loved the caramels in the bag, I have come to appreciate and adore their chewy goodness. These are definitely on the list the next time I'm up for making candy.

  19. Caramel candies make me forget my daily sugar-check! Yum!

  20. I can't get corn syrup where I live (Croatia), so please suggest what could I use instead? Agave syrup? These candies look so divine and I definitely want to try them!!!

  21. Natasa: I would see if you can find golden syrup. That's the next best thing.

  22. I'm looking to make simple caramels, seeing as I'm a candy-making novice. Would this recipe work, minus the earl grey and chocolate? It looks divine, but I think I have to work up to it a little bit. :)

  23. Anon: I wouldn't change any candy recipe at all if you're a novice. Pick one and do it word for word.

  24. Hi! I tried this recipe with great results. Made matcha green tea chocolate caramels and loved them. Have posted about them on my site.


    Thanks for sharing!

  25. I boiled up to 250 and as soon as it reached 250, I turned off the heat. But they are a hard candy for me. Are they supposed to be hard? Thanks. :)

  26. Sarah: Sounds like the candy thermometer might have been off. Candy takes practice to know what to look for. Still, hand candy doesn't sound so bad. =)

  27. These look incredible. Do you know if they freeze well?

  28. Love your halloween story, had to laugh so bad! ;-)

  29. Would this work the same if I infused a bagged earl grey tea instead of throwing loose leaves in?

    1. My ex and I used to have a bakery. We made Earl Grey chocolate cake and infused the cream for the filling with Earl Grey tea. I would imagine you might need to increase the quantity of tea you use if you do it that way. Maybe try two or three tea bags? I'm going to try doing it that way when I make it for Thanksgiving in a few weeks.

    2. Made these last night and infused the cream with 8 Bigalow Decaf Earl Grey tea bags and it tastes great. You could probably go a little heavier if you wanted (up to 12 bags).

  30. I made these last night and they didn't set up. It will be a very yummy hot fudge sauce. I used 66% semisweet chocolate. On the scharffenberger website recipe, It calls for semisweet chocolate. Is that the reason? Also if i want them to be a little more dense, do i just bring the temp up?
    Thank you so much for your childhood story. It brings back many wonderful memories. Im a beginner at candy and your blog helped!


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