I’ve been in love with a very fetching brown butter pumpkin layer cake since the moment I first saw it on the cover of the October/November issue of Fine Cooking. During our first face-to-face encounter in the kitchen — after I’d poured most of the batter made up of browned butter, pumpkin puree, brown and white sugars, eggs and spices into a very heavily greased pan — I licked spoon, not to mention the mixing bowl. I’ve been dreaming about the taste of pumpkin caramel ever since.
Once baked, the cake is more pumpkin than caramel flavored. So I set off into a place where I’d not dared to go previously, candy land. How hard could it be? Take a basic caramel cream recipe and add pumpkin, right?
For the first three at bats – trying to buck the industrial food chain and leave corn syrup out of the mix – I used just straight sugar, white and brown, and some maple syrup to help give it an earthy undertone. All of those caramels were just too hard. Break your teeth kind of hard, Goldilocks noted.
The next two tries involved moving around the point at which I pulled pumpkin puree into the picture. Both of these caramels were just too soft. But Goldilocks contends that melting them back down and pouring the sauce over ice cream is an excellent idea!
By the sixth try, I was willing to hop in bed with the industrial food chain folks for a mere ½ cup of corn syrup. And it took the seventh try to understand that the butter and a bit of lemon juice need to get stirred in at the very end to make these caramels just right.
Makes 64, 1-inch caramels
- 2/3 cup unsalted pepitos
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1/2 cups light corn syrup
- 1/3 cup good maple syrup
- 1/4 cup of water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in chunks
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
- Dry toast the pepitos in a skillet until they start to pop.
- Line the bottom and the sides of an 8-in square glass pan with parchment. Butter the parchment on the sides of the pan. Evenly spread out the toasted pepitos on the bottom of the pan, on top of the parchment.
- In a saucepan, combine heavy cream, pumpkin puree and spices. Get this mixture quite warm, but not boiling. Set aside.
- In a second heavy bottomed pan, with sides at least 4 inches high, combine the sugar, both syrups and water. Stir until the sugars are melted, Then let it boil until it reaches 244 degrees (the soft ball point on a candy thermometer). Then very carefully add the cream and pumpkin mixture, and slowly bring this mixture to 240 degrees as registered on a on a candy thermometer. This can take awhile — like 30 minutes — but don’t leave the kitchen, watch it carefully and stir it more frequently once it hits 230 degrees to keep it from burning at the bottom of the pan.
- As soon as it reaches the 240, pull it off the heat and stir in the butter and lemon juice. Stir vigorously so that butter is fully incorporated.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let cool 30 minutes and sprinkle the salt over the top. Let the caramels fully set (at least 2 hours) before using a hot knife to cut them into 1-inch squares and wrapping them individually in waxed paper.
PS. I’ve since tested this recipe using Lyle’s Golden Syrup (it’s a cane sugar syrup more commonly found in England where they don’t have maple trees and need something to put on their pancakes) and I am very pleased to report that if you can find Lyle’s, you can continue to buck the industrial food chain folks.