If only in my dreams….

I wont be home for Christmas (well my parents home) so like the song says…I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams. My parents are off to visit my brothers for the holiday this year and we are here alone in the Snowcopalypse. Not that I mind spending Christmas alone its just it’s a little bit better with my family around. My mom is very into Christmas and I have that genetic Christmas gene as well. We have lots of traditions. I lucked out in a way that my husband has no Christmas traditions. None. At first I thought this was weird but soon learned that it worked to my advantage. He now has had to adopt all of my family traditions.
One year when I was little we drove across country to visit my maternal grandmother and grandfather. Two and half days in a car with the family is less than fun. You can only play the licenses plate game so much (the next times we flew). My grandmother is not what one would call a good cook. So often when we were there for the holidays all the goodies were provided by other people. There was woman, whom I have no idea how she knew my grandmother, made lots of candy. Divinity was her specialty and caramels. Though these were unlike any caramels I had every had. They were hard. I told her she made them wrong (good to know I didn’t have manners as a kid either, eh?). She just smiled at me and said that there were many ways to make caramels. She called them caramel candies though instead of caramels. They were similar to Werther’s chewy toffees if you have every had those. They were curious candies. They started hard but then melted in your mouth. I was hooked, I snook as many of those that I could fit in my pockets. I looked like one of those hamsters stuffing his pouches.
I found them again years later at a holiday craft fair. Some church ladies had a booth and were selling what they called caramel melts. They looked the same…because they were. I asked them for the recipe. They declined. :(
Last months Daring Bakers challenge was a caramel cake. I didn’t make it because I no longer participate. They also had a caramels as bonus. I read that you could make them firmer and wondered if I cooked them longer if I could get the consistency I wanted. In the recipe there was a variation for vanilla-nutmeg caramels. They made me think of my mom and how much she would love those. I  made these in all stages. I made caramel sauce. I made soft caramels which I placed on top of homemade marshmallows. I would love to show you those but I had a small issue with my memory card being damaged and those photos are gone. I will probably make those again and will post then. And then I tried for the harder ones. The first batch was brittle. It never melted in your mouth. And I wanted the melty kind. Luckily the second batch did what I wanted. The only problem is that I never thought about was that woman and those church ladies put them in candy molds. That would have been much easier than trying to cut them. Shards of caramel candies went everywhere. The dog was very pro this.
They definitely take me back. Take me back the Christmas that I got my Cabbage Patch Doll. The Christmas I was sick and slept through most of Christmas day. The Christmas that I first had caramel candies.
I hope that all of you who are not with family this season, whatever the reason being, have some wonderful memories to pull from.

Vanilla-Nutmeg Caramels (or chewy toffee)

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 tsp fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 TBSP plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Equipment
A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer (I used my digital thermometer)

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and nutmeg in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.
When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°F for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels. I cooked mine to 272F to get a chewy toffee.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 or 5 hours to firm up. If you are making the harder caramels it will take about 30 minutes in a cool room.
Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane. This is the hardest part. Cutting hard candy. A good sharp knife is a must.

Other variations:

Fleur de Sel Caramels:
Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.
Cardamom Caramels:
Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce:
Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

To see a version of the soft caramel visit Good Eats ‘n Sweet Treats, she has some nice chocolate covered ones.

 

Comments

  1. I’m sorry you won’t be able to spend Christmas with your family, but at least you have these caramels to bring you some family memories back to you, which hopefully will make you feel better :) And if you don’t feel better, there’s always drink a lot. That’ll sure make you happy. haha. Just kidding :p
    The caramels look great! I’m just really, really bumped about that problem you had with the memory card which had the pictures of the soft caramels topped homemade marshmallows. Haha.
    And the picture, oh, so cute!
    I wish you a very, very happy Christmas, Peabody!

  2. Ooh, Werther’s… Love those :) I’m sure mystery woman would definitely have forgiven the kiddie faux pas once she saw you stuffing your pockets! :)

  3. Hope that you have a super happy Christmas enjoying the snow…as long as it’s around…and lots of Christmas traditions. Told my daughter that we were just going to be slugs and stay in our pajamas all day…perhaps a new tradition for our household :)
    Christmas hugs to you, your hubby, the fuzzy bunny boy/girl and that adorable dog, too.

  4. Sorry you aren’t with your family this holiday season…I hope you can see them soon. These look great!

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

  5. Delicious caramels and nice picture of you and your mom!

    Merry Christmas!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  6. I can see your mom in you! Beautiful!
    You sure make me wish I’d made the caramels!
    I love that you told the woman she made them wrong. So glad that memory was stirred back to get this experience.

  7. Divinity! Cabbage Patch Kids! Oh, the things that take me back! These look delicious, glad you got the consistency you wanted. Have a lovely Christmas!

  8. Hang in there with being “sans family” for Christmas!!

    Mmm, CARAMEL!!! My obsession.

    Merry Christmas Eve, Peabody!!

  9. Yummy looking caramels! I have yet to try making them, but now I know where to come for a recipe! Merry Christmas!

  10. Here’s wishing you a warm and delicious holiday, despite being apart from family. We’re doing the same since our family is away as well. Your caramels looks divine and thank you for posting the variations!

  11. All the variations of the caramels sound wonderful. May your Christmas Dreams be wonderful too.

  12. I haven’t made the caramels yet, but I like the idea of putting them into molds and making them harder more than a really chewy one. Thanks for the hint.

    Merry Christmas!

  13. sorry you aren’t w/the rest of the family for christmas, but hope you have a special holiday with your hubby.

    i love werther’s candies but i prefer the chewy caramels in general. i can’t wait to make the marshmallow ones – thanks for the recipe.

    merry christmas!

  14. HeartofGlass says:

    I’m also not with my family this Christmas, and that lovely picture of you in your nightshirt really takes me back–I loved Christmas in the early 80s–watching “The Charlie Brown Christmas” special and all things Snoopy and Christmas and animal related are some of my fondest memories. Thank you for such a wonderful blog all year ’round. (Now the real question is did you secretly unwrap your little stuffed animal that you got in the picture, or was it a surprise ;)

  15. Great minds think alike! I also made caramels :)

    Also, this seems to be a trend this year… my hubby and I are staying home and not visiting either set of parents. Happy Holidays!

  16. What a beautiful stroll down memory lane. Divinity was my late father’s favorite Christmas candy (and since his birthday is the 26th, this time of year will *always* be partly about him for me).

    And I so-oooo remember the “Cabbage Patch Christmas.”

    Thanks for sharing. And I’m glad the caramels worked out for you. Merry Christmas, and a happy healthy 2009!

  17. OMG! I was just in Trader Joes the other day and were drooling over the Fleur de Sel Caramels and I was just thinking “dang I wish one of my bloggers would have a recipe for this” and walla! I’m going out to get some golden syrup NOW!!! Thanks a million and HNY!

  18. I wanted to make the caramels, but never got around to it. Yours sound delicious!! But too bad the old ladies wouldn’t give you their recipe…

  19. Caramel, yum! I made the honey caramels from the same book and they were fabulous!

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