I think these delightful candies will make an appearance in this year’s Christmas cookie tins. Wrapped in brown waxed paper, they keep for about three weeks in a mason jar, they are an old-fashioned favorite. They had their debut at our village’s old-home days’ bake sale and were a hit! Every bag was sold and one lady even asked if I could do a batch for her family’s event.
You’ll remember from the last blog how I love caramel. I like the rich flavor and the buttery-sweetness of it. As a Gilded Age reenactor, I’m interested in the history of these American treats that first showed up in cookbooks and shops in the second half of the 1800s. I read through several recipes for homemade caramels and rejected those calling for evaporated or sweetened and condensed milks. I avoid corn syrups, but when it comes to making candies, I do make an exception. So, I dug in and got cooking on these treats.
These are candy
We don’t keep many sweets in our house–some good quality chocolate bars and Girl Scout cookies are usually all you’ll find. (We have four nieces and they’re all Girl Scouts. They know who to call during cookie season!) In fact, my general rule is we can have any sweet treat we’d like – as long as I make it. This usually keeps our sugary indulgences to a minimum.
If you’re looking for a “healthy” sweet treat, nope, not this time. Today, it is candy. Which is also nice during Christmastide, when we indulge in sweet treats and special foods, sip warm drinks of cocoa and mulled wine or honey chai teas. Just remember, a sometimes treat is better enjoyed occasionally than as a regular habit.
Let’s get cooking!
You can make these caramels using a candy thermometer or by dropping a tiny amount of the mix into ice water and noticing how hard the ball of caramel becomes. You are going to cook the caramel to the firm ball stage. This cooks your sugar and cream syrup to an 87 percent sugar concentration. When you drizzle a little bit of the caramel into ice water, the thin syrup clumps together as a ball and doesn’t dissolve in the water. When you take it out with your fingers, the ball holds it shape but easily flattens when you squish it. In contrast a soft ball won’t hold its shape and will flatten on its own outside of the water and a hard ball won’t flatten at all.
When you use the candy thermometer, you have more precision. Clip the thermometer to the side of your pot and watch the temperature. We want to heat our mix to at least 245 degrees to caramelize the sugars.
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- 1 cup blond sugar
- ½ brown sugar
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tblsp butter, plus butter to grease the pan and to cut the candies
You will need:
- Heavy bottomed pot (my favorite) and wooden spoon
- Silicon pastry brush
- Candy thermometer or glass of ice water
- 8x8 inch pan, lined with foil
- Pizza cutter and kitchen scissors
- Brown waxed paper and scissors or paper cutter
Start by lining your 8x8 inch pan with foil and then greasing it generously with butter. Set aside in a cool spot.
Once everything is dissolved, increase to medium-high or high and bring the mix to a boil. Avoid stirring at this point; instead use your pastry brush dipped in water to careful push the syrup down the sides of the pot if it starts creeping upward. Clip on your candy thermometer at this point, or ready your ice water. If you do use ice water, plan to have several glasses ready because you’ll test your mix more than once until it comes to the firm ball stage.
Continue boiling the candy until you reach 245 degrees. I find this takes about 10 minutes but you may need more or less time. Stay with your candy, though! If it looks like it could boil up faster than your pastry brush can handle, give it a quick stir or two to bring it down.
As the syrup thickens and gets darker start checking your temperature. Test your candy stage by taking a small amount on a metal dinner spoon and dripping it into your ice water. Often, the first attempts will simply dissolve in the water. Wait another 2 or 3 minutes, and repeat. When the candy settles on the bottom and holds its shape, take it out with your fingers. If it flattens out of the water, test again after 2 minutes. If it holds its shape but you can squish it, you’re ready for the next step.
|Candy cooling in buttered foil.|
Remove the pot from the heat and stir into your butter and vanilla. If you want “sea salt” caramels, add 1 tsp of sea salt or pink salt at this point. The mix may react and foam just a little, keep stirring if it does until the caramel settles down.
Pour your lovely caramel into your waiting buttered pan. Cover and let cool overnight.
The next day:
|Use a pizza cutter and scissors to|
cut into bite-sized pieces
Lift your candies from the pan and place on your wooden cutting board. Peel back the edges of foil and tear them away. Roll your pizza cutter in butter and then cut a strip about ½ inch thick from the side of your candy. Lift and carefully peel the foil from the candy. Stab the butter with the blades of your kitchen scissors and snip the strip every 1 inch or so–you can make your candies bigger or smaller.
Place each candy in the middle of your wax paper squares and fold over the sides. Twist the end so you have a sweet little package.
I keep these candies in a mason jar on the countertop. Even with the butter and cream, these caramels keep well for about 3 weeks but after that they start to get grainy and lose their texture.
|Wrap in wax paper to keep|
candies fresh for up to three weeks.