Penuche (Old Fashioned)
- 2 cups pure cane sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup half-and-half
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup pecans, toasted, and coarsely chopped
- Equipment Needed --
- Candy thermometer
Butter an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Line buttered pan with a 16-inch long sheet of parchment papar, buttered on both sides, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan. Allow excess to overhang pan edges (to create handles). Arrange your countertop so all utensils and ingredients are within fast reach. Have pecans, baking soda, and vanilla all measured out and ready in a handy spot near the stove. Also within easy reach, have a warmed candy thermometer, waxed paper or spoon holder (for laying down sticky spoon or thermometer), and (just in case) oven mitts and a container of ice water.
Combine sugar, salt, corn syrup, half-and-half, cream, and butter in a heavy-bottomed 3-quart sauce pan set over low heat. (Sauce pan should have straight sides so candy thermometer can be attached to side of pan.) Stir with a greased wooden spoon until sugar is completely dissolved. This takes some time, and it is difficult to tell by looking at it. So, to be sure all the sugar is dissolved, carefully feel the texture of the hot sugar mixture by rubbing a little between your fingers or run your finger along the mixture clinging to spoon. If there is any graininess at all, keep stirring until it's gone.
Once sugar is dissolved, increase heat to medium and cook, stirring continuously, until mixture foams to a boil. Add baking soda, lower heat and stir like crazy. (The oven mitts are right there if you need them.) The mixture will froth and foam, double in volume, and then gradually subside and begin to take on a golden color. After mixture settles down some, attach a warmed candy thermometer onto pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously and scraping sides of pan, until thermometer registers just 240 degrees F. Watch carefully, thermometer will hover at 239 degrees for a while and then move up. This is crucial -- You MUST remove mixture from heat BEFORE it passes 240 degrees F.
Remove pan from heat, remove thermometer, and continue to stir quickly. Mixture will look like a loose caramel sauce. Carefully add vanilla (mixture may froth again), stirring until incorporated. Add pecans and continue stirring quickly. At this point you must pay attention, keep your eyes on mixture, and keep stirring. Watch and feel it as it begins to thicken, lighten in color, and becomes harder to stir. When it has thickened enough that the spoon leaves a path on bottom of pan while stirring, it's almost ready.
As soon as you notice that the mixture is starting to lose its glossy shine and is beginning to turn matte, turn it out into prepared pan and, if necessary, press it down with a buttered spatula. Don't wait until mixture looks completely matte or it will be too dry when you try to cut it or, worse, harden in the pan. If you stop stirring too soon, it might not solidify at all and be nothing more than a caramel (albeit a very, very good caramel), but not penuche. If you stop stirring at the right moment, the mixture will firm up almost the second it hits the pan.
Let candy cool in pan on wire rake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until firmly set, remove from pan using parchment handles, and cut into squares.
(If candy doesn't harden immediately, let it sit for several hours or overnight and it may harden. If not, don't be sad...you still have great caramel.)
Makes about 1 pound.
• Safety Note: It will not break the thermometer to place it in syrup just after it begins to boil, unless it has been in a cold room. However, it is always well to warm it a little as a precaution when putting it into boiling syrup. They are made to withstand such a shock, but it doesn't pay to be unnecessarily careless.
• Safety Note: Keep a container of ice water handy. If you accidentally splash or spill hot sugar on your hand, immediately plunge it into the ice water to stop the burn.
Personal Note: Candy recipes are notoriously unforgiving. Substitution of ingredients or the slightest deviation in technique, temperature or timing can make for major problems. For what it's worth, I've been cooking and baking and for more than 40 years, but success at candy making continues to be hit or miss for me. It really is harder than you'd think, so don't feel bad about a few failures here and there.