11 April 2008

Caramel Walnuts

I'm not sure what to call these. Lundulph suggested toffee walnuts, as they are on the same line as toffee apples, but it's not toffee, it's caramel. He also suggested we call them caramel walnut kebabs, because the walnuts are on a skewer, but it sounds too silly. Pops, I suppose, but it's a bit too American for me.

Anyway, I had these delicacies in 1991, when I went to Vienna for a week. They had them at a stand outside the St Stephan's Cathedral and luckily I discovered them on the very first day. Needless to say, I kept going back every day for more.

The concept is very simple, but it does take a bit of an effort to do it, the steps are fiddly.

First I cut a number of bamboo skewers in half. Then I threaded six walnut halves on each. This is difficult to do on the walnut halves in the shops that I normally frequent. Now sadly I have not come across fresh walnuts yet, the best I could do was Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Serr Walnut Halves. They seem to be a bit fresher than most. In Bulgaria, fresh walnuts from this year's harvest are sold on the food markets and they have a quite distinct flavour - fresh and moist and a bit greenish as if still alive growing on the tree. A bit chewy perhaps. And this would make skewering the halves very easy. And the walnut halves I used were sort of in the right direction. I tried with some of the ones I use for müsli and out of the 10 I tried, 8 broke. Either way, patience and care is required.

Walnut halves skewered

Once all the walnuts were on the skewers, they are to be covered with light caramel. And here I discovered that I have a slight fear of caramel. I've done that to glue gingerbread houses together and always ended up with horrid burnt stuff. But now that I have my Cordon Bleu book, I followed the recipe for caramel and it worked out perfectly, I don't think I've ever managed it so well.

Although the book recommended to use the old fashioned ways of determining the stage of the caramel, I was not in the least tempted to dip my fingers in boiling sugar. Luckily, my trusty sugar thermometer came in handy. Normally I use it when I make yoghurt, he, he. For caramel, a heavy sugar syrup is to be made.


2.5 parts granulated sugar
1.5 parts water

  1. For the caramel, use a stainless steel saucepan with a thick bottom. Take a second, larger saucepan and place the smaller one inside, then pour water into the larger one, about half way up.
  2. Take out the smaller saucepan, put the caramel ingredients inside and put on the hob and bring to the boil. If you have a sugar thermometer, put it in as well from the beginning.
  3. If you have freezer blocks, put one or two in the water in the larger saucepan and have some ice cubes prepared in the freezer. This is to prevent the sugar from going too hot and burning.
  4. Once the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is transparent and bubbles, turn down the heat to low and leave to simmer, swirling the saucepan every now and then. It will take about 30-40 minutes for the water to boil off, but it gives more control over the caramel.
  5. When the sugar temperature reaches 160 degrees C (almost in the middle between the markings for "hard crack" and "caramel"), it should have started to go a bit golden in colour. Put ice cubes in the larger saucepan, take the sugar off the heat and straight into the larger saucepan. This will stop the sugar temperature from rising further.
  6. Now hold a walnut skewer over the caramel and with the help of a wooden spoon, drizzle some of the caramel over it, turning it around to get caramel on all sides.
  7. Put aside on a piece of aluminium foil to set and continue with the next skewer.
  8. You need to work fairly fast, but if the caramel starts setting, just reheat it again, with the thermometer in the saucepan and stirring around to get all parts to dissolve. Don't forget to plunge the caramel saucepan into the iced water again.
Once they are set, the skewers should be stored in an air tight box, as the caramel will pick up moisture from the air and may go soggy.

Walnut caramel pops

Lundulph and I had one each for dessert after dinner tonight and it was rather nice. The originals from Vienna had been completely dipped in caramel, but this worked out very well too. Now that I have made the caramel successfully, I'll be experimenting a bit more with that.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I had the pleasure of trying one of these on Satuday and I have to say they were declicious. The slight bitterness of the walnuts is a great contrast to the sweetness of the caramel.


Mama Mia said...

what a great party dish!