I want to write something witty, I really do, but my brain is not quite all there today. Long story involving giggly third graders sleeping over and sleep deprivation, and, quite possibly, sugar overload from sampling this recipe of caramels I just made.
Brown butter basil caramels.
I think you're either comfortable with the idea of herbs in sweets or you're not. Me? I love it so much that I dive right into the deep end, but I have friends that would probably never even try these, because they're not into it. However, if you're on the fence, I will tell you that, in just this batch, I have heard from 3 different people various versions of "I wasn't sure I would like them, but wow!".
I had these on my brain since I made those mint caramels the other week. The herbs are taking over my garden, you see, and I want to use them as much as I can. I love the honey taste in the caramels, but I couldn't help but think that there needed to be a deeper note in there to balance it out. Like, say, rich, nutty brown butter. And I have all that lovely purple basil out on my deck, like I used for the purple pesto...
It's a match made in heaven.
So, start with a large bunch of basil. I used purple Opal basil. There are so many different types of basil now! Others that would be great here would be cinnamon basil, Thai basil, and maybe even lime basil. Clean the basil and dry it.
Line an 8 by 8 pan with parchment.
Next, take a stick of butter and about a third of your basil and put them together in a small pot. Brown the butter, with the basil in it. If you haven't browned butter before on purpose, it's pretty easy, but you need to stay attentive. Melt the butter completely, then keep swirling it over the heat until it gets very bubbly and them starts to look tan and smell a bit nutty. Take it off the heat at that point, because brown butter is amazing, but burnt butter is tragic.
Strain out the basil, because it's pretty fried at this point. Heat a cup of cream and another third of your basil slightly over low heat, then add the browned butter and keep heating. You don't want it to boil, just to have a few small bubbles at the sides. Set that aside, keeping the basil it in to steep.
In a large pot, measure in a cup and a half of sugar and a half cup of honey, and add in your basil. Stir over medium heat to combine, and then let it go without stirring until it reaches 250 F on a candy thermometer.
Once you're at 250, carefully pour your cream/butter through a strainer and into the sugary syrup and stir it in. It will bubble up a lot, but as long as your pot is large, you should be fine. Stop stirring again, and let it come back up to 250.
When you're back at 250, take it off the heat and carefully pour it into the prepared pan. I was worried that the basil bits would sink to the bottom, but they stayed nicely suspended throughout the caramely goodness.
Let it cool for several hours, then cut it into small pieces. You can serve them as is, or wrap them in parchment or waxed paper to save for later.
I have to tell you, kids seem to have a harder time with wrapping their heads around the flavor of these than adults. My bookends liked them, but the adventurous middle did not at all. My little neighbor across the street ate them up, but my friend's three all spit them out. It's not exactly an expected taste, but all the adults seemed to enjoy them, including some who are not big basil fans. They're pretty addictive.
If you're looking for an out of the box treat, this is the one for you!
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