Friday, November 30, 2018

Caramel Candies for Christmastide

Did I get your interest with the recipe for my caramel sauce? I know I promised you a recipe for caramel candies.

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.

Boiling candies
In your heavy pot—I prefer enameled cast iron—combine the cream, blond and brown sugar, and corn syrup. Set the heat to medium and stir gently as the sugars melt and the syrup forms.

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.
If you have the thermometer, keep a careful eye and watch your temperature. Your target is 245-250 degrees. Once you see the red line reach the mark, take the thermometer out of the pot and place on a spoon rest – the candy is hot and will burn you if you touch or taste it at this point.

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
Tear several sheets of brown waxed paper (or plain wax paper or any wax paper you think will be pretty, but not plastic wrap) and cut into roughly 2.5x2.5 inch squares. I often cut a stack of these at a time; you will have about 100 candies to wrap. Snagging a partner, like your favorite uncle, to help out is a good idea, too.

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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Sweet Caramel for Late Fall

The air is crisp and the last of this autumn’s leaves have come down in the woods behind our little
village homestead.

Autumn always brings with it nature’s goodies from the harvest—apple cider, bright pumpkins, and traditional treats like cranberries, nuts, and baked pies. As I get cozy for the season, I look forward to caramel as a sauce for dipping my apples or pouring over homemade ice cream and apple pie, and as a candy to share with the nieces and nephews during the holiday season. These candies will likely make an appearance in this Christmas’ cookie tins!

I make both confections using half-and-half or cream, butter and blond sugar. I add a little bit of brown sugar to the caramel sauce, which helps to make a deeper flavor and darker color. I added a little bit of homemade vanilla extract and sometimes a dash of “sea” salt.

A Victorian treat

We’re not quite sure when caramel sauce or candy first appeared on the scene, but it seems to be an American invention. Families were making hard candies over their fires before the American Revolution, combining expensive refined sugar with local water that had been steeped in herbs, such as peppermint or horehound. Sometime between 1800-1850 a talented cook combined this cooked water-sugar mix with butter and cream, setting off a tantalizing chemical reaction. The sugars react with the milk and the fats in the butter and cream keep the sugars soft and stretching, rather than turning into a hard, rock candy.

By the 1880s, candy makers had introduced this treat to the public and a few became household names: Hershey, Goetze, and Brocks all started making caramels and continue through today.

Caramel sauce

This caramel sauce is a tried-and-true one that I have been making for a couple of years. I took it to my brother’s house recently to be drizzled over some fresh apple pie. The nephews loved it! We even caught the oldest niece attempting to secretly spoon some directly from the jar to her mouth.

It’s good with freshly sliced apples or used a dip with crunchy pretzels. It melts nicely in coffee, but you will have a buttery film on the top of your drink. You can also drizzle it hot or cold over ice cream or blend into a milkshake.


  • 1 ½ cups of blond sugar
  • 1-2 Tblsp brown sugar (to your taste, I’ve done both)
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup butter, cut into teaspoon-sized pieces
  • ¾ cup half-and-half
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Get it out of the way first—make sure your butter is cut into little pieces. It will make the blending much easier!

Use a heavy-bottomed pot with lots of room for expansion. I use a 2.5 quart enameled cast-iron pot (like this one). I like how the cast iron helps the sugar to melt and holds its heat as I’m working.

Combine the sugars and the water and put the heat on medium, stirring occasionally until the sugars are melted. Once melted, turn to medium high (but not on high!) and stop stirring. If the sugar starts to climb up the sides of your pot, use a silicon pastry brush dipped in water to gently brush the crystals back down into the liquid. Keep a watchful eye and let it cook for about 10 minutes – a minute or two longer will give you a deeper caramel color and a little ricked or a flavor. But, too much more and you can scorch the sugar.

Boiling sugars.
Add your cut up butter at this point and whisk vigorously. It will bubble and foam, so whisk that down. Once the butter is combined into the sugar, heat for 3 more minutes, whisking as needed.

Turn the heat down to medium or medium low and add the half-and-half all at once. Keep whisking until combined and heat for another 2-3 minutes, whisking as needed. Watch carefully to prevent scorching.

Add your vanilla at this point and remove from the heat. If you want salted caramel, now is the time to add a ½ teaspoon of sea salt or pink salt. While hot, the sauce is thin but will set up and thicken as it cools.

This caramel sauce will keep in your icebox or refrigerator for about two weeks. I did once have a small layer of syrup separate from the sauce on the bottom of the jar after a day or two but found that could easily be stirred back into the sauce.

Like this? There's more: caramel candies!