My Superb Caramel Gift to You

December 3, 2012
Discover how to make the best caramels in the world for holiday giving and eating throughout the year.

I know I said that today I would launch How to Love a Perfectionist Without Going Crazy. But it needs just a few tweaks before going live, so I’ve scheduled that for Thursday and in the meantime I’m giving you some wonderful caramels for the holidays.

Caramels with nuts

Okay, this isn’t an actual gift of caramels, but it’s close to it. In this post I share the best caramel recipe you will ever find! Just ask my friends and family.

It came into my possession back in my college days when a roommate received a box of home-made caramels from her mother back on the farm. The cream had to have been the freshest you could find and the butter as well. So already you can see that this isn’t a low-calorie gift. But a little piece of heaven is better than the so-so variety you’ll find in most stores. Only the very finest candy stories come close to duplicating it.

Once a good friend and I made this, together with 5,000 other pieces of homemade candy, for Christmas gifts. It was a lot of stirring and measuring and cutting into cubes, but we got many compliments saying it was the best gift they’d ever received.

So, if you want to be known as the queen or king of caramels, here is the recipe I managed to get out of the farmer’s wife. It is as good when made in the city as on a farm.

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Cream Caramels

Don’t be stingy. Increase the recipe by 3 to 5 times (depending on the size of your pot). It will need to be big enough to bubble up without going over the edge.

Since it will take about 45 minutes for a single batch and only about an hour for more than that, it isn’t worth it to just make one batch at a time! They store well in the freezer and can be brought out as gifts throughout the year.

Of course, if you aren’t sure of your candy-making talent (though I think this is quite easy), you could always make just one batch as a sample. Then you’ll be sorry you didn’t make more, but you’ll also be confident that your next large batch will be excellent.

 2 cups  light brown sugar packed well
 3/4 cup  light corn syrup
 1/2 cup  butter (preferably nonsalted)
 2 cups  cream (preferably whipping cream)
 1/2 to 1 cup  nuts (walnuts and pecans do best)

Begin by buttering a 7″ square pan and scattering nuts over the bottom. Of course, there are strange people, like my husband, who don’t like nuts, so you may want to divide the caramels into two groups. Then the group who does appreciate nuts with caramels can get twice as many nuts.

I recommend you butter a pan more than you think you’ll use. That way, when you are pouring the caramels into the pan and decide they will be too thick, you won’t be rushing around to find another pan to butter.

I often use aluminum foil (buttered) to make it easier to take the caramels out of the pan when they are cold.

Put the sugar, syrup, butter, and one-half of the cream in a large pan. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a long spoon (the steam can be hot if you use a shorter spoon).

When the mixture has come to a full bubbling boil, gradually stir in the rest of the cream, making certain that you do not let the mixture stop boiling. Keep the temperature moderate and stir constantly.

Take a wet rag or kitchen brush and “wash down” the side of the pan so that no sugar crystals remain to fall into the batter. It takes only a moment and can prevent serious problems later.

There are two ways to know when it is done. If you have a candy thermometer, cook to 238°.

If you don’t have a candy thermometer, use the cup-of-water technique. This is the time-tested method common  before thermometers were invented. Put a little hot syrup into a cup of cold water and try to gather it into a ball. You will know it has reached the firm ball stage when it holds its shape when pressed with your finger.

I keep teaspoons and about 3 separate cups of cold water next to the stove. When the caramels have been cooking for some time and the boiling become less frothy, I start testing about a half teaspoon at a time. This way the cook gets to taste it before those who haven’t been stirring.

When it is done, immediately pour into the buttered 7″ square pan with the nuts scattered over the bottom.

Do not cook until the hard ball stage or the caramels will be too hard. It may be possible to rectify your error by adding a little more cream and cooking for a little while, but that is harder to do than stopping the boiling on time.

And of course, if it’s not done enough, you can always bring it to a boil and try again.

P.S. You can include chocolate pieces in the pan or drop them on top, use some of the caramel (diluted by a bit more cream or milk) as topping for ice cream or brownies, or make caramel apples. You can’t go wrong with flavor like this.

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