I stumbled upon a caramel recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens December 2010 issue and knew I had to try it. I've had a love affair with caramel for as long as I can remember. The brief cooling period in our relationship, a very Romeo and Juliet tragedy where my orthodontist insisted I not cohort with the Capulet caramel, only fueled the love affair. Braces finally removed, the first thing I ate, jubilant with being able to smile again, was a Sugar Daddy - which proceeded to hurt my tender teeth. No matter, I still love caramel.
For the longest time caramel was elusive to me. I had no idea how it was made and frankly didn't care as long as I could get my hands on it - especially the soft, chewy, melty when warmed fresh ones from the finest confectioners. Finally I figured out how to make caramel sauces and really, as they say, it was all downhill from there...
When someone tells me they don't like caramel, it is one of those completely foreign concepts where I have to willfully force my face not to deceive me and expose the completely incredulous disbelief I'm feeling. Then again, I've been on the receiving end of that same look when I tell people I'm not a fan of raw tomatoes. ('Tis true, though I have tried many times...the closest I get is bruschetta)
And yet, after all this time, I still had not made my own caramel candies. Until now. And, as per my usual, I had to fiddle with them and add my own touch.
Please know that I am no caramel master (I am a master taster though!) so the recipe ingredients and quantities are not my own and full credit goes to the Better Homes and Gardens team for their hard work in that arena. The toppings, well, that is my twist.
If you are looking for more homemade holiday food gifts Better Homes and Gardens has a nice feature here as well.
1 cup butter
16 oz packed brown sugar (2 1/4 cups)
1 cups half and half/light cream (I used cream and whole milk in equal parts)
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
Topping ideas and suggestions (add while caramels are cooling - within the first 10 minutes or so)
Curry and Coconut (I love this bit of heat and interest - my husband not so much): sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons curry and 4 tablespoons shredded coconut on top of caramels.
Flaked Sea Salt: Sprinkle 1 tsp sea salts on top of caramels.
Marshmallow and Chocolate: Together or separate - melt 1 ounce marshmallow fluff and 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, pour over caramels while cooling.
Lavender, Fleur de Sel: Sprinkle 1 teaspoon each dried (cooking grade) lavender buds and fleur de sel on top of caramels.
Peanut Butter, Pretzel, Chocolate: Melt 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, pour over caramels. Crush a handful of hard pretzels and sprinkle on top of caramels.
Autumn Spiced: Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger on top of caramels.
Hot and Sweet: Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon each chili, chipotle, and curry on top of caramels with 1/2-1 teaspoon large flake sugar - such as a pearled sugar.
You could also try any kind of crushed nut you like - macadamia, pecan, etc.
Line a larger baking pan with well buttered foil. If possible I would also recommend using buttered foil on the sides and a silicone baking liner on the bottom for easier removal - also buttered for good measure.
In a larger, heavy saucepan melt butter at a low heat. Add brown sugar, half and half and corn syrup and stir very well.
Heat mixture at medium/high heat until boiling, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and add a candy thermometer.
Continue boiling, adjusting heat as needed to keep a nice steady boil, stirring often, until the temperature reaches 255F (Better Homes and Gardens says 248 - we vary in this temperature determination and I strongly lean toward the higher temperature as I was not able to achieve the "firm-ball" stage I desired at the lower temp).
Remove from heat, add in vanilla and stir well. Pour into baking dish. At this point prepare and add toppings if desired (shown above).
Allow to cool completely and firm up. Invert pan onto cutting surface, remove foil/liner and use a buttered or oiled knife to cut into desired size.
Wrap caramels in plastic wrap or wax paper (so much easier with waxed paper) and store. If your caramels turn out too soft don't toss them - you can store them in the refrigerator to keep the consistency a bit harder before eating.
Happy caramel experimenting and eating!