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May 26, 2007

Caramellow: el Bulli's cream and white coffee caramels

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Who among us doesn't fondly recall the sheer joy of a trip to the local convenience store as a child?  Maybe your parents had just handed you a dollar, or maybe you'd found some spare change lying on the sidewalk.  If you were like me, you instantly converted whatever newfound pittance was burning a hole in your pocket into a small brown paper bag of your favourite treats: chips, chocolate bars, Freezies, maybe even licorice.

Forget change, I wanted to leave that store broke.  And that's where penny candy came in handy.  What good is three cents, especially when there are gummi bears, Swedish Berries, and, my personal favourite, Kraft Caramels to be had for just a penny apiece?

My childhood love affair with Kraft Caramels -- light only, thank you very much -- was intense.  This was candy that knew how to entice: the transparent wrapper is genius, the junk food equivalent of a beautiful woman wearing an outfit that reveals just a hint of décolletage.  Giddy with anticipation, I'd remove the wrapper, pop the candy in my mouth, and resist the urge to chew.  Some pleasures must be savoured slowly to be appreciated properly.  Then I'd wait for those sweet, creamy, and vanilla notes to wash over my palate.  With uncharacteristic discipline, I would occasionally consume an entire caramel without so much as a single bite -- the square of caramel would just dissolve away into nothing.  Ordinarily, however, I would abandon self control and rip into the candy with my teeth.

And yet, for all my florid prose, I just stopped eating them, and for reasons I don't really understand.  The most obvious one is that I haven't seen a Kraft Caramel for sale on a convenience store counter in years, but that's an oversimplification.  At some point, I think I just lost interest.  Goodbye, infatuation.

The flame is rekindled every so often.  I recently rediscovered the urge while flipping through el Bulli: 1994-1997 and spying recipes for two candies: cream and white coffee caramels.  The cream caramels are pale, vanilla-flecked hard candies made with sugar, glucose, cream, butter, and a vanilla pod.  Delicious, sure, and many of our friends love them, but when you're aching to recreate the chewy texture of a Kraft Caramel, hard candy -- even artisanal el Bulli hard candy -- just doesn't cut it.

White coffee caramels are another story entirely, however.  The stick-to-your-teeth chew of these treats is a perfect echo of my fondest childhood memories of Kraft Caramels, though the taste is infinitely more sophisticated.  Two of the people who tasted it thought the coffee, which is actually decaffeinated instant crystals, had a burnt taste.  I'm not sure I agree, but the flavour is intense.  Why these dark caramels are called "white," I have no idea, because even the examples in the el Bulli catalogue photo are decidedly tan.  Beyond that, the only problem I had is that after slicing the candies into rectangular lozenges, they slowly oozed back into one cohesive mass overnight in their container.  It's all eerily reminiscent of the T-1000 from Terminator 2 -- the evil robot made of liquid metal with the ability to reform itself even after being blown into a million little pieces.

If only the T-1000 tasted so good.

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Comments

adey

I tried to get a rise out of you for being dismissive about British cuisine; but let me bleat this time! Your blog is the best, really, has the best links, best food ideas. This is just another example. Why the tofu-hugging Vegan's are doing so well on the Best Food Blogs is completely beyond me!

brilynn

I always loved, (still do) the kraft caramels. I'd be willing to sample your caramels as an official tasty, all in a days work.

Evelin

When I was in the first grade, I used to walk by a small shop on the way home. There were always cents lying there - either on the ground outside or on the floor inside. Plus I had tiiiiiny bit of them myself.
So - my passion was sweet chewing gum that came with a tattoo.
I'd prefer caramels now. Anytime:)

Dorie

Reading your description of how you ate Kraft caramels -- I always liked the dark ones, we would have made a good pair -- caused me to have an instant flashback of my own obsessive method of eating them: I always made sure I had one teensy bit of the caramel left that I could press against the roof of my mouth. Keeping it there made the pleasure last just a little longer.

About the incredible melting together caramels -- what do you think caused it? Humidity? Heat? The sugar not being cooked to a high enough temperature? They sure look good in your photo.

Lisa (Homesick Texan)

I've never been much of a caramel person, but perhaps if I tried El Bulli's white coffee caramels I might reconsider my position. Plus their Terminator-esque ooze makes them all the more attractive.

Helen

Never had a Kraft caramel socan't compare but it is so not fair Rob to tempt me with those and not provide the recipe!
I found out that adding the flavoring very close to the end prevent that burnt taste that people comment about (I like it though). Chocolate, coffee, extract work well if added once you remove the caramel batter from the stove. Is that how the recipe does it?

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