I’m the first to admit that I’m difficult to shop for when it comes to kitchen stuff. I kinda hate gadgets (I know, baking blasphemy). But here’s the thing. I’d rather have my cabinets and drawers where I can easily get to everything I need. And when I load up on kitchen gadgets, I have to dig past the 4 specialty tools I only use twice a year to get to the ones I use every week.
However, I do have some exceptions. And one of those is a candy thermometer. Yes, I use it at most twice a year (and sometimes not even that often). Most candy recipes give these little side notes about how you can test the candy stages by dropping bits of boiling sugar into cold water and then testing the firmness of the ball. I cringe.
But I’m always just one step away from not making candy. It’s kind of a mess. You can spend all afternoon doing it and still have to answer “what’s for dinner.” So having the extra step of dropping spoonfuls of hot caramel from the stove into waiting cups of water? Yep, that would be enough to move candy-making from the “rarely” to the “never” pile or recipes.
Enter: the candy thermometer. (Also helpful — the easy-going kid who helped me make these just informed me he didn’t want lunch because he was full of caramel… ah, the blessings of being the second child. I didn’t even worry about it).
And these were the perfect baking project for last night/ this morning. They are delicious, perfect for holiday gifting, and exactly the sort of thing I want to do on my first Monday off of school. They would make amazing teacher gifts. And while kids can’t do much with boiling sugar and sharp knives, they can wrap them up, which is by far the most tedious part of all of this.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen… see the original recipe (and Deb’s far superior photographs) here.
- 8 cups unfiltered apple cider (see note)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 tsp kosher salt (see note)
- 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- Pour the cider into a saucepan and boil over medium high heat until it reduces by 75%. This usually takes over an hour. You don’t have to watch it much at the beginning, but stand close once it has been reduced by half. You want it to turn dark (but not burn) and the consistency should be close to a thin syrup, not a juice. This is the longest part of the process.
- Mix the cinnamon and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
- When the cider has reduced to a syrup, take it off the heat and add, all at once, the butter and the sugars. Stir well to combine. Then add the whipping cream.
- Return to the stove and bring this mixture to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, heat it to 255 degrees Fahrenheit, or the “firm ball” stage on my thermometer. This takes about 15 minutes. Watch it carefully! If it boils over, you’ll have a huge mess on your hands (ask me how I know).
- Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.
- Pour the liquid caramel into the pan and let it set up overnight. You can also do this in the refrigerator, and it will be ready to cut in about 2 hours.
- Using the parchment paper, remove the candy to a cutting board.
- Pour 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil onto a plate with a diameter that is a little longer than your knife. Place the blade of the knife into the oil and rock it slightly. Use the oiled knife to cut the caramel, repeating as necessary.
- Cut the rectangle into long strips. Then cut each strip into squares. I like my caramels to be about 1 – 1 1/2 inch squares.
- Meanwhile, have your favorite kitchen helper cut waxed paper, parchment paper, or freezer paper into approximately 5 inch squares. Place one caramel in the middle of each square and twirl the ends.
- Share with your family and friends!
- Cider is the seasonal stuff sold in my grocery store next to the actual apples — not the apple juice that’s sold on the juice aisle. You want something that has been pressed this year and not pasteurized. This is not, however, the alcoholic “hard cider” either.
- I’m a bit of a salt snob. I order Diamond Kosher salt online because nowhere in town stocks it, and I like it better. You can also use Norton Kosher salt — it’s slightly more “salty” — Diamond is milder — so dial back the amount listed above by about 1/4. Want an internet dive on the differences? Check out this, this, or this.
- Only have salted butter? No worries — just dial back a little on the salt.
- This is definitely “project” baking! We like to do these while watching Christmas movies or decorating the tree. Cutting the caramels and wrapping them can get tedious, so definitely break it up or invite your family to help!
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!