Unfortunately, I didn't love the ones I brought to the party. I think I let the sugar-water-corn syrup mixture go a little too far before adding the cream, I candied the bacon so it wasn't as much of a contrast to the chewy caramel as I wanted, and I thought I could get away with not individually wrapping them. That was a big goopy mistake! All of the caramels managed to merge back together over the course of the evening. Lessons learned, I guess, but I needed to get it right!
First thing to correct was to replace the candied bacon with super crispy pan fried bacon. I let it cool completely and then crushed it up for topping the caramel. Next, I had to start adding the cream mixture when the caramelizing sugar was a lighter color. Once the sugar started to get a little bit of color, I stood with a watchful eye ready to turn off the burner and then add the cream. This is one of those things where you probably aren't going to get it right the first time but you'll definitely learn your lesson when you taste the slightly bitter flavor of overcooking the sugar base.
And the final correction was the individual wrapping of caramels. I cut out pieces of parchment paper just big enough to wrap around the cut up chilled caramels and then twisted the ends. It is a bit of a finesse to get twisted ends without ripping the paper. The best method I found was to wrap the parchment over the caramel like you're starting to wrap a present, push the loose ends on top together, and then twist at both ends in opposite directions.
I decided to make the batches half bacon and half salted because my sister is not a bacon fan (blasphemy, I know!). About 6 slices of bacon will cover half of an 8x8 cake pan, so a whole package of would work for the entire batch with a few extra slices for the chef. The side that wasn't topped with bacon got a healthy sprinkling of sea salt on top.
Adapted from Ina Garten's Fleur de Sal Caramels
12 pieces of bacon (6 if you're doing a half bacon half salt batch)
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon good sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8x8 cake pan
Start by cooking up the crispy bacon. I used a large pan over medium low heat and let the bacon fry until all of the fat had melted away and the strips were very crispy. Dry any excess oil from the bacon and let cool. Crush up for topping.
Prepare the 8x8 cake pan by starting with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Next, fit a sheet of parchment paper into the bottom of the cake pan long enough to drape over two sides (for easy removal). Add a thin layer of vegetable oil to the parchment paper.
Before beginning to make the caramel, it is important to have all ingredients prepped and ready to go. I put the sugar, water, and light corn syrup in a large metal sauce pan. The heavy cream, butter, and salt are put into a small sauce pan, preferably with a spout on the side. The vanilla extract and accompanying teaspoon measuring spoon will be on the counter right next to the stove, ready to add to the caramel.
Begin by heating up the cream, butter, and salt over low heat. When the butter has melted, that's when you should start caramelizing the sugar.
Bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil over medium high heat. When you reach a boil, lower the heat to medium so that you can see the color change more clearly (less bubbles). No stirring! Just swirl the pan.
When the sugar has reached a golden brown color, turn off the burner. Slowly add in the warm cream mixture to the caramelized sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be wary of violent bubbling - a spout to pour the cream mixture very slowly as well as stirring will help keep the caramel from boiling over.
Add in the vanilla, fit your candy thermometer to the pan, and return to medium low heat. Cook until the caramel reaches the firm ball temperature (242 F), about 3-5 minutes.
Pour the caramel into the prepared pan. After a few minutes, add crumbled bacon to the top of the caramel, using a wooden skewer to incorporate. Let cool to room temperature (about 30 minutes to an hour) and then chill for a few hours until firm.
When the caramels are ready to cut, pull out of the pan using the two draped ends of the parchment paper. Cut into bite sized rectangles with a lightly oiled sharp knife and then wrap each individually in parchment paper.
Store in the fridge. Enjoy!