Christmas, oh Christmas.
I’m not religious but Christmas is my guilty pleasure. I love the holiday season in general-that magical time between Halloween and New Year’s makes me all gooey. It’s probably all of the alcohol and baked goods you’re encouraged to imbibe. (Hey-o!)
Since my fiance joined me on the east coast a year ago, we’ve only gone back home for one holiday a year, which means picking between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year we went home for Xmas. This year was Tgiving. And so, schmoops and I will be celebrating Christmas with our cat this year. Honestly? I’m really excited about it. I’m making epic Christmas brunch, we’re going to lay around in our pjs, open presents, and maybe go to a movie. Our theatre here has a bar inside of it so, because it’s Christmas, I’ll probably splurge and buy us movie-themed adult beverages to enjoy. You know. Live it up.
The downside of spending Christmas (almost) alone 3,000 miles away from the rest of your family is that Christmas presents begin to pose a problem. Add to that the fact that you’re broke and you’ve been unemployed for 5 months (guilty…) and you see what I’m talking about. This called for creativity. What could I send loved ones that would be inexpensive, easy to mail (to three different countries), and universally well received?
Specifically, caramel. Gingerbread caramel. Thank you, Ms. Martha Stewart.
4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream
2 cups light corn syrup
4 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
A quick note about the corn syrup-I really didn’t want to use it. I’m a giant hippie deep down inside so I think corn syrup is the devil. Also, my best friend’s little daughter is allergic to it and I wanted her to be able to eat these things. However, at the last minute I got lazy (and I had a random bottle of the stuff) that I wanted to use. If you’re interested in corn syrup substitutions, there are lots of suggestions on the ol’ interwebs. The best ones I found were to make a thick simple syrup from water and sugar, or to use honey. I think you can also use tapioca syrup and/or agave syrup.
Prepare your pans. This is what you will be pouring the hot caramel into to cool. The recipe suggests using a 12×17 inch rimmed pan, but I didn’t have one of those so I just used what I did have, and made sure that the sum of their measurements matched. The caramel is crazy sticky, so you have to grease the bottom and sides of all the pans. Then, line the pans with parchment or wax paper, and grease the paper as well. Trust me on this. You want to do it.
Bring the cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses to a boil. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until it reaches 248˚F. The amount of time it takes to do this will vary depending on your altitude and what you put in the caramel. I swear it took me almost an hour. The thing is-it is very important that you reach that 248˚ mark. If you don’t the candy won’t be thick enough and it won’t harden properly.
Once it reaches 248˚, turn off the heat and stir in the spices, the salt, and the vanilla.
Pour the mixture into your prepared pans. Allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. This is to make sure the caramel cools completely. Also, I would recommend that you lightly cover the pans with a clean dishcloth. Caramel is sticky. You don’t want any dust or..whatever else getting in it.
The next day, get yourself a cutting board and a knife. I used my pizza cutter, which, incidentally, I have never used to cut a pizza. Grease the cutting surface and your cutting implement. Turn the caramel over onto your prepared surface. You might have to use a knife to loosen the parchment overhang, but if you greased properly this should be easy. Then you’ll have to peel the paper from the back of the caramel.
Cut the caramels into 1″ pieces. I actually used a ruler and traced a light grid onto the caramel before I cut them. You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to, but I found it helpful.
Wrap the individual pieces in wax paper or parchment paper.
Twist the sides to make them look like real candy.
If you’re giving them as gifts, you can put them in fun little cellophane bags. I used a free template to print those stickers, which can be found here.
The whole process was really quite easy, if time consuming. I hand-wrapped over 100 caramels, you guys.