Call her the Baroness of Buckeyes and the Princess of Peppermint Bark – my little sister Hannah is a master at making Christmas candy. A methodical and calculated cook (carried over from her physician’s assistant mind), she’s likely to be found in her kitchen a few weeks before Christmas prayerfully massaging a roll of soon-to-be-transformed creme candy.
If I’ve learned anything from Hannah about the art of creating homemade candy, it’s that even if you strictly follow the rules of a recipe, candy can still cause some kitchen drama. You’d better have a trusty candy thermometer, a dehumidifier and plenty of patience, because sometimes these recipes can get, well, a little sticky.
Speaking of sticky, don’t you love the texture of a salty, buttery caramel square in your mouth? The way this clump of creamy sweetness oozes down the back of your tongue as you chew? Maybe add in a hint of bourbon to heat up the caramel’s flavor with a crunchy layer of nuts?
I’ve always wanted to make chunky caramels for the holidays and found this recipe from Martha Stewart a couple of days ago. Martha and her people usually present a dependable recipe, but in making a couple batches, I learned a few tips that I wish had been footnoted before I waited eight hours for my lovely caramels to set. I also couldn’t resist stirring in some bourbon and crowning each little morsel with a toasted pecan, giving my caramels a touch of Kentucky.
If you try out my recipe, heed a few candy concoction warnings:
1. When heating your caramel, wait until the the temperature is at (or a little beyond) 258 degrees F. If you live in a humid environment, as I do, maybe let the heat rise a couple degrees just to get out that extra moisture. But be careful not to burn!
3. Grease up that parchment paper before you set out those caramels! It’s the worst when your golden caramel is stuck to some pesky paper. Oh and don’t sub-in wax paper for parchment – big mistake, there!
4. Cut those caramels into pretty little squares when the slab is nice and firm, but either immediately wrap them up in wax paper or put them in the fridge once they are cut. Caramel continues to melt and expand at room temp – and those pretty, precise little square caramels will soon look like blobs if they aren’t wrapped or chilled soon after cutting.
5. Scrape your saucepan with fresh apples – you won’t regret this little snack while the caramel is still warm!
|Buttery Bourbon Caramels||
- Vegetable oil, for baking sheet
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2¼ cups sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 cup of light corn syrup, ¼ cup of dark corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup of bourbon (Maker’s Mark or Woodford Reserve)
- 2 cups of halved pecans
- Grease a 9×13 inch baking sheet with vegetable oil and line with a greased sheet of parchment paper.
- Meanwhile, lightly toast pecans in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.
- In a large saucepan or pot, combine the sugar, butter and corn syrups on medium-high heat. Gradually bring the mixture to a boil. Ensure your candy thermometer is in place and reading the heat.
- Stir occasionally until the mixture reaches 258 degrees fahrenheit, or a couple degrees higher in humid environments. Make sure the mixture has turned golden amber in color.
- Immediately remove from heat and stir in bourbon, salt and vanilla.
- Once smooth, pour the mixture into your greased baking sheet. Place your pecans in rows on the still-warm caramel. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours.
- Once firm, remove the parchment paper from the pan and use a chef’s knife to cut squares of caramel to your desired size. Immediately either wrap in wax paper (you can twist-tie the ends) or store in the refrigerator until serving time.