Celebrate October with homemade caramels

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It’s National Caramel Month. Does anything else matter this month? I don’t think so. Fellow caramel fans are nodding their heads in agreement right now.

I’ve always wondered how a month is declared to be a national month of anything. While poking around on the National Confectioners Association website, I discovered how these special observances come to be.

Prior to 1995, members of the U.S. Congress could introduce legislation to commemorate people, events and activities that they deemed worthy of national recognition. Because these bills were time-consuming for senators, representatives and staff, Congress decided to discontinue this practice.

Today, the President can declare a commemorative day by proclamation, the Senate can issue commemorative resolutions and state legislatures, governors and mayors can proclaim special days.

Organizations can also promote awareness of events, issues and important things, like caramel, that they feel deserve special recognition by the public. Normally a calendar of event publisher is contacted for the observance to be added to the calendar.

Growing up, I enjoyed noshing on Kraft caramels that came wrapped in clear plastic. They made their appearance each autumn and were the essential ingredient in making caramel-dipped apples.

This year, in appreciation of National Caramel Month, I decided to try my hand at creating homemade caramel, something I’ve never done before. I was a little nervous, as candy making isn’t really my thing. Plus, it involved using a candy thermometer and those are kind of scary. Seriously, look at the size of that thing.

Caramelization is an interesting process of the removal of water from sugar by heating sugar slowly. Molecules break down and re-connect in a magical process that produces a sweet dark brown liquid that can be mixed with cream, butter and vanilla for caramel sauce or caramel candy.

The recipe I used is from the website Garnish and Glaze, which I found on Pinterest, of course. The recipe proved to be easy to follow and the caramels easy to make. The hardest part was waiting for them to cool. It’s going to be a delicious month.


Photo provided by Betty Williams

Homemade Caramels

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • ¾ Cup dark corn syrup
  • ¾ Cup butter (cut into chunks)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Sea salt flakes, optional for garnishing

Instructions:

Prepare a 9×9 or 11×7 inch baking pan by buttering generously or if you have parchment paper just spray lightly with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.

Place sugar, corn syrup, butter, and 1 cup cream in a 4-quart pot and bring slowly to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula.

Once it comes to a boil, heat the remaining cup of cream in the microwave for 1-2 minutes until hot (make sure it’s in a big enough bowl so it doesn’t boil over in the microwave). Gradually add the cream in a slow stream to the pot while constantly stirring. You need to add it slow enough that the caramel never stops boiling (if it stops your caramel will become sugary/crystallized).

Stir frequently as the mixture begins to thicken and then stir constantly as it starts to darken. Cook until it reaches 240-242 degrees F on a candy thermometer. You can also do the cold water test by spooning a little of the caramel into cold water, let it sit for a few seconds and then pull it out. If it can hold the shape of a ball then it’s done. If not, keep cooking and repeat the test.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into prepared dish. (Do NOT completely scrape the sides of the pan when pouring the caramel. The caramel that has clung to the sides of the pan is firmer and will make your caramels have ribbons of firmer caramel. Just use a rubber spatula to gently push all the liquid caramel out.) Let the caramels cool completely overnight before cutting.

Cut wax paper strips 5-6 inches long and then cut each strip into thirds to get pieces that are about 4 inches wide. Cut caramels into squares and place each caramel in the center of a wax paper sheet. Roll up and twist the ends. Before eating, garnish with sea salt if desired.

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Betty Williams