Caramels is now my Christmas thing. The old lady that makes all the cookies or pralines or fruitcake for everybody for Christmas? That’s me, I make caramels for Christmas. It’s a bit of a cheat out for me, making it so I don’t have to try to find the perfect gift for everyone every year. You know what’s perfect? A great big box of caramels! Totally perfect.
Let’s back up a bit. This is my base recipe for caramels. I’ve made a few changes, I don’t know which of the changes really made the difference but these caramels this year were my best ever. I am actually going to brag about this. This was my best year ever for caramels.
I made most of the changes together without doing ‘control’ batches. I just said, hey! this might help!
I dropped the finishing temp from 248 to 245, and I am using a digital thermometer instead of a regular thermometer. I made sure to use regular pasteurized heavy cream instead of the ultra-pasteurized, this does actually make a difference. I do have access to raw, unprocessed cream but that doesn’t make a difference since I bring the temp higher than the 162 degrees used for pasteurizing. I started using only 100% cane sugar. I know there is debate about this and mostly I don’t care. I don’t know for sure if the cane sugar made the difference or if bumping the temp down changed it. I don’t know but I do know that this year I was strict about these factors and it worked beautifully.
This year I made butter pecan, gingerbread, chocolate orange and dark coffee chocolate caramels. The coffee chocolate caramels where the best of the bunch. I used a much richer and darker cocoa powder. It had a much deeper and darker flavor than the cocoa powder in the grocery store. I had a bag of really terrible coffee, so dark it seemed burned. It was perfect in the caramels, so much dark coffee but choco-sweet. The orange chocolate caramels were not quite as I had hoped. I didn’t quite know what proportions I needed for orange and for chocolate. They were orangey good but there wasn’t much chocolate flavor. I cut the caramels and tossed them in the unsweetened cocoa powder. On first bite your mouth fills up with unsweetened dark chocolate, it’s almost too much. But then you chew and the sugar sweet rolls in and on the tail of that is the orange. Not my best but I think they worked out okay. The butter pecan caramels were solid and good, exactly as expected. Butter, vanilla and roasted pecans. Took some notes about how make them better for the next time.
Gingerbread caramels were my favorite. Okay, the coffee chocolate caramels were my favorite favorite in terms of flavor and chew, but the gingerbread caramels were my pride this year. I worked a perfect balance of ginger, molasses and spice. Not too strong one way or another, good flavor, good chew. I ended up making a double batch of them because I dumped 2 bottles of corn syrup into the pot instead of 2 cups. I still have some leftover gingerbread caramels in the kitchen. I can’t eat anymore!
I’ve started to feel a bit possessive about my caramel recipes. I like them, I am proud of what I make. I want to leave a little mystery in there. Maybe I’ll pass on my caramel knowledge to one of the noogles and they can expand on the recipes and pass them on.
The hard part of all of this is experimenting. Making caramels isn’t cheap and it certainly isn’t calorie free. I can’t just whip up a batch to see if an idea works. If it doesn’t work out at all then the money is lost. If it sort of works out and I make something that can be easily tweaked into better form it’s a good deal but also it is a jelly roll pan of sugar and cream that needs to be eaten. I wish I could email caramels to people, so much cheaper than postage. You wouldn’t download a caramel, would you?
I’m still trying to get a good chocolate orange caramel for my grandfather. Rumor has it he likes a good chocolate orange treat. Also might work on an orange creamsicle flavor and revamp my apple pie caramels. Coffee chocolate will always be on the list, people love them and gingerbread feels like a solid holiday flavor.