Monday, March 7, 2011
Helliemae’s Salt Caramels
Caramels are best when they’re made fresh with only a few ingredients. There are decent caramel simulations found in commercial stores, but the true stuff cannot be readily imitated with the shelf life necessary for large scale business.
These small boxes from Helliemae’s Caramels contain a half a pound each; they’re like little sugar and dairy bricks. The caramels themselves are made from the classic ingredients and nothing else - sugar, butter, cream, vanilla and sea salt.
Each caramel is a large square, about 1.3 inches across and a little less than an inch high. They appear to be molded instead of cut, because they have slightly angled sides, like ice cubes. The Classic Salt Caramels have a generous dusting of flaky sea salt on top.
When I first bit into them I was impressed by the smooth texture, firm chew that wasn’t too tough. They’re a bit sticky but when consumed with some hot tea or coffee that dissolves quickly. But the salt on top was too much for me. The caramel itself was perfectly salted to begin with ... a few grains up there would have done me fine, but it wasn’t a flurry, it was a blizzard with consistent accumulation.
I’m a bit more sensitive to salt than many of my pals, so I handed some off and found the same comment - far too salty. So for the rest of them I found myself scraping the salt off as completely as possible or eating from the bottom and discarding the crusty tops. 7 out of 10
I was also given a single sample of the Cardamom Caramels. Cardamom is a hard spice to use, especially with a confection like caramel which tends to boil away the intensity of flavors. In this case the cardamom is added as a coarse powder of the seeds of the pod itself. The cardamom has flavor notes of pine, bergamot, lemon, vanilla, nutmeg, cola and eucalyptus. In some candies I’ve had the cardamom seeds can be intense and distracting though still imparting an amazing flavor that still manages to make up for it by being so engaging. In this case the grain was smaller than ground espresso so it was virtually unnoticeable. The flavor was citrusy and really brought out the vanilla and toffee notes.
In this case there was no salt on top, so I was quite pleased. 9 out of 10
The final flavor I tried was another half pound sampling of the Coffee Caramels. These were pure perfection. The coffee flavors were intense but smooth, like a fine espresso with the perfect head of creama. They were bitter and had loads of toffee and roasted java notes but also an appealing tangy note of woodsy coffee that rounded it out.
Since there was no salt on top, I found this to be exactly how I like my caramels. 9 out of 10
Fresh caramels need to be consumed immediately. I ate and shared the majority of these within two weeks of getting them, but the few that I saved for review did kind of lose their mojo after about three weeks - getting sticky and grainy around the edges. I liked that the format that was easy to bite and that the wax paper was easy to unwrap. A chocolate coated version might be stupendous, especially if it was a super dark that offset the sweetness and salt.
They’re a bit expensive for me but for an impulse item if I lived in the area and saw one at the cash register at the store of a cafe, I would definitely go for one even at $3 a pop.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.