Sweet Jules CaramelsNovember 29, 2012
Not surprisingly, I make the majority of the edible gifts I give, but I also like to hunt for unique, great tasting treats that others make. There are so many choices in catalogs and on shelves at specialty and gift shops it can be overwhelming. And most of them really aren’t worth the calories.
I was delighted when I heard one of my ex-Stars Restaurant colleagues, Jule Vranian, and her sister Hope Klocker are making caramels, Sweet Jules Caramels. Caramels are a perfect gift to give at Christmas and Chanukah. They symbolize the holidays and they have a longer shelf life than other sweets. You don’t need to eat the whole box in a couple of days just so they won’t go bad.
Jule Vranian was the pastry chef at Stars before I took over. Like me, Jule came to pastry from the savory side of the kitchen. I have always been a big fan of her food, whether savory or sweet. Her caramels are no exception. Jule’s parents owned a restaurant and her siblings are involved with food. Jule moved back to her home town in Minnesota after Stars, but three of her brothers own restaurants in the Bay Area (Mark – Parkside Café in Santa Rosa; Alex – All Seasons Bistro in Calistoga; and Drake – Café Sarafornia, also in Calistoga) so she comes out often to visit.
I am going to decorate my Christmas Eve table with Jule and Hope’s caramels. It will make a festive table that everyone will help “clean up” at the end of the meal.
I also talked with Jule and Hope about their business and passions:
EL: What made you start your caramel company?
JV & HK: Each year at Christmas we would receive a big box of caramels from an aunt. As kids it was one of the holiday highlights. We never could get caramels out of our heads. We tweaked the recipe to make them creamier and smoother and created more flavors.
What flavors do you make?
We have nine: Classic Vanilla, Beer and Pretzels, Fleur de Sel, Café Italiano, Caramel Apple Tart, Bananas Foster, Dark Chocolate and Pecan, Jules of Paris (dark chocolate sprinkled with Fleur de Sel) and Sicilian Orange. We have also already started testing new flavors for January and February of 2013.
Do you each have a favorite?
HK: Caramel Apple Tart and Café Italiano
JV: Caramel Apple Tart and Jules of Paris
I assume you make them in small batches?
We have six, 6 quart copper kettles. Small pots let us control the cooking process and get the exact temperature we need. We don’t use any extracts. For the apple caramels we reduce apple juice from organic apples grown on our own farm. The Beer and Pretzel caramels are made with Award Winning Town Hall Brewery’s Scotch Ale from Minneapolis. We use a banana liqueur to get the correct flavor profile for our banana foster’s caramel. We have experimented with natural syrups like agave and brown rice syrup but it affects the final texture and the caramels have a grainy texture.
What kitchen tool would you be lost without?
Our Matfer candy thermometers. We have tried a lot of different ones. Also a flat rubber spatula.
What tip would you offer home candy makers?
Use good quality ingredients – bittersweet chocolate, French sea salt, real cane sugar, vanilla, no extracts. Keep in mind humidity affects candy making. In the summer in Minneapolis we have to cook the caramel to a higher temperature – almost 8 degrees. Once you have made the same caramel recipe many times you can tell when it’s close without reading the thermometer. Know your caramel. When making candy you have to be patient.
You can find their caramels at www.sweetjulesgifts.com.