On Caramels.

Okay, I’ve been teasing you about these for far too long.  I’m ready to share now.

I’m not one for holiday traditions — I don’t even know what’s served at a traditional Christmas dinner aside from goose, and that’s only because I’ve read A Christmas Carol — but I do buy into the whole cookie-making frenzy that seems to monopolize every food magazine and newspaper column at that time of year.  I always get started on my cookie-baking a little bit too late and end up paying a ridiculous amount of postage to express my packages to my friends, and this year was no different.  Well, maybe that’s a bit of a lie, since I decided to try my hand at making caramels… which can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

Making caramels is easy.  I can’t stress this enough.  It’s easy easy easy.  The thing to be aware of, however, is that they are as sticky to make as they are easy to make.  I didn’t know that going into this whole procedure, so I feel duty-bound to inform you.  Don’t let stickiness prevent you from getting your hands, well, sticky, because your taste buds will never forgive you for it.

Here’s the step where things start to get sticky: cutting and wrapping.  See, the recipes below both ask that you basically make a huge slab of caramel, and unless you’re lucky enough to have an old-fashioned metal ice cube tray to use as a mold, you’re going to have to cut your caramel slab into smaller mouth-friendly pieces.  (And yes, it must be a metal ice cube tray.  If you try to pour a 250° substance, candy or otherwise, into a plastic container, I promise you’ll have a mess on your hands.)  I can’t do anything about caramels’ stickiness, but I can tell you what I did to try to control it a bit: I rolled each cut caramel in sugar, or a sugar-and-salt mixture for the fleur de sels.  It adds a nice little crunch, along with cutting back on the stickiness.

Wrapping the caramels isn’t necessary, of course, but it is fun to have a little package to peel open.  I used parchment paper, but I bet waxed paper would work just fine too.  If you want to be a little fancy, glassine paper would do the trick.

Fleur de Sel Caramels, from Ina Garten
Makes 16 caramels

Vegetable oil
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Line the bottom of an 8-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over two sides.  In a deep saucepan (89 diameter by 4 ½” deep), stir together ¼ cup water with the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir — just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!
  2. In the meantime, in a small pan, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  3. When the sugar mixture is a warm golden color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful! It will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248° (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (because it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.
  4. When the caramels are cold, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Cut the sheet in half. Starting with the long end, roll the caramel up tightly into a log, then roll out to 12 inches in length. Repeat with the second piece. Sprinkle both logs lightly with fleur de sel, trim the ends, and cut each log in 8 pieces. Cut parchment papers into squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.

Cinnamon-Ginger Caramels, barely adapted from the kitchn
Makes a boatload of caramels

2 cups heavy cream
3 ½ cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 teaspoons fresh-ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces candied ginger, finely chopped

  1. Line a 9 x 13 baking sheet with heavy-duty foil and butter generously. Put the cream in a small saucepan and let it warm over low heat.
  2. Put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat and stir vigorously until the sugar melts and dissolves. Stop stirring and turn the heat to high. Cook until the sugar turns dark amber. Take off the heat.
  3. Whisk in the butter. Carefully pour in the cream and whisk it. The caramel will bubble up furiously and steam. Whisk until well-combined and return to high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring, then turn the heat to medium-low. Clip on the candy thermometer and let the caramel cook until the temperature hits 250°. Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in cinnamon and salt. Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle candied ginger evenly across the surface; let cool.  Once cooled completely, put it in the fridge to harden overnight. The next day, cut into small pieces and wrap.