Christmas is the one time of year your eyes are allowed to be bigger than your belly. The recipe alone for Laura’s Caramels will have you licking your lips. Just make sure you make too many.
Christmas and candy are two words that are inextricably linked in every child’s mind. But by the time we’re all grown up, we often crave something a little more sophisticated than those garish boiled sweets. So I spent some time developing a treat that’s still satisfyingly chewy and wonderfully rich but made from relatively more healthy honey and maple syrup. It’s combined with fresh butter and cream and topped with the earthy musk of black walnuts and a crunchy sprinkling of Maldon salt. These caramels are just the thing when you need a little something to take the edge off all those holiday get-togethers. And, yes, they go beautifully with a glass of brandy.
makes about 100 caramels
2 cups grade B maple syrup
1 cup raw wildflower honey
1 cup (packed) light muscovado sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 stick (4 ozs) unsalted organic butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 1/2 cups organic heavy cream
1 cup chopped, toasted black walnuts
Maldon salt for sprinkling
Spray an 8 x 10-inch baking pan with vegetable-oil spray. Set aside in a spot where it will not be moved. Pour cream into a small saucepan and set aside.
In a large pot, combine maple syrup, 1/4 cup water, honey, sugar and salt. Clip on candy thermometer. Over high heat, cook until well combined, stirring with a wooden spoon, 8-12 minutes. Brush down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water as needed.
Stop stirring, reduce heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until temperature reaches 250º (hard-ball stage), about 45-60 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently heat cream until just warm. Do not boil. When sugar mixture reaches 250º, slowly stir in butter and warmed cream, keeping mixture boiling at all times. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until thermometer reaches 244º (firm-ball stage), about 55-75 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Immediately pour into prepared pan without scraping pot. After it cools slightly, sprinkle with salt and walnuts, lightly pressing to embed. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for 24 hours without moving.
To cut, unmold caramel from pan onto a large cutting board. Use a sharp, sturdy knife to cut into small squares, or other any size you desire. Wrap each in foiled or waxed paper.
Words and Photography by Laura Silverman
Laura’s family also make Red Chile Pork Tamales to unwrap on Christmas Eve. Click on the tamales below to get the recipe.