Rich merlot wine adds fruity notes and deep red color to soft butter caramels. One batch makes plenty to share, or gift them for a special occasion.
Through testing I learned that only the boldest red wines should be used. I had underwhelming results from a bottle of pinot noir. Subtle flavor is not a virtue here. Merlot and cabernet sauvignon – two wines that are known for their deep berry flavors – are ideal for this recipe.
The first step is making a wine reduction on the stove top with just a little balsamic vinegar added to it. That may sound like a strange ingredient, but good balsamic vinegar is made from one ingredient: grape must. Grape must is a result of the skins, seeds, and stems of the grape being boiled down and concentrated, then it is aged in wood barrels for the vinegar. In this recipe it gives this candy’s flavor a boost without any obvious or overt vinegar flavor.
The deep red color of the candy is so beautiful and 100% natural. I couldn’t resist gilding the pieces with a little and .
These caramels are soft, which means they have a luxurious bite but they’ll need to be individually wrapped very soon after cutting them. If left unwrapped, their shape will relax and slump. Refrigeration will firm the candy and help them keep their shape, so I recommend slicing the caramel while it is chilled.
Yields 50 or more caramels
1 bottle (750 ml) bold red wine, such as merlot, divided
3 tablespoons Modena balsamic vinegar, divided
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
1 cup (213g) light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup (216g) unsalted butter
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (240 ml) light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 roll of wax paper for wrapping
Scissors or pinking shears
Butter and line a 13 x 9-inch pan with parchment paper that overhangs the edges (or use a silicone 13×9 pan for easiest candy removal).
Remove 1/3 cup of red wine from the bottle to a large cook pot (5 quart or larger). Set aside.
Pour the remaining wine (about 2 3/4 cups) into a separate medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then set the heat back to a constant simmer. Cook until the wine is reduced by half, then add 2 tablespoons of the balsamic vinegar. Continue to cook the mixture down until reduced to 3 tablespoons of concentrated red wine flavoring. This may take approximately 40 minutes.
Note: You can start cooking the candy caramel mixture after the wine mixture is reduced by half, and both reduction and caramel should be done at about the same time.
To the pot with the 1/3 cup of wine, add the sugars, butter, heavy cream, and corn syrup. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Butter will melt and mixture will begin to boil. Continue to cook until candy thermometer reaches 245-248 degrees, this will take approximately 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut wax paper into approx. 5 x 5-inch squares. I like to use pinking shears for a pretty, zigzag edge.
When soft ball temperature has been reached, remove from the heat and stir in the fine grain salt, red wine reduction, and the remaining tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. The mixture should turn deep red with this addition. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let cool for an hour and then place in the refrigerator to firm.
Remove caramel block from the pan using the overhanging parchment and place on a cutting board. Cut 1/3 of the block of caramel at a time using a large warmed chef’s knife (return the remaining caramel block to the refrigerator to keep chilled). Add garnishes to the pieces if using and wrap in wax paper immediately.
Candies can be stored at room temperature for up to a week. They’ll keep longer if stored in the refrigerator air-tight.
Use only the boldest flavored red wines. An inexpensive merlot will work just fine. I tested this recipe with Gnarly Head ($7.99).
Choose a good quality balsamic vinegar that is includes “Product of Modena” in its description and aged at a minimum of 3-4 years. Colavita and Alessi brands are acceptable choices and inexpensive. Vinegars aged longer will be more expensive and less acidic. Use what your budget allows.
Remember, these caramels are soft, so they must be wrapped or they will lose their shape!