My Favorite Caramel (especially for Christmas)

My friend Amy put me on to a recipe book named Caramel by Peggy Cullen years ago, and I still think her caramel recipe is my favorite, despite all the others I’ve   tried. If you are as careful as the recipe tells you to be, the recipe turns out perfectly. This is definitely one of my favorite all-time recipes. The caramels are easy to cut (well, as easy as caramel can be), and the flavor is fantastic. I usually make the vanilla bean and honey variation, because it’s my favorite, and my friends who don’t care much for honey have still loved them (the honey flavor isn’t overbearing at all).  I allow these caramels to cool in my bread pans lined with Reynolds Release foil (a gem for caramels!) and then slice and wrap the next day. Beautiful! Please note, if making this recipe above sea level, adjust the temperature accordingly: 2 degrees lower for every 1000 feet above sea level you are cooking at. So, for Provo, decrease the temperature by 9 degrees in all instances when measuring the candy. Also, it’s a good idea to have everything prepped before starting (cans opened, ingredients measured), and you will probably be standing over the stove for about 45-60 minutes. Incidentally, I’ve passed these out at Christmas, plain, but I’ve also dipped them for Valentines or other holidays. Always terrific.

Classic Cream Caramels or Honey Vanilla Bean Caramels

2 c. sugar
1/2 c water
1 1/2  c. light corn syrup (or 1 c. corn syrup and 1/2 c. honey)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. sweetened condensed milk
1 T. pure vanilla (plus vanilla seeds scraped from a pod, if doing the variation)
(2 c. lightly toasted walnuts, chopped, optional, but good with the honey/vanilla bean variation)

Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil so that the edges of the foil are overhanging; press the foil snugly into the corners of the pan (I’m telling you, get Reynold’ Release!). Lightly butter the foil (not necessary with the Release). Set the prepared pan on a cooling rack. Place a nonbreakable glass of water next to the stove for storing the pastry brush and wooden spatula when not in use.

In a 3-1/2 or 4-quart saucepan, gently stir the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt together (and honey, if using). Wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Over medium-high heat, bring the syrup to a boil. Insert a candy thermometer and boil, undisturbed, until the temperature reaches 250 degrees, about seven minutes. Wash down the sides of the pan and add the butter. Once it melts, gradually stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream; bring to a boil. In about five minutes, when the level of liquid reduces somewhat, gradually stir in the remaining 1 cup cream. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally with a figure-8 motion, until the temperature reaches 250 degrees, about 7 minutes.

Remove the pan from the hat and stir in the condensed milk. Return the pan to the heat. Stirring constantly with a figure-8 motion, boil until the temperature reaches 244 degrees (or 245, if using honey), about 4 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and continue to stir for 1 minute. Stir in the vanilla (and vanilla seeds, if using). Pour the caramel into the prepared pan without scraping the saucepan.

Let the caramel cool and sit undisturbed, for at least 8 hours or as long as overnight; do not cover. Turn the caramel out onto a piece of waxed or parchment paper and peel off the foil. Using a large sharp knife, cut the slab into quarters. Cut each quarter into four 1×4″ bars or 16- 1″ squares (or whatever). The caramel can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 3 weeks.

Halloween Caramel Popcorn Balls with Pretzels and Candy Corn

I finally made this great recipe this year. It comes from October 2010’s Everyday Food. I followed the recipe with the exception that I added about 1

Super yummy!

cup of candy corns and I rolled them into balls (which was easier than cutting them). This caramel corn was great–it got a little soggy the day after, but there wasn’t much left to worry about anyway.

Caramel Popcorn Balls with Pretzels and Candy Corn

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 12 cups plain popped popcorn (from 1/2 cup kernels or 2 microwave packages)
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped small salted pretzels (7.5 ounces)
  • 1 cup candy corn
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Coarse salt
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows
  1. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss together popcorn and pretzels and candy corn. In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a boil over medium-high. Boil, undisturbed, until mixture is amber in color, 8 to 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and slowly pour in cream (mixture will sputter). Immediately add marshmallows; stir until melted.
  2. Pour caramel mixture over the popcorn and pretzels and quickly stir with a rubber spatula to coat. Transfer mixture to dish and use a piece of plastic wrap coated with cooking spray to press evenly into dish. Sprinkle with coarse salt if desired. Let cool completely before forming into balls or cutting into bars. Serve on Halloween!

Homemade Reese’s Easter Eggs and Chocolates

I got this idea last year (after gasping at the price of both the grocery store’s and the candy shoppe’s peanut

Some of the eggs the kids and I decorated--I didn't use a mold for these

butter filled Easter eggs) to try and dip my own. I bought chocolate molds (cost about $2), poured a thin coat of tempered chocolate into them, filled them with the homemade Reese’s filling that I adore, and was quite pleased with the result. Placing them in the little cellophane bags from Michael’s (well, I really got mine at Dyan’s Sweet Tooth, but Michael’s and JoAnn’s would have them too), they looked suitable for the Easter baskets.

This year, I had too much peanut butter filling for just the molded chocolates that I made, so I decided to shape the remaining filling into egg shapes, and then dip them. Because I had some extra colored melting chocolate from another project, I melted it, and the kids and I decorated the eggs. I have to say, it was as enjoyable (if not just a little more) than decorating real hard-boiled eggs.

In addition to filling the molded chocolates with peanut butter, I also made a batch of homemade

Marshmallow-filled duck being propped up by a bunny--I used a mold for this

marshmallows. This was messier, but the result was worth it. Again, I put a coat of tempered chocolate (melt milk chocolate to 88 degrees, and then spoon it in the mold), and let it cool. Then, I made the marshmallows (Martha’s recipe is below), and after putting shortening on my fingers, I pulled the marshmallow out, and shaped it into the mold. I let the mold sit for 4 hours, then covered the back with more tempered chocolate. If you want to try it out, but don’t have molds, you could also cut the marshmallows into squares and dip them, or cut them into egg shapes with a cookie cutter. I also found that you can grease a chocolate mold, dust it with powdered sugar, and then fill it with marshmallow and make molded marshmallows (which I then dipped–the more chocolate the merrier). I would love to hear if anyone tries this, and what you ended up doing!

Martha’s Marshmallows

Makes 24

  • Vegetable oil, for brushing
  • 4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  1. Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with oil. Line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhang on the long sides. Brush parchment with oil; set aside.
  2. Put granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. [My note: Place the sugar in the saucepan last, right in the middle. Stir gently so the sugar doesn’t hit the sides of the plan, and once the sugar is dissolved, brush around the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to make sure all the water crystals have been wiped down and dissolved.] Cook, without stirring, until mixture registers 238 degrees.on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put 3/4 cup cold water into the bowl of an electric mixer; sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes.
  4. Attach bowl with gelatin to mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With mixer on low speed, beat hot syrup into gelatin mixture. Gradually raise speed to high; beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Pour into prepared dish, and smooth with an offset spatula. Set aside, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours.
  5. Sift 1 cup confectioners’ sugar onto a work surface. Unmold marshmallow onto confectioners’ sugar; remove parchment. Lightly brush a sharp knife with oil, then cut marshmallow into 2-inch squares. Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl, and roll each marshmallow in the sugar to coat. Marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Confession: I actually haven’t used this recipe of Martha’s before–the one I’ve used calls for 2 T. of vanilla, and yield is a little lower. I didn’t like how strong the vanilla was, so this last batch, I lowered it to 2 t., which I liked a lot more. If you look on Martha’s website, there are lots of variations–including one that uses a vanilla bean. They are all essentially similar, though, but you may find you prefer more/less sugar, vanilla, etc.