Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Soft Caramel Candies

I sort of, kind of have to tell you something....and I hope you don't hate me for this.

I don't really care for Halloween much.

Yeah...there was a time when I did. That time was 15 years ago when it was still about being scary and demanding free candy from the neighbours.

I used to come home, dump my entire pillow case out onto the floor and count how many Aero bars I got. Then I'd check to make sure I got more than my sister. Then I'd save them for last because they were my favourite, and months later they wouldn't taste as good.

Lesson learned: life's too short to save the best for last - eat the best first!

My Dad reaped the benefits of my dislike of nuts in chocolate as a kid. He happily acquired all of my Oh Henry bars and played it off like "just give me whatever you don't like, Christina". Secretly he loved Oh Henry Bars! My dad loves peanuts. He kept this up until I got smart enough to realize that they're actually pretty damn good. Then all he got stuck with were those stupid chocolate balls dressed in orange foil to disguise them as pumpkins. Any candy dressed up in Halloween fare is cheapo in my books.

Now that Halloween is about giving away candy and apparently dressing up like slutty versions of Disney characters, I'm not really into it.

Slutty Tinker Bell? No thanks.
Skanky Cruella DeVille? That's kinda creepy.
Slutty Little Mermaid? Well....she's already half-way there isn't she?

It's just not my bag.

This year I'm still contemplating buying a mask and going out trick-or-treating. I'm short enough. I can totally pull this off.

I'm just scared of angry old women who might slam the door in my face for being "too old". Pfffffft. I still feel like a child inside. Does that count for anything? I just ate 4 chocolate chip cookies before lunch. That is totally childish.

Would you slam the door in my face? Please don't.

This year I'm making candy from scratch. The kind that you will have to put in the kids' bags with a little note saying your name and address so the parents don't freak out.

I remember one year I got some homemade fudge. Since the nice lady tagged it with all of her personal info, my mom deemed it safe to eat. It was the best Halloween treat I ever got! Thanks lady - you're a real winner.

Making candy isn't as hard as it looks. Just do it on a dry (not humid) day and you'll be thankful.

It's very sensitive to moisture because the final texture depends on how much water is left in the hot bubbling, boiling sugar mixture. Less water = harder candy. More water = softer candy. Too much water and the candy will not set, and too little and your teeth will break. The latter isn't so bad, because you just made hard candy! No probs.

The temperature to which the sugar boils is directly proportional to the water content in the mixture. The less water there is, the more concentrated the sugar solution, and so the hotter it will boil. That's why you have to stop cooking at precisely 246 degrees F. In the recipe I write 244-246 degrees F because the mixture will continue to cook even after you take it off the heat, rising another degree or two, so a narrow range is acceptable.

Oh, and PS - there's some pumkin pie spice flavours in these little gems to put them over the top. Saaaa-weeeet!

Pumpkin Spice Caramels
makes about 7 dozen caramels

1 cup 35% whipping cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp golden corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves

Line an 8x8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on opposite ends, and lightly butter the exposed sides.

Combine cream, corn syrup and sugar in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil and clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 244-246°F, about 15 minutes.

Remove pot from heat, and quickly stir in butter, vanilla extract, salt and spices until smooth. Immediately pour into prepared baking pan, without scraping the bottom of the pot. Let stand at room temperature without moving until completely cooled, about 3-4 hours.

Lightly grease a large cutting board (one that you haven’t cut onions, garlic or meat on) with butter. Pull up parchment to unmold caramel, and invert onto the cutting board. Remove parchment. Cut into ½-inch strips and then cut each strip into 1-inch pieces. Wrap each in cellophane or waxed paper.

Caramels can be stored in an airtight container, in a cool dry place for up to 1 month.
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