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Everything you want to know about chocolate
So far as I'm concerned, there's only one candy at the movie theater concession stand: Milk Duds. From their unassuming name to their humble appearance (best described as a brownish blob), Milk Duds are a study in simplicity. No geometric shape, no logo, no colorful candy shell, no nuts, no smarmy mascot. Just chewy caramel and chocolate; the end. A straightforward story, perhaps, but one that reminds us it's what's inside that counts.
Now, there are plenty of recipes in this world for chocolate-covered caramels, but a Milk Dud is unique. Its caramel core is chewy and mild, without any bitterness at all. To make a caramel like that, I keep things simple, with sugar, salt, and cream. The technique itself is exactly like the one for my Easy Caramel Sauce, but with the ratios and temperatures adjusted to make a chewy candy instead.
Where my sauce is cooked to just 225°F, my candy goes all the way up to 260°F. That drives off more water, making it thick enough to slice. It also has less cream, so it's not as tender as my sauce would be if cooked to the same stage (giving your jaw a real workout, a hallmark of the Milk Dud experience). Finally, my candy hinges on a much lower degree of caramelization, so the flavor stays light and dairy-centric, not dark and bitter.
The real difference between the sauce and the candy, though, is in how they're handled. Caramel candy is poured into a parchment-lined pan, then chopped into bite-size pieces with a knife. I also like to squish each one by hand because a) it's super fun, and b) Milk Duds are delightfully amorphous.
The next step is to temper the chocolate, which you can read about in Kenji's excellent and incredibly thorough guide. Without that crucial step, the chocolate coating would be tacky and soft at room temperature. Fortunately, Kenji's outlined several different methods for tempering chocolate, which means you can be sure to find a technique that suits your style.
With the chocolate properly tempered, the dipping phase is childishly simple: Mix all the caramels into the chocolate, then fish 'em out by hand.
I know you neat freaks are probably climbing the walls now, but it's all for the best. For starters, individually dipping 50 caramels would take forever, and it can be challenging to keep chocolate in temper for that length of time. Plus, traditional dipping methods make it hard to get a sufficiently thin shell, since tempered chocolate tends to drape itself over the caramel like a thick blanket. That ruins the caramel-to-chocolate ratio, which screws up the balance of texture and flavor on the whole.
It may be messy, but actually handling the caramels helps everything move much faster; you can dip all 50 pieces in about two minutes. By gathering up a handful of caramels and then gently pressing each one between your thumb and forefinger, you'll squeeze off the excess chocolate, leaving only a thin coat behind.
Besides, there are worse fates than being covered in chocolate. Like not having a giant pile of homemade Milk Duds to call your own.