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Old 05-24-2010, 10:48 PM   #1
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Help-cooking emergency!

My wife and I are making flan for the first time. We are also making caramel for the first time. Using the recipe in ATK Family Baking Book, we are having trouble with the caramel. It doesn't brown like it's supposed to. We try to use the correct heat for the specified times, but the color never really turns. It also doesn't seem to thicken like it should. We went ahead and added the rest of the ingredients, but it obviously hasn't turned out like it should, so we don't feel like we can proceed.

What to do?

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Old 05-24-2010, 10:59 PM   #2
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Sounds like you have to get the sugar hotter and cook it longer. It will darken and thicken as it cooks.
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Old 05-24-2010, 11:09 PM   #3
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I'm thinking that we got the heat temps wrong. We made two attempts. The first time we went past the suggested times, trying to get the color and consistency right, but the glaze just hardened and crystallized. The second time, we pretty much went with the correct time and finished mixing all the ingredients, but it just turned out kind of milky.

Our 15 yr. old daughter volunteered to make this for her class tomorrow (I tried making this with her the first time, then had to call in reinforcements). I think we're gonna have to call it quits tonight for this recipe, but I still want have a go at it at some point. It looks good, and I hate to give up!
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Old 05-25-2010, 12:14 AM   #4
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HOT

I would say it needs to be hotter.
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Old 05-25-2010, 10:28 AM   #5
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From my experience sugar takes a lot longer to turn color then is usually specified in recipies, but once it starts turning beware goes it goes to burnt very quickly...
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Old 05-25-2010, 12:37 PM   #6
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i'm not familiar with the recipe you're trying to use. perhaps you could post it.

however, traditional caramel for flan consists of only 2 ingredients: sugar & water. it's not particularly difficult, but you do need to be careful working with hot sugar. here's how to make it...

1 - start with 2 parts sugar to 1 part water in a pan. probably 2 cups of sugar & 1 cup of water will do it for a family-sized recipe of flan. however, this stuff doesn't go bad and is worth making a larger batch. next to a copper sugar pan, a thin-walled stainless steel is best, not a pan with a thick bottom or sides. towards the end of the cooking, a thick pan will hold too much heat and could cause you to burn the caramel.

2 - you can start of over fairly high heat, or you can take your time and do it over a medium heat. with a brush or a wet rag, carefully wash down the sides of the pan with water to ensure that there are no sugar crystals lingering around which could later cause the sugar to granulate.

3 - start some hot water going in a kettle or other pan and bring it to a simmer by the time the sugar starts to color.

4 - if you have a sugar thermometer, bring the temperature up to a hard-ball or soft-crack stage and then turn down the heat to a low heat. if you don't have a thermometer, you can check by dropping a bit from a spoon onto a saucer. it should be nearing the hardness of hard candy. actually, even if you just lift a spoon of it over the pan, long threads should be forming which will harden. at this point, make sure that the heat is low, as the sugar can go from clear to burnt within a very short time otherwise.

5 - from this point, i'll explain how someone with experience would proceed and then later explain how you can proceed with the utmost safety and still get a perfect product.

a - for your first time, i would suggest bringing the sugar to a nice light amber color. when it reaches the color you want, take it off the heat and carefully add a few tablespoons of boiling water. never add cold water to hot sugar, as it can just about explode in your face. with boiling water, it will still bubble a bit, but is safe as long as you don't have you face right in the pan. Gently stir it in with a long-handled wooden spoon, and then add a few more tablespoons of boiling water. for your first time, i would recommend bringing it to a consistency where, when you cool some on a saucer it's at about a soft- or hard-ball stage ( you can make a ball and it will hold its shape). this is useful for a number of uses. while still hot, add 1 or 2 tablespoons to the bottom of each custard cup, or line the bottom of the pan if you're baking the custard in a pyrex or ceramic baking pan.

b - safest way for first-timers (this will take rather a lot more time): when the sugar has passed the hard-crack stage and has turned about the color you want, immediately take the pan off the heat and place it so it sits in a few inches of cool water, taking care that no water gets into the pan itself. the purpose is to halt the cooking and reduce the temperature to somewhat below the boiling-point of water. then it is safe to add the boiling water and make it the consistency you want.

finally, don't worry too much about the final consistency you get. there's a lot of leeway. you don't want it to be liquid at room temperature, but anything between that and rock-hard is usable. if it's hard-stage, it will all turn to liquid after it's cooked in the flan as long as it's not too thick a layer. sometimes if the hard-stage caramel layer is too thick, some of it may remain undissolved. on the other hand, if it's actually liquid at room temperature, it will get mixed into the flan when you pour in the custard mix. (if you inadvertedly get in this situation, you can chill the cups or pan in the fridge until the caramel sets, and then add the custard mix)

any consistency between these two extremes can be stored for a long time at room temp, and then used by warming it up until it's easily spoonable and flattens out before setting.

warming some up with some cream will give you a nice caramel sauce for sundaes.


good luck and enjoy your flan
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Old 05-25-2010, 12:49 PM   #7
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The recipe for caramel in our cookbook called for sugar and water to start, but also 1/8 tsp fresh lemon juice, 1/8 tsp vanilla, and a cup of heavy cream at the end. I'll post it when I get home from work. Thanks, everyone!
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Old 05-25-2010, 01:10 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ged View Post
The recipe for caramel in our cookbook called for sugar and water to start, but also 1/8 tsp fresh lemon juice, 1/8 tsp vanilla, and a cup of heavy cream at the end. I'll post it when I get home from work. Thanks, everyone!

classic caramel custard is baked or steamed as follows: a tablespoon of caramel is placed in the bottom of each individual cup. when fairly firm, the custard mix is added to within about a 1/2 inch of the top and then baked or steamed. when cooled, run your thumbnail or a pairing knife along the top edge of the custard on the side of the the cups just enough to break the seal where the custard is baked onto the cups. invert the cup over the saucer or bowl, and jiggle. the custards should fall beautifully onto the saucer along with the sauce.


it sounds as though your recipe may be for a sauce which is added after the custards are plated up.

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Old 05-25-2010, 01:53 PM   #9
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Yes Ged thats sounds like what I make when I want a big bowl of icecream, not a typical caramel for flan... But yummy none the less...
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Old 05-25-2010, 02:21 PM   #10
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My recipe calls for 1/2 cup sugar - no water. I usually rinse out the heavy pan before I start and that is a bit of water. Cook it on medium heat and it WILL caramelize. It seems like it takes a while to do, but the minute you turn your head it will get too dark. When it gets to the right color I pour it into the dish I'm using for flan and proceed. It always comes out great.
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Old 05-25-2010, 02:30 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by philso View Post
...invert the cup over the saucer or bowl, and jiggle.
...i know how to jiggle
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Old 05-25-2010, 02:34 PM   #12
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...i know how to jiggle
(me too )
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Old 05-25-2010, 03:15 PM   #13
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...i meant like a little Irish Jig here, a little Shimmy there...yeah, that's what i meant...uh huh...yeah
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Old 05-25-2010, 03:20 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ged View Post
My wife and I are making flan for the first time. We are also making caramel for the first time. Using the recipe in ATK Family Baking Book, we are having trouble with the caramel. It doesn't brown like it's supposed to. We try to use the correct heat for the specified times, but the color never really turns. It also doesn't seem to thicken like it should. We went ahead and added the rest of the ingredients, but it obviously hasn't turned out like it should, so we don't feel like we can proceed.

What to do?
Here we are back on topic (sorry).
Good question Ged...and good comments too
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Old 05-25-2010, 05:13 PM   #15
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...i meant like a little Irish Jig here, a little Shimmy there...yeah, that's what i meant...uh huh...yeah
Uh huh Uh huh Uh huh
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Old 05-25-2010, 10:34 PM   #16
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OK, I'm looking at the cookbook now, and you're right. It's called a caramel sauce, but you're supposed to make it first, then pour it into the cake pan. The custard mixture is poured on top of the sauce, then baked. I wonder if I need to invest in a candy thermometer to make sure I'm getting the correct heat? Hmmmn...

Here's the sauce recipe.

CARAMEL SAUCE
(makes about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup water
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt

Pour the water into a medium saucepan, then pour the sugar into the center of the pan (don't let it hit the pan sides). Gently stir the sugar with a clean spatula to wet it thoroughly. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved completely and the liquid has a faint golden color (about 300 degrees on a candy thermometer), 3 to 6 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the caramel has a dark amber color (about 350 degrees on a candy thermometer), 1 to 3 minutes.

Off the heat, slowly whisk in the cream until combined (the mixture will bubble and steam vigorously). Stir in the vanilla, lemon juice, and salt. Serve warm.
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Old 05-26-2010, 09:18 AM   #17
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Ged,

i wouldn't bother getting a candy thermometer yet, not unless you really feel like you need one. just go by the consistency first, and then by the color.

but before explaining that, first realize that you can take the suggested cooking times only as a vague guide, since we don't know whether the pan they were using was small or large, which would affect the time to a great degree.

here are the visual clues that will lead up to caramelization.

dip a spoon into the syrup, take it out, and watch how it drips.

- after maybe a minute or so of cooking, it'll runoff of the spoon pretty much like plain water, but a few drops on a saucer will feel sticky when cooled.

- then it'll thicken up and run off the spoon more like honey

- eventually, it'll make threads which harden like fiberglass. at this point keep a good watch on it, because it'll soon start to color. for your first time, i'd recommend turning the heat down to low at this point and proceeding slowly.

from this point on, proceed with your recipe paying attention to the color. again, for your first time, i'd recommend not going to too dark an amber, especially if you are using a thick, heavy pan.

some other points to be careful about:

- the closer you get to the end, the less advisable it is to stir, as you could end up with one suddenly granulated mass. stir slowly and only when necessary. i wouldn't stir until you add the cream.

- i 'd advise having the cream at room temperature at least and not adding it all at once, maybe a couple of tablespoons, stir slowly & gently, then 1/4 cup, then the rest.

- at a cup of cream to only 1 cup of sugar, i'd expect this to end up being around the consistency of honey; a lot more liquid than usual for caramel custard. you'll want to be very careful pouring in the custard mixture. you may want to put the baking pan in the fridge to firm up the sauce before adding the custard.


finally, this is a sauce to be used as a topping, like for ice cream or cake, etc., not the usual caramel for baked custard. let us know how it comes out. good luck
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Old 05-26-2010, 09:45 PM   #18
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Thanks, philso (and everyone else, as well)! I'm going to take another run at it this weekend. I'll go over all your tips before I start. I look forward to posting good results!
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Old 05-27-2010, 11:07 AM   #19
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Ged,

here's something i stumbled on by chance.



critique: too sloppy stirring the sugar and getting it on the sides while telling you to be careful about doing so. note the build-up of white. also, it would be safer to add the cream in 2 or 3 parts. a larger pan would be safer. otherwise nice, and quite similar to your recipe.

after that i found these:



critique: thought i had learned a new trick re: using corn syrup, but if you look at the comments, quite a few people had theirs solidify. no wonder, with all that stirring.




critique: most advanced technique so far; without water. but i wouldn't recommend it for you until you've got some experience under your belt. i would have turned down the heat a bit more at the point where it started to smoke and you could notice a burnt, black spot , and then more gently but continuously swirled the sugar. too bad this video ended where it does. for your recipe, you would have added the cream at the point before she pours it into the bowl




critique: good video with the do and don't versions side by side. this is the traditional caramel for custard. using it strait from the pan to the cooking dish is usually fine, but on occasion, some of it will not thouroughly liquify during baking. if you (carefully) add a couple of tablespoons of boiling water at the end, you should never have any problems.




critique: best video of the lot. be careful of having your hands or face over the steam at the end. and obviously, he didn't pour the sauce into that plastic container until it had cooled considerably.

after watching these you should have a good idea of what to do, so i'll leave you to your own devices.

best of luck
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