In the world of savories and snacks, I’ve always been a big fan of mustard. I’m known to accumulate several jars at a time for the sheer pleasure of trying new varieties. Seeded or spicy, beery or herbal — I love dipping pretzels, bread, and even carrot sticks into my favorite salty condiment. To tell you the truth, I never really thought of mustard as a candidate for a dessert ingredient. But recently, while in the throes of a lengthy caramel-making kick, my new jar of Dijon started calling to me. Could this velvety, scrumptious mustard match well with brown sugar, honey and cream?
I find most Dijon to be silky smooth and naturally creamy, pleasantly tangy but absent of sharpness. And it tends to have a short ingredient list: salt, vinegar, and perhaps a bit of wine alongside the requisite mustard seeds. Since three of these four items are often used in sweets, I went ahead and added a scoop of Dijon to my next batch of caramels — and I’m absolutely glad that I did. The result was a delicious and tender treat with an unexpected savory whisper. Not too mustardy, not too distinct: just a pleasant complexity that left many taste-testers curious and addicted. (Besides, if we enjoy sweets with soy sauce, mayonnaise, and even bacon, why not give Dijon a chance ?)
Honey Dijon Caramels (makes about 40 caramels)
- 2 tablespoons high quality Dijon mustard (smooth, without whole mustard seeds; with few ingredients and NO garlic or onion)
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1.5 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold (not softened)
- 1 to 1.5 teaspoons sea salt flakes, for sprinkling
- candy thermometer
Lightly grease the inside (bottom and sides) of an 8-9″ heatproof square pan, then place a single strip of parchment across the bottom and up two of the sides. Lightly grease the parchment. Set pan aside. Cut butter into 6-8 pieces; set nearby. In a small saucepan, whisk together the mustard, cream, vanilla and table salt. Slowly stir over medium heat with a heatproof whisk, just until the mixture comes to a steady simmer, then turn off heat and place lid on pan; leave covered nearby.
Fit a medium saucepan with your candy thermometer, and place brown sugar and honey in the pan. Place over medium heat. While mixture heats, stir occasionally and very gently with a heatproof utensil such as a wooden spoon (avoid splashing the mixture on walls of pan). Watch thermometer closely, turning off heat just when it reaches 245 F. Quickly stir in the chopped butter, mixing until butter is completely incorporated and melted.
Remove lid from the cream mixture and give it a good stir, then slowly pour it all into the warm honey mixture. Return saucepan to medium heat, candy thermometer intact. Stirring regularly, bring temperature back to 245 F. This can take upwards of 10 minutes. You may increase the heat slightly, to medium-high, if it seems to be taking too long.
As soon as the mixture hits 245 F (no higher!), quickly remove pan from heat and pour mixture into parchment lined pan. Let cool to room temperature on countertop, sprinkling with the sea salt flakes after 30 minutes or so (too soon and the salt will sink into the hot caramel; too late and the salt will resist sticking to the surface). Once at room temperature, cover and refrigerate caramel for 2 hours or so. The pan should be cold through and through before cutting. While caramels cool, cut sheets of wax paper or parchment into about 40 pieces, approximately 3 by 5 inches a piece. Set aside for wrapping.
If needed, run a knife along the edge of the chilled caramels to loosen sides from pan. Use parchment to lift slab of caramel from pan, then carefully peel off the parchment, and transfer caramel to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the caramels. (I like to slice my square into four equal quadrants, cut each quadrant into two rectangular halves, then cut each half into 5 long pieces.) Wrap cut caramels in wax or parchment paper, twisting at ends. For the smoothest texture, serve at room temperature. Chilled caramels are just as delicious but considerably more chewy.
Gooey, sweet and salty as caramels should be, the addition of Dijon gives these candies a whisper of added savory goodness. While the honey, brown sugar and vanilla offer a familiar harmony, the bit of mustard comes through with a pleasing, almost smoky hint of seasoning. While I wouldn’t recommend using a mustard other than a nice Dijon, I’m thrilled to welcome my favorite tasty condiment into the world of sweets. Its essence offers intricacy, unexpectedness, and thorough delight.
Maybe next time… While I love the way the molassesy brown sugar pairs with the mustard here, it’s more traditional to use white sugar for your caramels, or a combination of white and brown. You might also substitute a bit of smoked salt on top to complement the savory-ness, but use caution: the smoky flavor can be quite strong. I don’t recommend getting too creative with the Dijon itself (I reiterate: please avoid those that contain garlic, onion, whole mustard seeds, artificial colors, or otherwise long lists of ingredients), I do imagine that certain herbs could work nicely sprinkled sparsely on these caramels: a pinch of rosemary comes to mind first, followed (respectively) by a smidgen of lavender.