The week prior to Cinco de Mayo is one of my favorites of the year; I love Mexican food, and thoroughly embrace the opportunity to try new and different recipes. Enter these amazing caramels. Salted caramels are awesome. Chocolate caramels? Even better. Chocolate caramels using Mexican chocolate? Better still. And to top it all off? A subtle infusion of red chiles. The combination initially gave me pause, but I’m so happy that I forged ahead with it. The Mexican chocolate and cinnamon provide a wonderful, sweet spice, and the red chile-infused cream leaves just a little bit of heat on the back of the tongue. Needless to say, fleur de sel makes everything and anything better, especially sweet confections like these caramels. I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the Cinco de Mayo food celebration here, than with these amazing candies.
Naturally, a key component to these caramels is the use of Mexican chocolate. I had never eaten Mexican chocolate, and was curious about the difference between “regular” chocolate and Mexican. As it turns out, Mexican chocolate has a much grainier texture than other chocolates, and is flavored with cinnamon, almonds, and vanilla. The original recipe recommended using Ibarra, Abuelita, or Taza. I took a shot at the local grocery store to see if I could find anything in the international aisle. Lo and behold, there was Abuelita in the Hispanic section. Score! They are actually a stack of individually-wrapped disks of chocolate. So cute! If you aren’t able to find Mexican chocolate, there is a substitution listed in the notes section of the recipe below.
I haven’t done much in the way of caramel-making, although I have made the Ale and Pretzel Soft Caramels and Sea Salt Caramels with Vanilla Bean. These Salted Mexican Chocolate-Chile Caramels have definitely been my most successful batch to date. I followed much of the same process as with the other recipes, but the one difference is that I used my (fairly) new Thermapen to monitor the temperature. Since caramels can be so finicky, I attribute my super-duper success with this batch to the accurate temperature gauge. No question, I’ll be using it for all of my candy-making from now on!
It takes a little bit of time to wrap each caramel individually and you might be tempted to skip it and just put them in a container for safe keeping. Trust me, though, the time and effort is well worth it. Without wrapping them, the caramels will begin to spread out if left to sit on their own. You can keep the wrapped candies in an airtight container or tin for a month or two – perfect for afternoon snacks, or for when company stops by!
Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with two perpendicular pieces of parchment paper, so that there is overhang on all four sides. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream to a boil. As soon as it reaches a boil, add the chile pieces, give it a quick stir, remove from heat, and cover. Allow the chiles to steep in the cream for at least 30 minutes. Remove the chile pieces with a slotted spoon and discard.
Return the strained cream to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, add both chocolates and the cinnamon. Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
Bring the sugar, syrup, water, and table salt to a boil in a 5 to 6-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling the pot occasionally, until the sugar is a deep golden color, about 10 minutes.
Tilt the pot slightly and carefully pour the chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture (it will bubble and steam quite a bit). Continue to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches 255 degrees F.
Add the butter, stirring until it has completely melted, then immediately pour the caramel mixture into the lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to the bottom or side of the pot, as these pieces will have crystallized). Let the caramel stand for 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with the fleur de sel. Allow to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours.
Using the parchment overhangs as handles, carefully lift the caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board. Spray a pizza cutter or large knife with non-stick cooking spray and slice the caramel into 1-inch squares. Wrap the candies individually and store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
Note: Common brands of Mexican chocolate are Ibarra, Abuelita, and Taza. I found Abuelita in the Hispanic section of the international aisle in my local supermarket; you can also find all three brands online. If you want to make these and can't get Mexican chocolate easily, you can use this substitution:1 ounce semisweet chocolate + ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon + 1 drop almond extract.