This lemon myrtle recipe has taken far too long to perfect. I love making caramels but there are so many variables at the best of times, let alone when you’re introducing unrefined sugars and oily native leaves into the mix!
I’m happy to say, it’s now ‘perfect’ enough for the blog – although I’m sure there will be updates and I’d love your feedback if it doesn’t turn out perfectly for you.
Now so I don’t get carried away waxing lyrical about how much I adore lemon myrtle, I’m going to save the endless nutritional benefits for another lengthy essay, because this post is about indulgence. There are far healthier ways to enjoy the benefits of lemon myrtle. Caramels (in strict moderation of course), are simply good for the soul. 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 found in the unrefined options? I’ve now experimented with maple syrup, honey, rapadura, coconut, plus a few others and my picks are honey and rapadura. As in the traditional method, I still like to work with two different sugars to ensure a nice depth of flavour.
And even though we’re cooking the honey, I prefer to start with a good quality raw (unpasteurized) product from a local producer. There’s no way around it: quality ingredients make better caramels. (Well, better everything, really). We have a beautiful tea tree and ironbark honey that has become a favourite in our house.
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 freshness 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 the best tea in the entire 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 remove the stems, 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 very finely, as you would any other herb.
We always have lots of homemade crème fraiche on hand because I adore both the process and the end result of culturing cream. (Easy peasy: simply stir in a tablespoon of whey and leave it on the bench until it thickens!)
In fact, 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 the urge hit to make them!
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.
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 temps to follow.
2) You don't, but like to 'freestyle' and wont cry 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, but are 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 it's final texture. Detailed description of the stages, here.
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 (80g)
- 25g salted butter
- 1/3 cup honey (120g)
- 1/3 cup rapadura sugar (50g)
- 1/3 cup water (80g)
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 2 tsp ground or finely minced fresh lemon myrtle (about 6 leaves)
- Line a small 10cm2 pan or dish with baking paper.
- 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).
- In a large saucepan, combine all other ingredients 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)
- 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.
- Stir the mixture vigorously until smooth, then continue to stir on med-high heat for around 2 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. (143C/289F - soft crack stage)
- Remove from 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 (1-2 hours) or to the fridge or freezer to set quickly.
- 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.
- Caramels tend to ‘sweat’ in humid weather and lemon myrtle tends to exacerbate this effect, so it’s best to store the caramels in the fridge or freezer, either in an airtight container, or wrapped individually in paper.
This lemon myrtle recipe is one of our all-time favourite treats, even though we try to limit making them to a few times a year (they’re dangerously moreish)! I would LOVE to hear how you go with them – please feel free to ask questions and share your feedback so that I can continue tweaking the recipe. :-)