Monday, December 24, 2012

Spiced Caramels

Tis the season for candy, cookies, and plenty of holiday treats! Caramels make a great gift any time of the year. I made these spicy caramels in October when the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger seem to fill the air.  It was just over a year ago when I made my first unsuccessful attempt at creating caramels. I had used some leftover candied spaghetti squash from my Candied Spaghetti Squash Tart recipe and ended up with squash candy instead, which I later learned is a traditional candy in Mexico. While the candy was good, I was determined to successfully make caramels without fail. This time, I decided not to wing it and referred to the ginger cinnamon caramel recipe I previously found on thekitchn. I tripled the recipe to make caramels for a large gathering. I also added nutmeg, cardamom, and a little more butter. They were unfortunately not ready in time for the party due to the larger quantity and extended cooking time. The pot I used was not big enough (even though it looked like a caramel cauldron!), and a caramel overflow occurred at various times during the cooking process. This added a little extra time. Luckily, I learned that baking soda combined with a little water cleans it up very nicely! Plus, it was worth the cleanup. The caramels came out perfect. Creamy, soft, buttery with lots of flavor from the spices, but not overwhelming.  I had so much caramel left over that I also made some caramel chocolate shortbread bars with a basic shortbread recipe and some Taza ginger chocolate. I also coated some apples with the caramel. If you have a little time over the holiday and want to impress your family and friends, this recipe is sure to please! The trick is to be patient during each phase of the cooking process. You will notice that the temperature on your candy thermometer (I do not recommend making this recipe without a candy thermometer unless you are a candy making expert) will stay at a certain temperature for what seems like hours, but it will slowly increase... just be patient. It is worth the wait! I shared some caramels with various friends and family. My total yield was well over 400! You may not need as many... Have a fun time making them!

Ingredients (x3 in my case!)

2 cups heavy cream
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks (I added a couple more tablespoons)
3 teaspoons fresh-ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg  
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 teaspoons powdered ginger (recipe called for extract)
1/2 teaspoon salt


Line a 9x13 baking sheet with heavy-duty foil and butter generously. Put the cream in a small saucepan and let it warm over low heat.
Put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat and stir vigorously until the sugar melts and dissolves. Stop stirring and turn the heat to high. Cook until the sugar turns dark amber. Take off the heat.
Whisk in the butter. VERY CAREFULLY pour in the cream and whisk it. The caramel will bubble up furiously and steam. Whisk until well-combined and return to high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring, then turn the heat to medium-low. Clip on the candy thermometer and cook until the temperature hits 250°F. Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the ginger extract, cinnamon, and salt. Pour into the prepared pan and let it cool.
Being a scientist, I made careful observation as to the changes in consistency, color and viscosity. Unfortunately, I misplaced my notes. Before each temperature increase, there was a 'boiling over' of the caramel. At this stage I would turn the heat down a bit to prevent overflow and a messy stove. This added more time to the cooking process. Next time I will use a bigger pot. You will notice a change in color and consistency in the photos. 

When the caramel has cooled for a couple hours, put it in the fridge to harden overnight. The next day, cut into small pieces and wrap. I stored a giant slab of caramel between sheets of waxy paper. It was pure joy seeing it in the fridge. 

10 1/2 Cups sugar


About to overflow

Not quite

Preparing the spice mix

So much waiting...


Starting to look like caramel
Just about to boil over...
250F! Finally!!

My niece helped me with some of the wrapping (and eating!)

The caramel is very easy to cut and form into any shape

Each caramel was wrapped in wax paper. 

Some of the caramels were dipped in chocolate! These were gone in minutes.
Shortbread for the chocolate caramel shortbread bars
Taza Ginger Chocolate

Caramel and chocolate poured on top of the shortbread

The bars were very delicious!

Caramel apple


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