This post is really a re-post of a Vermont Public Radio commentary from this time last year. I’m wrapping up my annual candy making for 2014. . I’d promised myself I wouldn’t go overboard this year, but somehow it begins to get away from me. There were caramels, licorice caramels, orange caramels, coffee liqueur caramels with almond and cacao nibs, tiramisu lollipops (coffee cake mooshed with rum frosting, rolled into balls and coated in chocolate), tobacco truffles (yup, that’s from Bitter by Jennifer McLagan – you steep tobacco from a cigar in heavy cream then make a chocolate ganache filling with it), toffee, peanut butter cups . . . and by then I realized it had gotten away from me so I started candying citrus peels and then I bought Alice Medrich’s Seriously Bitter Sweet and. . .
You’ll see that this holiday candy commentary remains relevant. I still don’t know why my picture is so enormous on the VPR page. Because they need you to be able to tell that my front right tooth is a little crooked.
One thing that I’ve started playing with this year is flavored oils in caramel. I had pure orange oil and anise oil from King Arthur Flour, I’ve also got some peppermint to play with in chocolate caramels. I could go really crazy if I bought some of the oils I found at L’Epicerie. Next year, I’m going for it.
If you want to play around with flavored caramels yourself, here’s a simple base recipe. I’d add between 1 tsp and 1 1/2 tsp of an oil to start (in place of the vanilla extract) then go from there to adjust the strength (unless the label on the oil bottle tells you otherwise).
Super Basic Caramels
Grease really, really well an 8 x 8 pan (I get the butter flavored cooking spray and use that because it covers everything). Put the pan on something that’s heat resistant.
In a thick bottomed, medium size saucepan over medium-high heat melt 2 sticks of butter (1 cup). If you use unsalted butter, be sure to add 1/2 tsp fine sea salt or kosher salt in the final step.
Stir in 2 and 1/4 cups light brown sugar.
Stir in 1 cup of corn syrup (which is not the same as high fructose corn syrup, this is providing the right kind of sugars for the caramel to be smooth)
Stir in one 15 oz can of sweetened condensed milk.
Bring to a boil, stir, then let heat up on medium high heat until soft ball stage or 240-degree Farenheit. If you have the heat up too high, and also don’t stir, you can burn the bottom layer, so be sure to check regularly. This part takes 9-15 minutes.
When the syrup reaches temperature, take it off the stove and stir in 1 Tablespoon vanilla, then pour into the pan and let it set – which will take several hours / overnight.
In addition to adding oils, you can also change these up by lining the bottom of the pan with things like chopped nuts, chopped black licorice, chopped candied citrus peel (or boil orange peel – with as little white pith as possible – for 10 minutes, drain, slice super thin and add to the syrup), chocolate (or add in chocolate to the syrup when it’s hot to melt and have a chocolate-caramel), and etc. It’s endless.