Heather Baird (Sprinkle Bakes) developed and shared this recipe for ale and pretzel caramels back in 2010, and it has since become one of her most popular. “It’s sweet and salty, soft and crunchy, hops and malty,” she says.
12 oz. bottle brown or pale ale, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup light corn syrup
¼ tsp. fine-grain sea salt
1 (6 oz.) package large pretzel rods with sea salt (about 15)
In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of ale to a simmer over medium heat. Watch the pot carefully, because the carbonated liquid can easily bubble over when heated. Stir the simmering ale if the bubbles raise to the top of the pan to calm them. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced and syrupy. This will take about 20 minutes and yield about 1 tablespoon of concentrated ale flavoring. Set aside.
Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan with butter and line the bottom with parchment paper so that the paper overhangs on two opposite sides. Combine the remaining ½ cup of ale, the granulated and brown sugars, and the butter, heavy whipping cream and corn syrup in a heavy 4- to 5-quart pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. The butter will melt and the mixture will begin to boil after 5 to 7 minutes.
Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue to cook until the temperature reaches 244°F; this temperature is known as soft ball stage, and will take about 30 minutes to achieve. If you’re working without a thermometer (which Baird doesn’t recommend, but it can be done), you can test the caramel in a bowl of ice water to check the consistency. A spoonful of candy dropped into the water should form a firm but pliable ball.
When the temperature has been reached, stir in the ale reduction and salt, and remove from the heat source. Pour into the prepared pan and carefully lay the pretzel rods on top of the candy. Push them down ever so gently, and be careful not to touch the hot caramel with your fingers. Let the caramel cool for several hours at room temperature, or place in the refrigerator to speed firming. While the caramel cools, cut waxed paper into 75 5×5-inch squares and set aside.
To remove the caramel block from the pan, run a knife between the caramel and the pan. Pull the caramel out by the two overhanging parchment pieces. Turn the caramel pretzel-side up on a cutting board (if refrigerated, let caramel block warm up a little for easier cutting). Cut the caramel between the pretzel rods and then into 1-inch pieces and wrap the caramels in the squares of waxed paper. Yields 75 caramels.
Reprinted with permission from Sea Salt Sweet © 2015 by Heather Baird, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.