I don’t know about you, but to me, the holidays seemed just a bit more crazy this year. This past week has been filled with candy making, gift wrapping, pie baking, family functions and so on, and so on. I am spent!
I decided early on that this was going to be a happy homemade holiday. I just can’t deal with the crowds and the lines and the department stores the way I used to. I also wanted to avoid staying up until the wee hours of the morning baking dozens of cookies like I normally do every Christmas. So I took the easy route: handmade caramels.
Earlier this year I went to a birthday party where a friend of mine brought Ina Garten’s fleur de sel caramels, which were totally the foodie highlight of the day. It’s probably not a huge surprise to anyone that I am an Ina Garten fan. I adore her approach to cooking and entertaining and find her recipes extremely user friendly. So when it came time to think of homemade gifts, it was obvious to go for the caramels. I am so glad that I did! They are surprisingly easy to make and they are so much more exciting and decadent than a cookie. And from what I’ve been hearing, I’m pretty sure the caramel recipients were also happy with my decision to skip the cookies this year.
fleur de sel caramels
yields 16-20 caramels (depending on size)
from Ina Garten via foodnetwork.com
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over the sides.
In a heavy saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir – just swirl the pan to mix.
Meanwhile, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.
When the caramelized sugar has reached the proper color, slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel – it will boil up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248°F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully pour the hot caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.
When the caramel is cool, use the parchment paper to lift from the pan onto a cutting board. Starting at 1 end, roll the caramel up tightly until you’ve rolled up half of the sheet. Cut the sheet across and then roll the second half tightly. You will have 2 (1 by 8-inch) logs. Sprinkle both logs lightly with fleur de sel, cut each log into pieces. Cut parchment papers in 6 by 4 1/2-inch squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator or at room temperature.