You may be thinking that this looks an awful lot like Christmas candy. This may have something to do with the fact that they were made from a recipe with the words “Christmas Caramels” in the title. But who says that the 25th of December has to have a monopoly on all things nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and molasses? I say we call them “Salted and Spiced Caramels” then make them year round, given out as much-appreciated gifts that don’t kill a budget. They are fantastic, not-too-sweet morsels that taste even more delicious when hand wrapped in squares of wax paper and packaged into fantastic little boxes, such as mini chinese take out boxes from The Papery (Victoria). This recipe makes a ton of caramels, so plan out the recipients.
First things first, a few things about candy making:
1) Use a candy thermometer. Trying to “eyeball” 255 degrees F is nothing more than a shot in the dark. The cost for a candy thermometer is $15-$20. They can double as a deep fry thermometer and last forever. Some have a clip that holds them to the side of pots, which is a useful but not essential addition. The average temperature range is 100-400 degrees F.
*Think your candy thermometer may be off by a few degrees? This can make a big difference when working with high temperatures. To check if it is off, bring a pot of water to boil on your stove top. Check the temperature- water boils at 212 degrees F. If your candy thermometer is reading above or below this, check the instructions that came with your candy thermometer for re-calibration.
2) Use a recipe. Unless you are an experienced candy maker, and feel comfortable throwing a little bit of this and that in, use a reputable recipe and follow it closely. For one thing, you are going to be dealing with brutally hot liquid, so tasting and adjusting isn’t really a very applicable option. For another thing, you may unintentionally alter the chemical make up of your candy, which can take you into completely unpredictable territory. I know person who once halved the sugar in their caramel recipe, which resulted a nasty semi-liquid that didn’t resemble caramel in the slightest. Lesson: save improv for pasta, recipes you have experience with, and the stage.
3) Use a large pot. Candy often foams and expands, and the last thing you want is burnt candy all over the stove top making a huge mess. A nice wide bottom will have a good surface area to volume ratio, and high sides will stop spitting and overflowing. You will be safe 90% of the time you fill your pot only 1/4 of the way full.
4) Be safe! If your pot has a handle, turn it in so that it isn’t hanging over any edges. Keep all infants/pets/absent minded people away from the stove top. Even better: keep them out of the kitchen! It sounds a little extreme, but if something that hot came spilling down, you want minimum damage. I usually keep moccasins or shoes on, and wear oven mitts for stirring after feeling the sting of having hot sugar spat on my fingers. If you are careful, you will end up with delicious tasting candy with no bad memories of burns.
So there it is, a crash course in candy making basics. Here is a recipe, adapted from miss Martha Stewart herself, for gingerbread caramels.
“Everything Nice” Caramels
Sugar and spice…
4 c heavy cream
1 c golden corn syrup
1 c lilly white corn syrup
4 c white sugar
3/4 c butter
1/2 c unsulfured molasses
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
coarse fleur de sel
oil for greasing
1) In a large pot, combine cream, corn syrups, sugar, butter, and molasses. Turn on medium-high heat, and stir until sugar has dissolved. Cook over medium high heat until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm ball stage). This will take about 20 minutes, and requires you to stir frequently. Watch for foaming, and if you feel that it is getting too high on the sides of the pot, ladle some out into another pot, and you’ll have to work it in batches. Alternatively, you can use any extra that is above 200 degrees as caramel sauce.
2) While getting the mixture to temperature, line a 12″ X 17″ baking pan with parchment paper and spray the paper generously with oil. This will make a huge difference when it comes to removing the caramel!
3) When you reach 248 degrees, remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt, and spices. Immediately pour the mixture into the parchment lined baking pan. Using oven mitts, transfer the pan to a place where it can sit for 24 hours (if you aren’t using the oven, thats a safe place where it will be undisturbed). Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel. Let it stand, uncovered for 24 hours.
4) Invert the baking pan onto a cutting board. Peel off the parchment paper and flip the caramel so the fleur de sel side is up. Using a sharp, large knife (a chef’s knife works well), slice the caramel into bite sized pieces. Arrange caramels in a single layer without touching each other (if they touch they will STICK and melt in a warm room!).
To wrap: Cut wax paper into squares. Place a single caramel in each square, and roll the wax paper around it, twisting each end in opposite directions. Cut off any ends that are too long. This is a long process to do by yourself, so recruit a friend, family member or glass of wine to join you. A good activity to get people to do while watching a movie or TV show.