Saturday, December 27, 2008
French-style salted caramels seem to be everywhere these days. I just saw them begin to crop up in specialty stores and high-end candy makers a couple years, ago, and now they're ubiquitous enough to be available at Trader Joe's, frozen into ice cream by Haagen Dazs and are even being melted into Starbuck's hot chocolate.
So, yes, fancy sea-salted caramels are officially mainstream.
As someone who's a self-proclaimed nut for the sweet/salty combo (chocolate covered pretzels are among my favorite snacks, and I've been known to indulge in a peanut-butter and bacon sandwich on toast drizzled with honey), I've repeatedly been drawn to these sea-salted caramels, but have been perennially disappointed.
I've tried them in France and loved them, but I've always found the versions I've found here at home to be lacking in salt. They just taste like regular caramels.
Then my wife goes and stuffs my Christmas stocking with a couple boxes of these little caramels made by Das Foods, a locally-owned high-end salt and caramel company up in Highwood. Whoa. Now I see what all the fuss is about.
These little blobs come wrapped in plain parchment paper, but don't let their decidedly un-fancy looks fool you. Put one in your mouth and you're immediately blown away by how buttery and soft it is. The morsel seems like it just starts melting and liquifying the moment you put it in your mouth. It's sweet but not jaw-lockingly so, and then after a couple seconds of chewing, you get the salt, which balances the sweetness well and allows you to really taste the butter and the caramelization of the sugars. Salt always hightens flavors; it's really an eye-opener to see how the salt in these caramels can really push everything else forward.
Even better, Das uses all natural ingredients and sources it's milk, butter, and honey locally, and donates 10% of their profits to the Aids Foundation of Chicago. Very cool.
Once I decided to do a blog entry about these great little caramels, I googled around a bit and it appears that Das Caramelinis have gotten quite a bit of press. Good for them! I especially enjoyed Mike Sula's piece in The Reader and the accompanying video footage they shot. Very interesting and great to see such a worthwhile producer being featured.
My wife was also savvy enough to give me the chile pecan flavor, which, I have to say, freakin' blew my doors off! Like with the salty candy, I've tried a lot of these hot spicy candies and found that they're just not very spicy and you can't taste the chile flavor. That is most decidedly *not* the case with these. They're damn spicy, but in conjunction with the sweetness of the caramel, the heat dissipates fairly quickly, and then you get nice strong smokey dried chile flavor to go along with the heat and sweet. I love that they're being bold with the flavors, but they've also achieved an excellent balance. They light up my mouth.
They're available at stores like Whole Foods, Sam's Liquors, and Binny's, along with some smaller gourmet and fancy food shops, and, of course via mail order on the Das website.
Oh, and if all that's not decadent enough, my brother upped the trendy sweet/salty food quotient by gifting me a bag of bacon brittle. Haven't tried it yet, but keep reading...