Fleur de Sel is mineral-rich and intensely flavored crystals that form on the surface of shallow beds filled with seawater along Europe's west coast. Salt has always been a subtle, but important ingredient in caramels, balancing their sweetness. Michael stirs in fleur de sel crystals just before it comes off the stove, adding both flavor and crunch to the finished confection. Unlike many other caramel recipes, Michael also adds corn syrup after the sugar colors, as mixing it in at the beginning of cooking inhibits caramelization.
Yields: About 50 Caramels, 1 inch size Time: About 1 Hour
Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly coat the paper and the sides of the pan with flavorless vegetable oil.
Put the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Use an unlined copper pot if you have one. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pot. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the sugar melts. Then continue to cook, without stirring, until the sugar turns dark amber, 5 to 6 minutes.
To check the color, dab a small amount of the syrup on a white plate. If any crystals form on the sides of the pot as the sugar darkens, wash them down with a wet pastry brush.
While the sugar is cooking, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the sugar is the correct shade, stir in the corn syrup. Remove the pot from the heat and put a sieve or splatter guard over it. Wearing an oven mitt, slowly pour the hot cream into the sugar syrup a little at a time. The mixture will sputter and foam. Be careful, it is VERY HOT.
When the bubbling subsides, return the pot to medium heat and cook undisturbed until, the mixture registers 252 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, immediately add the butter and stir with the wooden spoon. Add the salt and stir until evenly distributed.
Pour the caramel into the prepared parchment-lined pan and let cool at room temperature.
When cool, invert the pan of caramels onto your work surface. Peel off the parchment paper.
Using a ruler as a guide, cut the caramel into 1-inch squares. Sprinkle with a little Fleur de Sel. Store in an air-tight container in a cool place. Do not refrigerate.