Since last year, there has been a craze for something called nama kyarameru (生キャラメル, raw caramel) in Japan. The demand has been so great that people form long lines to buy it, and at least at the beginning of the fad there were frequent reports of sell-outs and long waiting lists. Raw caramel means meltingly soft caramel candies that have been made with fresh milk, fresh butter, and no additives. It’s been a great marketing ploy for some dairy farmers in Hokkaido.
Given that getting nama kyarameru from Hokkaido is not that easy for me, and believing firmly in the superiority of Swiss dairy products, I set about to make my own version. After many attempts, here is my version of raw caramel. They have a very slight fermented-sourness from the crème fraîche, and the pure salt flavor from the fleur de sel. And the sugar component is made richer by using golden syrup.
I have a feeling I will never buy caramel candies again.
Melted sugar can get very very hot, and since it clings it can burn you very badly. Be very careful when making candy. Do not have little kids running around you when you are cooking candy - let them enjoy the results afterwards.
Makes a slab of caramel about 25cm / 9 inches square, to be cut into as many pieces as you like. The quality of your ingredients will really shine through, so get the best, freshest butter, crème fraîche, etc. that you can.
Make ready a bowl or large glass or measuring up filled with ice water.
Line your baking pan with the kitchen parchment paper. I just use one large sheet, and fold in the corners. No need to grease the paper.
Heat up the crème fraîche or the heavy cream-yogurt mixture in the secondary pan until it’s lukewarm. Set aside.
Put the sugar and syrup into the main pan. Over medium heat, stir until it is all liquified. Lower the heat to a simmer, and keep stirring. The syrup will get progressively darker. Periodically put droplets of the syrup in your bowl or cup or ice water, and scoop out the little balls to see the texture. Once the balls are of the consistency of hard candy, the sugar syrup is ready. You can continue cooking it a bit longer for caramels with a more assertive flavor, but do not let it burn. Note that this part goes rather fast, so check the sugar syrup in the ice water several times.
Once the sugar is of the darkness and consistency you want, take the pan off the heat. Add the salt, butter and cream, and stir until well blended.
Return the pan to the heat. Cook over low heat, at a gently foaming/bubbling state, stirring continously. This stage takes a while - 20 to 30 minutes. This cooking stage is what determines the softness of your caramels. Let it cook down until the syrup is very thick. When you draw your spatula firmly across the bottom of the pan, the syrup will part for a split second so that you can see the pan bottom. At this stage, put droplets of the syrup in the ice water (you may have to change the water if it’s gotten too warm) and test the consistency. When it reaches the stage where when the cooled syrup rolled between your fingers it forms a soft yet cohesive ball, it is ready. (If you’re using a candy thermometer the temperature should be around 120°C / 250°F.) You can cook it a bit longer for a firmer caramel - keep testing the consistency every couple of minutes. (Note, you can stop the cooking at a softer stage for the most amazing caramel syrup or jam.)
Carefully pour the caramel syrup into the lined baking pan. Let it cool until the caramel is firm - when you touch it, it should not stick to your fingers. Cut it into strips, then cut the strips into squares. I like to cut it into tiny little squares, resulting in about 120 or so squares from this amount, but you can cut them smaller or larger. Any ragged edges on the cut pieces can be gently smoothed over with your finger.
For gifting purposes, wrap each piece in little cut squares of cellophane, wax paper, or kitchen parchment paper. You may want to keep this in the refrigerator if it’s very hot where you are right now, but do not keep longer than a month or so (if that will ever be an issue).
I have specified Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup (also known as Lyle’s Golden Syrup), which is a boiled down pure sugar syrup. Using this makes the initial part of the sugar cooking process go very quickly and without hitch. If your local supermarket, Whole Foods etc. doesn’t carry it, you can get it from Amazon Grocery  in the U.S. I’m assuming it’s no problem to get it in the UK or Australia/New Zealand. (In Switzerland you can get it from Britshop  or any place that caters to the Brit expat community.) If you must use a substitute, use a liquid (not solid) honey. Do not use corn syrup or pancake syrup.
If you can’t get a hold of crème fraîche, use heavy cream with some active-culture yogurt instead. Sour cream is not an option, since it can curdle when heated.