I had the pleasure of hosting my sister for Christmas this year. Most of the time, my siblings and I congregate at my dad’s house for the holidays, but because neither bf or I could get out of the city this year, my sister stayed with us. It was our first grown-up Christmas. I was the host, not my parents or aunt. Don’t get me wrong, bf and I have cooked a few holiday dinners, but most of them were for ourselves. Needless to say, I was excited, yet a bit anxious that I could pull of a feast fit for high standards (which were mostly my own).
Although she dropped no hint or made no suggestion regarding the matter, I had a good feeling that my sister would surely appreciate a batch of homemade caramels, just like mom would make. Caramels were a staple at my house during Christmas time, though I rarely encountered them at other holiday shindigs. I always wondered why no one else in my family, all of whom were earnest bakers, ever attempted to make the chewy morsels. Well, it is a mystery to me no more. Through a couple of failed attempts that were either too hard or too soft, I found that caramels aren’t the easiest thing in the world to make.
Patience is required to master these little buggers, but knowing that you will soon be relishing in the delightfulness that can only be experienced when you bite into one of the deeply sweet, yet slightly salty cubes of absolute HEAVEN will help you persevere. That, the following recipe, and a few tips will help you along quite nicely, too.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
- 1 pound light brown sugar
- 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 2 generous pinches salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 9X9 square baking pan
- plenty of wax paper
- cooking spray
- a large saucepan (like one you’d boil spaghetti in)
- a long wooden spoon (you’ll be stirring in a hot pan for a good 20 minutes, so wooden is a must)
- an extra set of hands (the caramels can be a bit thick when you pour them into the baking pan, so having someone to spatula the rest out while you hold the pot is nice)
- a good candy thermometer that attaches to the pan
Line the 9X9 baking pan with wax paper and cover with cooking spray. Set aside.
Heat the butter, brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk, corn syrup and salt over medium heat in the large saucepan, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, continuing to stir. Heat between 234 and 240 degrees F (I’ve found that closer to 240, but never above, works best), and cook for 2 to 3 minutes at that temperature. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour into the baking pan and allow to fully cool for several hours or overnight. When cool, remove from the pan and cut into small squares, wrapping each in wax paper.