It was on an impromptu jaunt to Mexico a few years ago where I had my first taste of Tamarind. My husband, his cousins and I were in the car, air conditioning blasting, as we sat for hours in traffic that had come to a standstill just a few miles from the border. We were thankful to the vendors, wandering the sea of stranded motorists, who, over the course of several hours kept our spirits high with a steady stream of treats including churros, flavored ices, and pan dulce. The confection that stands out most in memory, however, is the tangy, sweet and salty tamarind lollipop that kept me occupied and rather intrigued for the duration of our captivity.
If you're not familiar with tamarind, it is a legume that grows on trees in Asia, Africa and in the tropics. The fruit inside the pod is a fleshy, tangy pulp that becomes sweeter as the pod matures. It is used in cuisines throughout Africa, Asia, South & Central America, India and Mexico. In Mexico, it is candied, dried and salted for snacks, and used to make a delicious chilled beverage.
I recently had the opportunity to sample a wonderful salt called Flor de Sal, provided to me by Marx Foods, and it was the inspiration for my SALTED & CHOCOLATE DIPPED TAMARIND CARAMELS. Gourmet food aficionados may be familiar with the French "Fleur de Sel" which refers to the very top layer of salt harvested on the French coast. Flor de Sal is from Portugal, and uses the same artisinal process of harvesting these flat, thin, and fragile salt crystals that dissolve quickly on the palette.
Given my druthers, I will normally opt for a savory treat over a sweet one. But when it comes to a salted caramel, all bets are off. I'd go so far as to say that it brings out my inner Bart Simpson -- "Nobody better lay a finger on my salted caramel!". Salted caramels, featuring exotic salts from all over the world have been all the rage these past few years with gourmet confectioners and chocolatiers. So, when I was pondering what to do with the Flor de Sal, I used the concept of salted caramel as the springboard for my new creation.
Recalling the sweet, salty, and tangy taste sensation that was the tamarind lollipop in Mexico, I set about creating a melt-in-your mouth, buttery caramel with a slight tang and hint of fruit from the tamarind to compliment the light crunch of the flaky salt.
I made the mistake of leaving the room while cooking my first batch (and getting distracted with something on the computer). When I returned to the bubbling pot of caramel, it had reached 275 on the candy thermometer. The resulting candy was delicious, but suffice to say, my daughter was visited by the tooth fairy that night! The second batch was perfect -- smooth, creamy, fruity and just slightly tart. Both my daughter and her friend said that the candies reminded them a bit of a chocolate covered cherry, so I knew that I had succeeded in imparting the fruit notes that I had hoped to achieve.
The SALTED & CHOCOLATE DIPPED TAMARIND CARAMELS are easy to make, and a delicious gourmet twist that is perfect for gift-giving. Here's the recipe:
SALTED & CHOCOLATE DIPPED TAMARIND CARAMELS
makes approx. 60 candies
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup honey
6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon Tamarind Paste
1 teaspoon Flor De Sal
1 Tablespoon Flor Del Sal (for sprinkling on top of chocolates)
10 ounces couverture chocolate
parchment paper or silicone baking mat
1. Line an 8x8 baking dish with aluminum foil that extends over the sides. Grease the foil with vegetable oil and set aside.
2. In a 4-quart stock pot, combine cream, sugar, corn syrup and honey. Insert candy thermometer and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches 260 degrees F (approximately 10-15 minutes).
3. Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in butter, vanilla, tamarind paste and 1 teaspoon salt.
4. Pour into the foil-lined pan and cool to room temperature.
5. Transfer pan to freezer for 30 minutes.
6. Coat a cutting board with oil or nonstick spray and invert caramel on to cutting board. Peel away the foil.
7. Using a chef's knife coated with oil or nonstick spray, cut caramel into 1" squares and set on a parchment or silicone baking mat lined pan.
8. Freeze for 30 minutes.
9. Melt chocolate. I prefer to melt 8 oz. in a small microwave-safe dish on medium power, in one minute increments, for a total of 3 minutes. This may vary depending on the power of your microwave. Keep in mind that low and slow is best when melting chocolate. When chocolate is melted, stir in remaining 2 ounces. This will bring the temperature of the chocolate down. Do not worry if the chocolate is not completely melted at this point. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, put it back in the microwave, on low, for another minute, until chocolate is completely smooth and melted.
10. Remove caramel squares from freezer. Dip, using candy fork, one at a time, in the chocolate and set to dry on another parchment or silicone lined baking sheet. I have a short video to demonstrate this below.
11. When all caramels have been dipped, put remaining chocolate in a small pastry bag or ziploc bag. Snip a tiny hole in the tip. Drizzle diagonal lines of chocolate across each candy and sprinkle immediately with a bit of salt.
12. When all candies have been decorated, let them rest for 10 minutes in the refrigerator to set.