I have known how to make caramels for three days and still feel like I just invented fire. The Salted Mezcal Caramels were a hit with the adults, but the kids didn’t really like them so I told Weezy I’d make some for her friends that were plain vanilla and she could decorate them. They ended up with so many sprinkles on them that I had to vacuum my kitchen counter when I cleaned up.
But plain vanilla caramels are boring everyone. Plus I forgot to add the salt, which doesn’t matter if you’re just reading about them and not tasting them, and it made them really unsatisfying. I also got caught up in David Leibovitz’ excellent tutorial about making caramel and was convinced I needed to make another batch and try to get the caramel darker and more flavorful.
My family is lousy with Swedes and we have smorgasbord for Christmas every year. I love the flavors of Swedish baking. I make orange-cardamom sugar cookies that are delicate and lovely, but they don’t have the warming, spicy depth of flavor that I love. The Swedes make a lovely coffee cake loaded with cinnamon and cardamom and those are the flavors that immediately came to mind for this next batch of caramels. I’m also pretty committed to adding liquor to my recipes whenever possible so I decided to add some Grand Marnier to get that orange flavor that goes so nicely with cardamom. And for a lingering, spicy finish I added some white pepper which is a staple for gingerbread in my house.
For toppings I decided to go with orange zest for a little aroma and color and some pearl sugar which looks like pretzel salt but is somehow, probably through Nordic witchcraft, made of sugar.
These are so delicious. I drove around my neighborhood tonight and dropped off caramels to some interested parties (for research, duh). Comments have included: “My favorite so far!”, “Tastes like Christmas!” and “Oh Ma Ga. They’re like my ancestors’ baked goods all in my mouth”. I thought these had just the right balance of sweet and fruity and spicy and rich. Next time you see me I’ll probably hand you one.
A few things I learned from making caramel for the first time:
- You have to work fast! There is a lot of constant stirring so gather everything you’ll need before you start. Next time I will have spatulas, whisks, and all my pre-measured ingredients lined up and ready to go.
- During the first stage, be patient and wait for a nice dark color to develop. I was nervous about burning it but remembered reading that it should look like an old penny. I waited the full 10 minutes after it came to a boil and I think I could have even let it go a little longer.
- When you add the condensed milk and butter it bubbles like crazy. My life flashed before my eyes and I thought it was going to overboil and splatter everywhere. Nope. It just bubbles like crazy.
- Once it’s ready to cut, use the longest-bladed knife you have and work quickly. You need to separate the caramels as you cut them. If you leave them next to each other they just stick back together. They’re cute like that.
- I used a ruler and marked the top of the caramel with a toothpick every .75″ to get 10 rows of 10 caramels. The depth of the caramel in an 8×8 pan is .75″ so this yields caramels that are exact cubes (squee!). About 85% of baking success is just making everything the same size.
- For wrapping the caramels, I cut waxed paper rectangles that were 2.5″x5″. I put the caramel in the center then pulled up the two long sides until they met, then rolled them down to the caramel and gently twisted the ends. Actually my six-year-old wrapped the caramels but it was MY IDEA to do it that way.