Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cooking Christmas Caramels!


After a few years of Internet searching, I have found a few caramel recipes that work for me.

But --  not all caramels are the same! And . . .


How NOT to measure candy temp
You can test a thermometer with boiling water (does it read 212 degrees while submerged in a rolling boil? Did you just roast your hand holding the dang thermometer in the water?) Not to mention, if you don't have enough caramel to really submerge the tip, plus an inch or three of thermometer, they never seem to read the real temp. SEE PICTURE TO THE RIGHT- this caramel will not boil up enough to get a good measurement. Not to mention its a sucky thermometer where the paper inside has slipped DOWN and it no longer reads a correct temperature

I'm sure there is an accurate thermometer out there, if you find one, tell me. I'd love to test it out.

Back to the ballgame:

Anyway, each recipe seems to cook up a bit different, or there are some missing tidbits of instruction that would have been uber-helpful not to have to discover myself. So, in the interest of saving heartache, botched batches, and wasted time in the future, I'm posting my tips.

I did get these recipes online, I am including the original link, but I also am writing out my version of their recipe. Mostly it's the same, just some added info and personal tips. Mainly because I want to be able to print my tips and the recipe on one page when I make them next time.

Are you ready? Is your hair pulled back and out of the way? Is the kitchen cleared of all the little caramel snitching thieves? I'll let you keep the best helper, I admit they can be terribly handy over the next several hours of candy making.
(I always double or triple the batch, this one is doubled, 'cause it's go big or go home! --although, potential disaster awaits, if your thermometer is off and you overcook, or you forget the vanilla--bammo, your batch is toast!)

2 cups butter (4 sticks)
2 cups brown sugar
2 cans sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
2 cup white corn syrup
2 teaspoon vanilla

1-  Get your cooling pan ready (this is not some special pan, it's just a cookie sheet or other tray for dumping the batch into when its ready to cool). I like to butter a large rectangle of parchment paper--fold the edges up for a makeshift tray. Or just butter a big non-stick cookie pan.

2- Measure out your vanilla, Dump the teaspoons into a measuring cup. Now, PUT THE VANILLA ON YOUR COOLING PAN/TRAY. This way you aren't the dork that forgets the vanilla at the end! (You get two guesses how I know this. And one don't count)

3- Melt butter, brown sugar, condensed milk, and white corn syrup in a large heavy stock pot over medium, or (if you are a daredevil and can't take the waiting) a bit higher than medium heat. And stir. And stir. Stir some more. Come on, keep stirring. I suggest soaking in the buttery warmth and zen for a bit--Until you reach the SOFT to FIRM BALL stage, 232 to 248 degrees.

Seriously, this takes me about an hour. You can do the microwave directions found in the above link, but it freaks me out a little, not being able to test the temperature, worrying that I'll spill the whole kit and kaboodle down my front as I try to lift the hot and heavy measuring cup out to test . . .anyway, back to the real deal.

4- Remove from heat. STIR IN THAT VANILLA. Pour into cooling pan/tray. Careful there turbo, if you are using the wax paper, watch those edges.

5- While cooling, cut about fifty to a hundred 3" by 6" wax paper squares to roll and twist the tootsie-shaped torpedo-like caramels. (I've heard you can buy caramel papers, but they sound expensive. Wax paper = cheap. I like cheap--and readily available.)

6- Wrap and Roll, Baby. Roll and Wrap :) Go ahead, sneak a few tastes. I won't tell.

I've made a dorky little video of cutting the wax paper and wrapping the caramels. I hope no one really sees this but me. --basically I mass-cut the paper and then, when rolling, I leave a folded edge in the paper for easier unwrapping and eating. 

The above video has me cutting larger sized papers. Depending on your caramel size, you can use a 2 1/2  to 3 inch tall paper. And, most of the time I fold out a DOUBLE size spread, then cut in half, and half again. Hmm, something tells me I should redo the video. Ignore the person behind the curtain, just make the larger papers. OR go to the poor quality caramel wrapping video here.


Redneck's Best Caramels
from Redneck Epicurean
(just in case you can't tell, I tripled this one--go to the above link if you don't want to do the math to reduce--and . . . you might not want to trust my math!)

3 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 and 1/2 sticks butter (3/4 cup)
1 and 1/2 cups white corn syrup
4 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
(I think I used whipping cream accidentally, don't know if it made a difference or not)
3 teaspoons vanilla

1- Get your buttered--and large--parchment ready (see above). Or your pan.

2- Get your vanilla measured and put it in a cup smack dab in the middle of your parchment or pan. You aren't going to forget to add it at the end this way.

3- In a large heavy stock pot, add both sugars, butter, corn syrup and cream. Melt and bring to boiling over that medium to (for the brave and impatient kitchenista) slightly higher than medium heat. Now do that roughly hour's worth of stirring! No stopping. Breathe in, breathe out . . .mmm, enjoy that smell, it's permeating your very pores ;)

4- Once it's reached a soft to firm ball stage, ADD THAT VANILLA, and turn out into cooling pan. Let cool.

5- Cut wax paper squares while you wait. I recommend waiting until it's completely cool before you roll into the wax paper. If it's cool enough to handle, but not all the way cool--and you seriously are that impatient one, you can start rolling little torpedoes. But DON'T put them on the wax papers!! just line them up like mini soldiers on the buttered parchment to finish cooling. This will save your little caramel-eating imps loads of unwrapping frustrations, ie: Caramels DO NOT release from wax paper very well if they are wrapped too soon.



Creamy Caramels
from Taste of Home
(this recipe is only doubled, for some reason I ended up with the same amount as the above triple batch. It might just be a size of roll thing though.)

Steps 1 and 2- Prep the cooling pan or paper and set out the pre-measured vanilla.


Don't go dumping everything in all together on this recipe. When I made this mistake I got a bit of a speckled caramel. I don't know if they tasted any different, as I still have not regained my sense of taste, but just in case . . . 

2 cups sugar
2 cups dark corn syrup (16 oz jar works perfect)
4 sticks butter
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla 

Step 3- COMBINE ONLY the sugar, dark corn syrup, and butter in a large heavy stock pan. Bring to a boil over that medium heat, stirring constantly. Got the boil? Now STOP stirring, turn down the heat--just enough to keep the boil softly bubbling--and let it bubble for 4 minutes. 

Step 4- Remove from heat and stir in the cans of  sweetened condensed milk

Step 5- Bring back to a boil, stirring constantly, until you are at that soft 232 degrees, to firm ball, 248 degrees.

You DID butter a large piece of buttered parchment paper or buttered pan, correct? You also set out the vanilla, hmm? Left it sitting in a cup on the pan, or parchment--right?

Step 6- Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and pour out to cool.

Step 7- AFTER caramel really is as cooled, you can roll them into the wax paper. This particular recipe if very sticky--yes, despite all the butter--and it takes very poorly to being rush wrapped. Remember:  If it's cool enough to handle, but not all the way cool--and you hate the idle-hand-wait, you can start rolling little torpedoes. But DON'T put them on the wax papers!! Just line up those mini soldiers on the buttered parchment to finish cooling. These are the trickiest of the three Caramels when it comes to wrapping, or unwrapping.

 What does a Soft Ball feel like?

(Note the soft(space)ball. Not to be confused with a whopping underthrown softball to the side of the head)

small bubbles
Once your caramels have gone through the little tiny bubble stage . . .

larger bubbles

progressed to the large plopping boil . . .


and now it's finally looking like you've got the long stretchy bubbles, do a test to see if you are at a soft ball stage:

Dribble some caramel into a clear glass of icy water. 
Pull out the blob in the bottom.
Roll it around in your fingers, is it soft?
It didn't dissolve into a messy watery unrecognizable blob did it?
Taste test it, does it stick just a little bit between your teeth?

This is when I know I'm about right. Somewhere between soft and firm.  Or . . . maybe it's just my teeth. Do a several icy water tests along the way to be sure.

Technically you cook it to 232 (soft) to 248 (firm) degrees Fahrenheit.


DID YOU OVER COOK? Did you use that faulty thermometer despite my cautions? (ahem, see that batch WITH the thermometer above, just ask me how I know all this . . . uh-huh. Stupid cheap thermometer.)

No need to stress. Just zap the slab of caramel in the microwave for 30 to 60 seconds--now aren't you glad its on parchment paper instead of in a pan--until the slab is a little more pliable. Now start rolling out those little tootsies, as fast as you can. 

It will be a sticky business, so just leave them to cool on the buttered parchment before rolling in wax paper. Excuse me, I think you got some caramel stuck on your nose when you were scraping the sticky bits off your hands prior to washing them.

You may need to re-heat periodically until you are done. 

ROLL THESE LITTLE MISTAKES on the SMALLER SIDE of things. Most of the time they will melt nicely in your mouth, enough to chew without breaking a tooth. But.. if they are large, it's about impossible to break, or chew, unless you heat right before you eat (5 seconds for each tootsie works just about perfect.)

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