caramels

Carmel is a village on the California coast. Caramel is a dreamy, buttery, creamy delicious candy.

Carmel = Village

Caramel = Candy

Care . uh. mel

End of lesson in pronunciation.

My family had a recipe for caramels when I was growing up that I absolutely loved. So, of course, when I became an adult, I decided caramels would be one of those things I always made for Christmas. The trouble with the recipe, though, was that it was extremely tempermental. The caramels would turn out different every single year. Sometimes, I’d overshoot the temperature a little and end up with something resembling toffee. Other times, I wouldn’t quite get there, and the caramels would only hold their shape if you kept them in the refrigerator. And let’s just not even discuss the batches I simply had to throw away.

I’m a traditionalist. I wanted to make the caramels from the recipe I’d meticulously copied from my mother’s recipe box, but even I can only take so much disappointment. So a few years ago, I asked the Google to cough up some caramel recipes. After a bit of trial and error, I finally ended up with one that seems (so far) to be foolproof.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk (the elixer of the gods)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Line an 8″ square baking dish with foil and generously butter it.

In a large, heavy saucepan (I use an enameled cast iron saucier) combine sugar, corn syrup and butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once it reaches a boil, let it cook for 4 minutes without stirring.

Remove from heat. Stir in condensed milk. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring constantly, until a candy thermometer reaches 238°. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour into the prepared pan and allow to cool. Using the foil, lift the cooled caramel out of the baking dish. Discard the foil and cut into 1″ squares. Wrap in wax paper.

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christmas fudge

I know. It’s not Christmas and this is my second post about Christmas candy in a row. I have good reasons (not that I need to explain myself.) I posted the peppermint bark recipe because someone super special needed it and that’s just how I roll. And I’m posting this one because it was up next alphabetically in my “Add to Blog” folder. Which is also how I roll.

Some people zig. Some people zag. I … am inexorable.

Honestly, I don’t even really need to type up this recipe and post it. You can get it off the label of any jar of marshmallow creme/fluff. But I’m typing it up and posting it anyway, for a couple reasons.

  1. It’s damn good fudge.
  2. I have a Christmas category that wouldn’t be complete without it.

I’m not typically a proponent of prepared foods (still working on ridding myself of even prepared spices and condiments) but I’ve tried a millionty thousand fudge recipes. Many of them were good. But none were as good as this. And so here it is:

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar marshmallow creme/fluff
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Chopped nuts if you want em. I never do.

Line an 8×8 baking dish with aluminum foil and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallow creme, sugar, milk, butter and salt. Bring to a full boil and cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and pour in chocolate chips. Stir until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Add vanilla (and nuts if you want em) and stir to combine. Pour into prepared dish and refrigerate until firm.

peppermint bark

peppermint bark

I never made peppermint bark when the kids were growing up. It wasn’t something that was a family recipe and it never really made an appearance in my own childhood, so it was pretty much off the radar for me as an adult. The year before Cody went into the Marine Corps, though, he had some peppermint bark at a friend’s house and came home raving about it.

He’d always had a sweet tooth.

I became determined to provide him with some of the stuff in his stocking. I drove around town to all the places I thought one might score some peppermint bark. Nothing. I drove up to Charlotte and hit the World Market, convinced I would find it there, if nowhere else. Nothing. I turned to the Google Machine and typed out my woes. They had a whole bunch of options at ungodly prices (I really need to find out what’s considered a godly price) plus shipping. Also, it was too close to Christmas to get it without paying for premium shipping.

I don’t know why I expended all that energy instead of looking up recipes in the first place. Because, people, this one isn’t rocket science. It’s not even build-a-volcano or dye Easter eggs science. This is caveman simple.

And delicious.

Why is this stuff only around at Christmas?

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces very good quality semi-sweet chocolate (or a 12oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips if you’re cool with it. I’m typically cool with it.)
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 16 ounces very good quality white chocolate (or a 16oz bag of white chocolate chips.)
  • Crushed peppermint candies or candy canes (if it is near Christmas)

Line a 9×13 inch baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. I use the non-stick type of foil even though this stuff peels off pretty easily. The thickness is just about perfect. Make sure you smooth out all the wrinkles so the candy looks pretty when it’s done.

Bring about an inch of water in a saucepan to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Put the semi-sweet chocolate into a heat-proof bowl and set it over the water. DO NOT let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Slowly stir the chocolate until it is completely melted. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and stir in half of the peppermint extract. Quickly pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread it evenly.

Repeat this process with the white chocolate (with a new bowl … don’t wash and use the same bowl unless you are sure you can get rid of any moisture on the inside of the bowl before you put the chocolate into it.) After pouring the white chocolate over the semi-sweet chocolate in the baking dish, immediately sprinkle with the peppermint candy pieces. Gently press them down a bit to embed them in the white chocolate.

Set the dish aside until it has cooled completely (or stick it in the fridge if you’re impatient like me.) When it is cool and hardened, lift the candy out of the dish and peel off the aluminum foil. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container. Try not to eat all of it before you give it to your son.

 

easy toffee (no. seriously. it’s easy.)

I’m right smack dab in the middle of stuff. The holidays are upon us and there are people to see, things to buy, gin to consume …

Gin-and-tonics-large-glasses

So pretty.

One third of my fifth book came out today. I say one third because it is a novella included in a lovely little three-story anthology called 3 YULETIDE WISHES, and it’s about a third the size of a regular novel. I’m joined by fellow Regency novelists Alanna Lucas and Charlotte Russell, and it has hit the virtual shelves just in time for Christmas. I really hope you’ll take a look.

Yuletide

I’m also in the midst of holiday baking. I typically do about 15 different kinds of candies and cookies to give as gifts and to take to parties and such. Some are old standbys from childhood and some are more recent favorites. I always try one or two new things each year and this toffee recipe is a winner from last year.

Get a candy thermometer if you don’t have one. For years, I didn’t use one and the occasional recipe would flop. I haven’t had a single problem since I got the thermometer and, really, why go through the hassel. Butter is effin’ expensive, man.

GoldButter

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups butter (use real butter…it’s toffee, for crying out loud)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (they’re so cute!)
  • 1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans

So. First things first. Toast the damn pecans. It makes all the difference in the world. I spritz mine with a little coconut oil cooking spray (just a tiny bit) and sprinkle a couple pinches of salt in and among the pecans. Shove them in a 350° oven for 8 minutes or so, and then pull them out. Fragrant, nutty and rich … mmmm. When they’ve cooled just enough to handle, chop them up. Don’t wait for them to cool all the way. Just go for it.

Combine the butter, sugar and salt in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. (Also, make sure you have steel wool pads. Some of this is damn straight going to stick to the bottom, and you’re just going to have to suck it up and scrub. It’s worth it.) Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter is melted. (I seriously hope you didn’t toss the steel wool pads in there. I could possibly have mentioned that part later.) Once the butter is melted, let it come to a boil and cook until it is a deep amber color, stirring occasionally. Mm hmm. Occasionally. No standing and endlessly stirring on this one. Throw your candy thermometer in there and keep an eye on it until it reaches 285°.

While the toffee is cooking, cover a baking sheet with sides with aluminum foil. If you’re fancy and got the non-stick kind, congrats … you save a step. If you’re like me and you have the regular ol’ bargain stuff, spray it with a little coconut cooking oil.

As soon as the toffee hits 285°, pour it onto the foil. Be super duper extra extremely careful. Also, if you have a cat, make sure it isn’t under your feet, because tripping with hot toffee is a REALLY BAD IDEA. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the surface of the candy and let them get all melty and fabulous, then spread it all out. Finally, sprinkle the pecans over the chocolate and boom. Deliciousness you can’t even begin to touch for a couple hours or so.

Throw that cookie sheet in the fridge until the toffee is set and cool, then peel the aluminum foil back and break it into pieces. Fabulous. Highly praised by the Marine and his sister.