Thursday, December 25, 2008

Teeth Extracting Caramels

Weeks ago I was killing time on the Martha Stewart website, where I now spend an alarming amount of time, when I stumbled upon her recipe for gingerbread caramels. I drooled on myself a little a bit and filed the recipe away in my 'to make' file. With Christmas coming up, I decided they would be perfect to make for gifts. Providing I didn't screw the whole thing up. But I'm a risk taker.

Not really. I hate risks. I nearly pass out from fear every time I go on an airplane and I've only been on them about eight billion times.

Regardless, I did make them. Things nearly went horribly wrong but it worked out in the end, which is the way it often goes in my kitchen.

Gingerbread Caramels from Martha Stewart


  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray
  • 4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream
  • 2 cups light corn syrup
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


  1. Coat an 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on short sides. Coat parchment.
  2. Bring cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses to a boil in a large pot over high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan, and continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm-ball stage), about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla, salt, and spices. Immediately pour onto prepared sheet, without scraping pot. Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature for 24 hours without moving.
  4. Coat a large cutting board generously with cooking spray. Pull up parchment to unmold caramel, and invert onto the cutting board. Remove parchment. Cut into 1-by-1 1/4-inch pieces. Wrap each in cellophane or waxed paper. Caramels can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Nekkid caramels

I made these at my mom's house and while she didn't have a candy thermometer, she did have a meat thermometer. So I plunked that in my batch of caramel. Except that it registered 248 degrees within minutes of being on the stove, causing me to panic and dump all the spices in. Then I stared at the mixture, which was totally thin and soup like. I cocked my head, considered it a while, and decided that there was no effing way that mixture was going to firm up to resemble anything remotely close to caramels. I decided the thermometer was off and cranked the stove back on.

Having never made caramel candy before, only caramel syrups, I didn't really know what in the fresh hell I was doing. I was planning on trusting the thermometer but clearly that wasn't going to work out. So I basically cooked it until it felt right: thick and hard to stir. I did keep a mug of cool water nearby to test to soft ball/firm ball stage but having never tested that either, I just went by what looked and felt right.

The directions for the caramels said not to scrape the caramel pan after pouring the caramels into the greased pan. But I come from a family that covets leftovers, where a tablespoon of food is meticulously wrapped and put back in the fridge. The thought of wasting the caramel dredges made me hyperventilate a little, I just couldn't do it. What harm could it do, right? I scraped the pan.

Wrong. Don't do as I do. The caramel at the bottom of the pan cooked a lot more than the rest of the caramel, so some of my caramel pieces had a top layer of toffee-like caramel instead of soft gooey caramel. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, you just shouldn't give any of those pieces to your toothless great aunt Nannerl. I was pretty confident my aunt, uncle and cousins, who I gave the caramels too, had pretty secure teeth so I went ahead and gave them some of the toffee-caramels.

And oh, maybe it was because I accidentally added all my spices right at the beginning but I had to add at LEAST four times the amount of spices called for the caramels to taste even remotely spicy and gingery. I was just dumping spices in by the truckload and kept tasting it until they tasted good. They were still pretty mild flavored but tasty none the less: a little molasses-y, gingery, and a little spicy.

I only let them chill a few hours before cutting them, they were plenty firm by then. I dipped some in chocolate and topped a few with crystallized ginger. Though I thought they were kinda ugly with that so I stopped doing that. Than I wrapped them in parchment paper, which took forever and a half.

Here they are all wrapped up.

They tasted really good though, it was worth it. But really, could anything with that much cream, butter, and sugar taste bad? The correct answer is no, in case you were wondering. My family liked them, I think my cousin ate about a dozen. I can't pay for your dental bills though, sorry David.

Then my mom and I decided it would be a good idea to bake about 12 dozen cookies. More on that later.

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