Lemon Myrtle Caramels
Well this is it folks, my last column for the year and I thought we’d go out with a bang. Just in case you can get your hands on some fresh lemon myrtle leaves, this is my all-time favourite caramels recipe – with an Australian twist.
Lemon myrtle is one of my all-time favourite native plants. It is often referred to as the “Queen of the lemon herbs” and was revered as a potent healer in indigenous medicine – and we now know why. It’s one of the most powerfully anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant herbs ever discovered!
It also makes what is arguably the world’s most delicious tea and is exceptionally easy to grow in pots, so well worth getting yourself a plant from a local nursery.
Lemon Myrtle has two predominant essential oils. One is citral – and it’s the richest natural source of this oil. The second is citronellal, which is an excellent insect repellant.
The plant’s properties have been investigated by scientists at Charles Sturt University. When undergoing the Rideal-Walker test which assesses anti-microbial activity, it received a co-efficient rating of 16, where Tea tree scored 11, and Eucalyptus, only 8.
In other studies, its antimicrobial activity was shown to be 30% higher than Tea Tree oil. So, a superfood by any definition, but most especially when fear rages high about germs and thorough sanitisation!
Now, it goes without saying that there are healthier ways to enjoy the health benefits of lemon myrtle, however as we all know, caramels are exceptionally good for the soul. And soul food is especially important at this time of year.
So, let’s have a closer look at our star ingredients.
When you’re choosing sugars to make good caramel, the heavily refined versions are much, much easier to work with as they result in a smoother texture, but who wants to sacrifice all those lovely minerals and unparalleled flavour found in the unrefined options? I’ve experimented with many types over the years and settled on maple syrup and honey as my favourites, although the latter creates a much sweeter caramel – slightly too sweet for me!
When it comes to lemon myrtle recipes, fresh leaves trump the dried variety, by a mile. So if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a branch or two from a kind neighbour (and happen to own a Thermomix or high powered blender), the clever way to preserve the beautiful aromatic flavour is to blitz them into a fine, dry mass and freeze it in a ziplock bag. It lasts for months and you can simply add a pinch here and there to your cooking. (Or make a cup of what is arguably the best tea in the world!)
The other way to prepare the leaves – and to be honest, I prefer this method for the caramels, as it’s a tad less stringy – is to slice out the middle stems and lay a few leaves on top of each other, roll them up and finely slice them. Then use a chef’s knife to mince them extremely finely, as you would any other herb.
We always have lots of homemade crème fraiche on hand because I enjoy making it myself. It’s easy – simply stir in a tablespoon of whey and leave it on the bench until it thickens!
If I didn’t have such a preference for cultured cream, I would have never discovered the beautiful depth of flavour it adds to my caramels. It was simply a case of having no regular cream in the fridge when I was hit with the urge to make them!
Rest assured that store-bought sour cream will do nicely too.
Chewy or toffee-like?
As with all things, I go through phases of preferring them one way or the other. Right now, I can’t quite remember why I used to love brittle, toffee-like shards as I’m hooked on the soft, chewy texture of traditional caramel. And with candy-making, it all comes down to length of cooking time, so I’ve included instructions for both methods below.
Lemon myrtle recipe: honey & crème fraîche caramels
Yield: 16 caramels
I’m well aware of the fact that everyone approaches candy-making differently. It’s usually a combination of available equipment and personality. I’m going to offer all 3 options, so that everyone is happy.
1) You have a candy thermometer: I will give you exact temperatures to follow.
2) You don’t have one, but like to ‘freestyle’ and aren’t too fussed if the caramels are a tad too chewy or brittle for your liking: I’ve given you accurate timings / instructions.
3) You’re missing a thermometer, yet keen on a particular result: I will give you the ‘stage’, so that you can use the iced water method to check. Simply fill a small jug with iced water and drop in half a teaspoon of hot caramel so you can feel its final texture as it cools. If you’re new to this method, do a quick google search for a rundown of the different stages.
Note: this is a fairly small portion of caramels, which is perfect for our house. If you want to double the recipe, you’ll need to adjust the timing accordingly.
1/3 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
25g salted butter
2/3 cup maple syrup (or honey)
¼ cup water
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp ground or finely minced fresh lemon myrtle (about 6 leaves)
1. Line a small 10cm2 pan or dish with baking paper.
2. In a small pot, combine the crème fraiche and butter over very low heat (keep an eye on it and if it produces anything more than a gentle simmer, remove it from the heat).
3. Whilst that’s heating, combine all the other ingredients in a medium-large saucepan and allow it to boil, without stirring, over high heat for around 7 minutes, ensuring that it doesn’t bubble over. (130C/265F – hard ball stage)
4. Very carefully pour the crème fraiche into your hot sugar mixture. It tends to splash and spit, at the beginning, so pour very slowly at first.
5. Stir the mixture until it’s smooth, then continue to stir on medium-high heat for around 2-3 minutes, until the mixture thickens. (120C/248F – firm ball stage) This will yield a soft, chewy caramel. To get a toffee-like consistency, continue stirring for an additional minute, making sure it doesn’t burn. (143C/289F – soft crack stage)
6. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for 2 minutes before adding the lemon myrtle and stirring to combine. Transfer the caramel into your pan and allow it to cool on the bench for at least 2 hours.
7. Use the paper to lift the caramel out of the tray and a large, sharp knife to slice it into squares. To make slicing easier, you can heat the knife either by dipping it into a jug of boiling water or holding it for a few seconds over a gas stove. It’s best to wrap the caramels individually in waxed paper or cellophane to help them keep their shape.
Well that’s it for the year, folks! Wishing you a relaxing festive season and I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in the new year.