First day of the New Year and I am posting my first 2014 recipe – a good sign hopefully that I will be able to post a lot of my recipes this year.
I had a fabulous Christmas time, a week off and really not a lot to do, so lots of time to cook and bake. Making caramels takes a little bit of time and I had plenty of it the morning of December 24th.
In Germany it is tradition to put up the Christmas Tree on December 24th, we would all get up early, have breakfast, drink Mimosa’s, start decorating the tree around 11:00 a.m. (and continue drinking Mimosa’s) and around 3 p.m. we start preparing the sauces and meats that we have for our Christmas Eve Fondue dinner with my mums homemade garlic aioli being my absolute favorite sauce. I could eat that sauce pure from the spoon, on bread, on meat on a salad, just on everything. I’ve done that exact thing multiple times and had a really bad garlic hang over the next day. Not bad in the way that I would feel bad, I would just “ooze” garlic and everyone around me could smell it. Make sure that whoever you are with eats at least a couple spoons of this delicious sauce with their dinner if you ever plan on making it (2 cups of Miracle Whip, 2 egg yolks, 1 egg white- beat the egg white separate and fold it in at the very end), 1 cup Quark – that’s a German style cheese/sour cream – you can buy it at most QFC’s and Whole Foods; if you can’t get it substitute the Quark with sour cream, a little bit of salt, some pepper, 6 cloves of garlic pressed into the sauce. Let it sit for an hour and it will be perfect).
Around 5:00 p.m. we all take a shower, dress up nicely and by 7;00 p.m. we have dinner and open our gifts around 9:00 p.m. Now that I am in the US for over 13 years I have deviated a little bit from the German tradition, we are still not buying the tree American fashion the day after Thanksgiving, we usually get our tree a week or two prior to the 24th and decorate it a week before the 24th but we still are continuing the tradition of drinking Mimosa’s and listening to Christmas music (these days its “Christmas Chill out music”). So this year on the 24th the tree was all nicely decorated, gifts were wrapped, the house was clean and I had nothing to do, so I thought how about making a batch of caramels I could hand out to our neighbors and friends as little homemade Christmas gifts.
I never really thought of making my own caramels since I always thought they are really hard to make and only a professional confectioner could make them and I also had found caramels that I like a lot – I think Fran’s caramels are the best – but if you like caramels as much as I do and also have lots of friends who like them a lot, I thought why not give it a try and see what all the fuss is around making caramels. After a couple of tries I have to say its not really difficult to make caramels, its just a little bit time consuming and you do need a few tools and packaging material if you want to turn your caramels into gifts.
I like to wrap up my caramels in little candy boxes with my own labels which I get made at My own labels and I order the little candy boxes (they hold 8 caramels) and little baking cups from Amazon, but you can also just use parchment paper and a small cookie tin for packaging (look under Wilton candy boxes 1/4 pound on Amazon)
Intermezzo: I started the blog last night while watching football – the Seahawks were playing and won against the Saint Louis Rams – the Haws are really really good this year and everybody in Seattle is just going nuts over football these days – it seems that this is the only time I really get to sit down and don’t have anything to do and since I have a little bit ADD, I can’t just do one thing and focus on football, so I write about the things I cooked/baked during the week. Well I started this entry yesterday but was so tired after cleaning up our garage for two days (I just drove two huge loads of stuff to the dump – with one laughing one crying eye – so glad we have our spacious garage back but so sad to see all that money that I literally threw away) that I went to bed early and couldn’t finish this blog. So today I was supposed to meet a young lady who is a professional blogger, as I wanted to ask her all about the ins and outs on what makes a good blog and our meeting spot was a coffee shop in Redmond – very appropriate I thought – unfortunately she cancelled on me, but now I have time to finish up my blog. A group of ladies are sitting behind me planning a wedding and a couple of them are threading blueberries onto a wooden swivel, hundreds of them. I was so curious what that was for that I walked over and asked what these blueberry sticks are for and they said, they will freeze them and use them as swivel sticks in champagne glasses, they will keep the champagne cool and look pretty and are eatable. What a cool idea, I have to try that out next time, especially with champagne being my #1 go to drink. Well I am feeling pretty hip today, sitting in a coffee shop and blogging away…funny how the little things in life can make you feel special, it really doesn’t take a lot.
Ok back to the caramels, don’t get discouraged by the list of tips below, it really will make a difference not running into any glitches with the caramels.
Here a few tips that should make it really easy to cook up your own caramels:
- Use a really good heavy pot for cooking the caramel, thick cast iron would be the best as it can take the high heat the caramel has to be cooked at; I use a brand called Le Creuset – extremely expensive but also extremely durable. And use a big pot, the liquid at one time will bubble a lot and double in size.
- A candy thermometer comes in really handy so that you know when to stop cooking the caramel, there are other methods to test the consistency of the caramel but I like the thermometer. The “other” method is to have a bowl of cold water handy and drop a little bit of the caramel into the water bowl, then touch it and see how soft/hard it is. If it has the right consistency that you like you take it off the burner and are done. Everything I read says that 242 is the point where caramels start to turn into the hardball phase – I have cooked caramels at least 20 times by now and at 242 my caramel is sooooo soft, that it melts in your hand when you touch it. Maybe it has to do with Seattle being quite humid, but my caramel comes out perfect at 280 degrees. If you are interested in the different stages of cooking caramel, take a look Here .
- Line a square browning baking pan (8×8) with non sticky aluminum foil – Reynolds has a particular aluminum foils that says: “non sticky”
- I have a little electric melting pot and it comes in really handy for dipping the caramels and the chocolate is always at the right temperature.
- I cook the caramel the night prior to dipping it in chocolate. I have found that “cold” caramel is much easier to work with than soft one. And homemade caramel tends to get softer than store bored one, that’s why its so yummy!
- Have plenty of wax paper at hand so that you can set the caramels on it and let them dry. I actually line 3-4 baking sheets with wax paper and then move the chocolates into the garage to dry. Its much cooler there and won’t mess up the chocolate. If you put the caramels in the fridge the chocolate won’t stay shiny (I think its too moist in the fridge).
- Be careful around caramel, never touch it with your bare hand or try it hot. I did both and burned my hands as well as the roof of my mouth.
- To clean out the pot with the hardened caramel just put it back on the stove with some water and let the caramel/sugar liquefy and then poor it immediately into your trash can, best on some paper towels to absorb the heat and not melt through your trash bag.
Ok finally to the recipe.
- 2 cups of white sugar
- 1 cup Agave syrup (or corn syrup, I like the Agave as its more “natural”)
- 1 stick butter
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Throw everything (but the vanilla) into a thick bottom pot.
- Let it cook on medium heat until it reaches your desired temperature (I cook it until it reaches 280 degrees). You can start off with 245 degrees and then work your way up to the desired consistency you like. If your caramel is too soft after it cooled down, you can throw it back into the pot and just cook it until it reaches a higher temperature, no harm done. It will take a “long” time, most likely 15-20 minutes to get to this temperature. Don’t forget to stir once in a while but you don’t have to stir it the entire time.
- Take the pot from the heat and mix in the vanilla
- Pour the liquid into an aluminum foiled square baking pan (8×8)
- Let the caramel “block” cool out, best over night
- When you are ready to dip the caramels, start melting the chocolate. An Electric Melting pot would be great as you don’t have to mess with “tempering” the chocolate (the process of melting chocolate just at the right temperature so that it has the right consistency and doesn’t “clump” up on you and stays shiny) or you can melt it in a double boiler. Here some more information on how to temper chocolate.
- Then take the caramel “block” out of the pan, pull off the aluminum foil and place the caramel block on to the wax paper.
- Now the fun starts: start cutting the caramels. I use a really long knife so that it almost reaches across the entire block, that helps me cut straight lines. I cut very small caramels. Don’t get me wrong I love them, but they can get very sweet very fast. I cut 1 inch wide strips (I kind of “wiggle” the knife a little bit to make a “soft line” first and then wiggle deeper until I am all the way through the caramel). When I have a 1 inch strip, I pull it a little bit away from the main block and start cutting approx. 10-12 small pieces. They will look small to you but try it first and then see if later you might want to cut bigger pieces, but everybody I know loves the smaller pieces.
- Then you can start dipping the caramels into the chocolate. You have to work quick so that your caramel doesn’t melt in the warm chocolate. I drop in one caramel, take a fork (a fork for me works better than all the fancy dipping tools) and roll the caramel in the chocolate from all sides, lift it up with the fork and “tap” it a bunch of times on the rim of my melting pot to get the additional chocolate off the caramel and it helps with getting rid of any air bubbles.
- Then place the caramel on the prepared wax paper. I have a tiny knife that I use to move the caramel off the fork. I do it really quickly and so far no streaks are left on the caramels. Once I have 10 caramels dipped I put a little bit salt on each. I use a variety of salts (Hawaiian red, Hawaiian black, salts from around the world and I also use red peppercorns – quite a surprise but so yummy, and also use sweet toppings like coco nibs (try Theo’s coco nibs, raspberry sugar or any other topics you like (dried orange peel?)).
- Let the dipped caramels dry for at least a couple of hours prior to packaging them up.
By the way, you don’t have to dip all of them, they are also very tasty if you eat them as is. Just cut little squares of wax paper and wrap them old fashion style into the wax paper and store them in a box or jar.
I hope you will try out to make your own caramels, its very relaxing if you have time and a huge sense of accomplishment once you are done and they are boxed up. Every time I give them as gifts or bring them to a party the first question is: YOU made those???? They look great and they taste great – so soft and you know what is in them. Yes its a lot of sugar but distributed on to a lot of little bon bons.
Oh – you might ask why I titled this blog “Caramels for Breakfast”? Well can you guess it? When I started cutting the caramels into little pieces I had a bunch of little corner pieces left over and I couldn’t toss those away so they were my delicious Christmas breakfast! I am a choco/sugar-holic, so candy for breakfast is not really unusual for me.
Guten Appetit and a Happy New Year!