Homemade Soft Caramels

I’ve been making homemade caramels this year and they’ve been pretty amazing — you have to understand: I don’t even like caramel. I dispise the stickiness of it, having it all stuck in your teeth, and the flavour is just so… Bleh!

But homemade caramel? Pretty fantastic.

I don’t even remember why I decided to make caramel one day… It might have had something to do with having a carton of cream on hand in the fridge that I really didn’t want to waste, but I can’t be sure…

In the end, it turns out I do like caramel, but with the caveate that it is homemade. I suppose that would bethe case with most things, huh? Commercially, massed produced stuff can never hold a candle against something homemade. Every. Single. Time.

The recipe I’ve been using comes from JoyofBaking.com and hasn’t failed me yet. *crossed fingers*

The original recipe, it can be found here.

Homemade Caramel
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup golden syrup **
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp butter, diced

Line a 9″x9″ square baking pan with parchment paper

In a medium saucepan, stir together the cream, sugars, and corn syrup.

Heat over medium high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

Once mixture boils, brush down sides of pan to remove any sugar crystals with a pastry brush dipped in warm water.

Use a candy thermometer, boil the mixture over medium high heat (do not stir!) until 250°F (121°C).
Swirl the pan periodically to see if the caramel is darkening faster at the bottom of the pot

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, salt, and butter.
Pour the caramel into prepared pan and let cool, undisturbed, until firm (at least two hours).

With a sharp knife, cut into desired shapes and wrap pieces, individually, in wax paper.
Store in an airtight container.

Makes a LOT of caramels.

** I use golden syrup as my liquid sugar of choice but I forgot, and subsequently just realized, that not everybody has such a thing onhand, myself included, occassionally. So what to do?

If you’re anything like me and happen to forget to replenish your stash of golden syrup after a few too many marshmallow experiments over the summer, only to find out that the day you’re wanting to make caramels because you’re housebound, cabin-fevered and stuck inside from the crazy amounts of falling snow that keeps falling even after 36hours, having a recipe for invert sugar syrup is FANTABULOUS!

Through my online research for an easily accessible substitute, lo & behold, I found this recipe that you can easily make at home: “invert sugar syrup”.

Thanks entirely to Ms.Humble from the blog Not So Humble Pie, you can click here for her recipe & simple instructions for inverting sugar to keep onhand in your fridge for whenever the mood for candymaking should strike!

Happy caramel making! ^_^

Note to be tested for future reference: The temperatures specified here are for sea level. At higher altitudes, subtract 1° F from every listed temperature for each 500 feet above sea level. Calgary’s altitude is 3,483ft and if this observation holds true, I should probably be pulling the caramel off the heat at about 243°F, which might actually explain why I’ve been having such a bad time of caramel-making as of late. Dec.29, 2013

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Success! Chocolate-Hazelnut ‘mallows!

I did it!

I’m not 100% convinced that the hazelnut syrup is actually noticeable in this when combined with semi-sweet chocolate.

If I had used cocoa instead of melting chocolate chips, The hazelnut might be more pronounced, but since I kind of lost my experimentation confidence, I really didn’t want to screw up another batch, thus wasting all those ingredients and ending up with another round of Jabba the Hutt ‘mallows.

I had my doubts as to whether or not the marshmallow would actually set once I added the melted chocolate, but thankfully it did ^_^

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Chocolate-Hazelnut Marshmallows

2 envelopes gelatine
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup hazelnut syrup

1/4 cup + 2Tbsp water
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp corn syrup
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt

120g chocolate, melted

Rice flour
Icing sugar
Cocoa

Line a 10×12″ pan with parchment paper and generously spray with vegetable spray.

In bowl of mixer, combine hot water with hazelnut syrup.
Sprinkle the gelatin over the liquid, stir gently to combine & leave to bloom.

In a heavy saucepan, add the water, corn syrup, sugar & salt.
Bring to a boil over medium-high without stirring.
Cook without stirring until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234-240 F).

With the mixer at medium speed & whisk attached, pour all of the hot syrup slowly down
the side of the bowl into the gelatine mixture. BE CAREFUL!!

When all of the syrup is added, bring the mixer up to full speed & whip until the mixture is very fluffy and stiff, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate and set aside, keeping warm.

After 8 minutes, turn off mixer & quickly pour melted chocolate into marshmallow mixture and mix again on high until everything is completely combined.

Quickly pour marshmallow into the parchment-lined pan and smooth with an oiled offset spatula if necessary.

Mix together equal parts rice flour, icing sugar & cocoa in a small bowl and sift a generous layer over the marshmallow slab. Pour the remaining dusting powder into a large container that you will be storing the marshmallows in later.

Allow the marshmallow to set, uncovered at room temp for 10 to 12 hours.

Turn the slab out onto a cutting board, peel off paper and cut into desired shape and size. Place cut marshmallows in container with dusting powders, put on lid and shake vigorously until marshmallows are completely covered and no longer sticky.

Marshmallow-making notes

I’ve been making marshmallows for the last few months and have discovered a few things that I really need to write down regarding how to go about flavouring them. I really don’t want to forget this information and it’s pretty important stuff to know so that I will be able to experiment more confidently & freely in the future.

I have a basic vanilla marshmallow recipe from the Brownie Points blog that I’ve been using for the last few years and I am pretty happy to continue using as my signature recipe — it has very few ingredients, the procedure is simple & straight forward and for the most part, making customized flavours has been pretty successful. McAuliflower (not her real name) was kind enough to create a .pdf of the marshmallow recipe so she could easily reference it herself as well as share it, and you can find it, here.

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Below, is a list of the flavours I’ve made but with change notes that I want to try with future batches because they could still use a little bit of tweaking to make them perfect.

Maple: replace 1/2 the quantity (full?) of corn syrup with pure maple syrup.

Cherry-Almond: Replace first measure of water (in the gelatin blooming step) with 1⁄2 cup maraschino cherry purée and 1⁄2 cup of water. Replace vanilla with almond extract.

Raspberry-Lemonade: Replace first measure of water (in the gelatin blooming step) with 1/2 cup raspberry syrup*, 1/4 cup water** and 1 Tbsp lemon extract***.

* I have Torani syrups that I bought for flavouring my coffee. I thought I would experiment with using it in my marshmallows since I am unlikely going to be able to consume the whole 750ml bottle in coffee all by myself and I figured that it would also make pretty colours without actually adding (extra) food colouring.

** Gelatin doesn’t dissolve very well in sugar syrup, as I’ve discovered, it really does need water to accomplish this so it will properly disperse throughout the entire marshmallow batter(??). Thing is, I’m not sure if using 1/2 cup water would dilute the flavoured syrups too much which is why, for now, I only suggest 1/4 cup until I get a chance to try the recipe again.

*** I used a jar of lemon sugar that I had made quite awhile ago that was just languishing on a shelf in my pantry. The homemade lemon sugar was made simply using the zest of one or two lemons (I really can’t remember) mixed with a random quantity of sugar until I liked the consistency. The quantity of lemon sugar that I used for the marshmallows came out to a little more than 1 cup and I topped up whatever remained of the 3 cups that I needed with plain sugar. I really didn’t know how prominent the flavour would be using only lemon sugar, so I added 1Tbsp lemon extract to ensure extra lemon-y goodness.

Fun Flavoured & Coloured Marshmallows: Now for something that I haven’t yet tried that I came across in another blog. This method will give both fun flavouring as well as crazy colouring to the marshmallows — Mix gelatin with 1 packet (8g) unsweetened Kool-Aid drink mix, 1/2 cup cold water. Continue the recipe as written.

WARNING: Marshmallows need a good, solid, 12 hours of drying time to set up properly! (Keep this in mind when DST kicks into effect… boooo.)

If you cut them too early, their texture will be too soft and they will get squished from their own weight (see below!), causing them to flatten out unattractively when you’re storing them.

As you can see below, I’ve spread everything out in hopes that they will set up more firmly in a few hours and be less… ugly.

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Homemade Almond Rocca

This is one of The Hubbs’, and surprisingly, my Mom’s and Baby Bro’s favourite recipes.

I’m not entirely sure how we came about learning of this sweet treat, but store bought almond rocca is nowhere near as lovely to munch on as this homemade version.

Plus, you have to admit, if my Mom likes a recipe for candy, you know there’s gotta be something fantastic going on ^_^

Almond Rocca
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp corn syrup
6 Tbsp water
1 cup finely chopped almonds, lightly toasted
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Line a large rimmed cookie sheet with parchment and grease well.
Over medium heat, melt butter, corn syrup, water & sugar in a large pot.
Stir constantly with a wooden spoon (be careful the mixture will bubble quite a bit!) and cook until temp reaches 290 degrees OR until the mixture becomes the color of a brown paper bag (~15-20 mins).
Remove pot from heat and stir in 1/2 of the almonds.
Pour mixture onto prepared cookie sheet and spread evenly with greased offset spatula.
While the mixture is cooling, sprinkle the chocolate chips over hot candy and wait a few moments until they melt, then spread the chocolate smoothly with offset spatula.
Sprinkle with remaining almonds and allow candy to cool completely and chocolate to harden before breaking apart and serving.

Homemade Bacon-Caramel Corn

Yup. Homemade bacon-caramel popcorn.

Surprisingly, it is rather tasty — I had my doubts when I had first made it because I am kind of overwhelmed by the amount of bacon-ness still going on in the world right now, but it works.

Homemade Bacon-Caramel Corn

The original recipe is a Spicy Bacon-Caramel Popcorn from A Cozy Kitchen and what I had intended on making was actually just a spicy caramel corn, omitting the bacon entirely, but after discussing my intentions with a few people, including The Hubbs, I discovered that people much prefer a sweet’n’salty combo to a sweet’n’spicy one. There was a little bit of disappointment on my part, but in the end, since I wasn’t exactly making the popcorn for me but for the D&D Crew, I figured I should probably go with the popular vote.

Surprisingly, other than the omission of the cayenne pepper in the recipe, I followed it almost exactly as written and I am still absolutely amazed at how well it turned out. Homemade caramel corn is super easy to make! Who knew!? I did choose to air-pop my corn as opposed to doing it on the stove with oil, but that was purely laziness and preference on my part. Beyond that, fry up a few slices of bacon and the most complicated step is making the caramel itself, but I have done that on numerous occassions now so I no longer fear the molten hot sugar… not that I ever did, really.

ANYHOW. The original recipe I have linked above, and below will be the recipe with the changes I made.

Bacon-Caramel Corn

6 pieces thick-cut bacon
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup water
3 cups white granulated sugar
3 Tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400F
Cook bacon for 15 minutes in oven until crispy and brown.
Drain bacon on paper towels to drain and when cooled enough, cut into small pieces and set aside.
Coat 2 silicone spatulas and a large mixing bowl with cooking spray. Set aside
Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside as well.
Pop your popcorn however you like and transfer it to the oiled bowl, making sure to remove any unpopped kernels.
In a large pot, cook the water, sugar, butter, salt, over medium-high heat without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden brown.
Remove from the heat and quickly but very carefully whisk in the baking soda. Be careful because this WILL foam up something huge (which is why you’re using that big pot, right? Right?)
Quickly fold the bacon bits into the caramel and pour everything over the popcorn and toss it all together until it’s evenly coated.
Pour the popcorn onto the cookie sheets and quickly flatten & separate it all into small pieces while it is still warm.
Cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container.

Just a couple of pretty pics… and a recipe

On the weekend I had planned on making my fave Boxing Day Pie for dindin, but as per usual once I got myself started, I was too exhausted to complete the follow-through.

I was desperate to clean out the freezer (it’s starting to look rather terrifying in there) and instead of using turkey as I would normally on Boxing Day, I pulled out two roast chicken carcasses and I boiled them in nothing but a pot of water. With the chicken-y broth, rather than just toss it out (since I wasn’t making soup that day), I made joak in the crockpot to let blip away for the entire day so I could have sustenance for later that evening. Lemme tell you, joak made with just the broth from a couple of sad looking frozen carcasses? AWESOME. The only thing extra thing I added to the pot was 3 dried scallops. Flavour was perfect, seasoning was dead perfect and it was just an all around wonderful bowl to be eaten when I felt a little better.

chicken, bacon & onion pie

This afternoon, determined to actually do something productive this week in the Christmas department, I started my 2011 Sugar-Craft gift making. Even though I am not a great fan of sweets, I have to admit, making them from scratch is mighty addictive I’ve discovered. In the span of a couple of hours using only variations of butter and sugar with sometimes a bit of milk or honey, I managed to crank out four batches of sweets: Fleur de Sel Toffee, Scottish Tablet and two batches of Hokey Pokey (a.k.a. Honeycomb or Sponge Toffee)

Homemade sugar-crafting… With a very curious cat!

I am rather amazed that more people don’t actually make homemade candy from scratch considering how relatively easy it is to do and how few ingredients are required. The only absolutely crucial piece of equipment that you need, if you’re not brave enough to wing things, is a candy thermometer… and even then, you could technically make a couple of these sweet treats without it.

Having made the Scottish Tablet for a couple of years now, I am confident enough to say that I can make tablet without issue and to be honest, out of the three recipes I made today, it’s probably the hardest since no thermometer is involved and I do it entirely by eye and by feel. The Fleur de Sel Toffee is easy to make, but for some reason I find it difficult not to over-caramelize the sugar, ending up with a slightly too dark toffee.

The HokeyPokey is probably the most fun to watch transform and can be made sans thermometer a la Nigella Lawson, but the first time I did it, mine didn’t even come close to setting up, so I found another recipe to use instead that had actual temperatures I could go by: Martha Stewart. The difference between the two recipes is that Nigella’s calls for golden syrup, whereas Martha’s, is honey.

The awesome thing about using the Martha Stewart recipe is that I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to do something really super special with J & Miss R‘s backyard honey that they let me have this past summer. I’ve been saving it (hoarding?) in a jar in the pantry, waiting for the perfect recipe to experiment with and decided that this was going to be it — the one. I am so glad that I saved the honey and I even more thrilled that the recipe came off without a hitch now that I have an actual fail-proof recipe I can can use to show off such a wonderful homegrown product. I love how the HokeyPokey looks like glass when light reflects off the shattered pieces — it’s absolutely beautiful to look at!

I must say, this stuff is pretty awesome and I am exceedingly proud of my candy-making abilties. I think the only thing that would put this recipe over the top is if I covered each piece in chocolate.. and made it just like the ridiculously expensive stuff we’ve been buying the last two years at IGA for $8 a box. I bet I could do it, too. Maybe another year.

Ya. Srsly.

Hokey Pokey
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp baking soda

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Put water, honey and sugar into the bottom of a saucepan and stir until dissolved, over medium heat. Clamp on candy thermometer and bring to a boil without stirring until temperature reaches 300F. Immediately move pot off the heat and sprinkle over baking soda, whisk until combined and mixture bubbles like mad.
Quickly and carefully pour onto prepared cookie sheet and leave to cool. Do not spread or you’ll lose the beautiful bubbles!
Let cool and break into pieces.

Scottish Tablet — the recipe.. finally!

I’ve made Tablet several times in the last few years and I just realized that I’ve never actually written down the recipe here for my own reference. So here we go, the official ingredients and instructions that I use to make the ultimate Scottish Tablet.

Scottish Tablet

2 cups granulated sugar (500g)
1/4 cup butter (60g)
3½ Tbsp condensed milk
3/4 cup milk (170ml)

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside
Place all ingredients into a large saucepan over medium heat — milk on the bottom followed by butter, sugar and condensed milk — until butter and sugar have melted and dissolved.
Keep stirring evenly until the mixture comes to the boil, then turn down heat.
Stir occasionally to stop things from sticking and let simmer until you achieve a beautiful light tan colour. (*1)
Once colour has been achieved, immediately remove from the heat and beat with a wooden spoon to aerate the mixture until you feel graininess on the bottom, then beat like mad and pour into prepared sheet before it sets in the pot. (*2)
Spread out tablet as best as you can onto the cookie sheet before tablet completely sets. (*3)
Let tablet set a few moments then use a knife to cut into bite-sized pieces and let cool completely.
Store in an airtight container.

Notes:
1) You will notice that once all the water has boiled out of the mixture, the bubbles will die down considerably and it will start to thicken — make sure to keep an eye at this point because it’s where the colour will start to change and you will have to be at the ready to stir like mad!
2) The mixture will foam up like a beast when you stop stiring, when it does this, stir a few more times for good measure to get the graininess and then pour as fast as you can into your prepared pan, scraping everything out of the pot before it sets!
3) This stuff sets faster than you can blink, so don’t hesitate at any point, just pour and spread as fast as you can!

The sweet smell of… sugar!

I am feeling remarkably functional this morning and I’m not entirely sure as to why. I’m certainly NOT complaining about this fact, I’m just rather boggled as to how it seems to come without any warnings my super-low days and my rather crazy-high days.

Today I woke up at about 840am and wasn’t sure why I was up. No matter, I crawled out of bed, despite my body wanting to remain in bed. The sun was shining brightly, the sky actually looked blue and the wind appeared to be only a gentle-ish breeze compared to the last week of blustering winds and blowing snow. The only thing that was totally awake in me were my eyes. I felt all buggy-eyed awake. Very strange.

Last week, I had asked The Hubbs if he would see if there was anything his Sister would like me to make because Brit-BIL’s sister was in town for a visit. Apparently there was a request for Tablet.

Well guess what? It’s done and done. It’s currently sitting on the island cut and cooling, just waiting to be bagged and delivered to its final destination. Though truthfully, I would have no problems if they wanted to just come and pick it up themselves… I still can’t get Eggnog out of the garage because it’s completely snowed in.

Cooling Tablet

One recipe down and one more to go.

Recipe #2 of the day is going to be a revisit to Martha Stewart’s Fleur de Sel Toffee, but only a half-batch this time. Two pounds is a lot of toffee!

So to make my life easier, for future reference, I’m going to write out a half-batch recipe.

Fleur de Sel Toffee

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
37.5 ml water (2Tbsp + 1tsp + 1/2 tsp + 1/8 tsp)
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray with vegetable oil, and set aside.
Bring butter, sugar, water, and corn syrup to a boil in a large saucepan, whisking frequently until sugar dissolves and butter melts.
Cook, undisturbed, until mixture registers 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 12 minutes.

Whisk toffee mixture, then immediately pour onto prepared sheet, tilting pan to spread over entire surface.
Let stand for 30 seconds, then sprinkle with fleur de sel.
Let cool — Do not move the pan for first 30 minutes.
Break toffee into pieces.
Toffee will keep, covered, for up to 1 week.

Cooled Toffee

Ow…. molten butter & sugar hurt…

Seriously.

Like you really needed me to tell you that. :P

As we speak, I am making Fleur de Sel Toffee from the Martha Stewart website.

It’s a gift for a very wonderful friend and I do quite enjoy a little candy making during the holidays.

As I was boiling the sugar mixture, a blob of it jumped out of the pot and landed on my hand… which was resting on the counter. It hurts, so now I have battle wounds.

Molten pot of boiling sugar & butter

The house is now permeated with the smell of a pound of melted butter and sugar. The mixture is bubbling away on the stove until we hit a goodly 300F and then I will get have my way with sprinkling it all over with my $18/jar of fleur de sel all the way from Guerande France. The taste of the salt alone is fantastic… yum.

Take this as a warning: Be careful around boiling sugar — and don’t fry bacon naked. Just sayin’ ^_^


2lbs of cooling Fleur de Sel toffee