12.8.11 Candy Land (Caramel Giveaway)

Wrapped caramels 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Around here, that's signaled by the annual frenzy of caramel-making that kicks in right after Thanksgiving. A gorgeous snowfall helps, and the strains of Misa Criolla, a traditional peasant mass, and Handel's Messiah are never far behind. Joanne, the lady at our local post office, was in awe of how many packages we mailed out today (around 100, some we hand-deliver) and was curious about how the tradition got started. I actually started making the legendary caramels in the late '90s to give to clients, but the line between clients and friends has blurred over the years, and the word has spread far and wide. It's not just that they are deliciously addictive, but that they are made by hand and with love, and that they appear year after year around the same time. This notion of tradition is so important to us, especially around the holidays. It's rather poignant for me because, with both my parents dead and no children in our house, traditions can seem a bit, well, pointless. Sometimes I am gripped with the sad realization that there will be no one to carry on what I do, but then I rally and realize that's all the more reason for me to do whatever I can, in the best way possible, right here and right now—and to share it with as many people as I can, including you.
Snow 790 xxx
what a glorious sight to see first thing today
Copper pot 790 xxx
christmas came early
Thanks to Amazon, my Christmas gift from G not only came early but the contents were plainly written on the outside of the box, thereby spoiling the surprise and justifying an instant unpacking. Inside was the glorious copper pot you see above, the very same one I hinted about back in July. I am so lucky. (I recently received the second issue of Lucky Peach, David Chang's magazine, and in it was an article about the best dried apricots from Tajikistan and I ordered 9 pounds of them and now I can make a big batch of jam in my new pot!) It was actually perfectly timed with the advent of caramel-making.
Vanilla caramel 790 xxx
molten gold
Over the summer, when I made caramels to go into the gift bags for the presenters at the Emmy Awards, I experimented with making double batches and it was quite successful. This significantly cuts down on the time spent stirring up 8 batches—that's about 2,000 caramels. This year I made classic vanilla and chocolate infused with red chile.
Cooking chocolate 790 xxx
very hot chocolate
For the chocolate, I infuse the cream with about a dozen chiles de árbol, and then later I sometimes add a teaspoon or two of cayenne to increase the spice quotient. Both kinds are finished with coarse sea salt, which adds a great flavor counterpoint and a light crunch. For the vanilla I used Maldon sea salt, and for the chocolate I used their smoked version.
Trays 790 xxx
tray delicious
The recipes call for cooking the caramel to the firm ball stage (244-5º) but I found that, especially when making double batches for some reason—it's best to stop a couple degrees shy of that. I prefer my caramels to be a touch chewier, although by the time you work them around in your mouth a bit, they all soften up to that perfect creamy consistency.
Cutting1 790 xxx
director's cut
The cutting is an arduous job and one best left to professionals (i.e. my husband). I'm so grateful that I have a partner in crime. I do all the cooking, G does all the slicing, and then we sit together FOR HOURS watching movies and wrapping the caramels. It takes about 2 solid days of work.
Boxes 790 xxx
neither rain nor snow...
One of the many benefits of living in a teensy town is that there is no line at the post office. I still have emotional scars from the years we had to do this in the city. Next to a mall on Black Friday, a New York City post office around Christmas may be the world's most hellish place.
Caramel bags 790 xxx
yours for the asking
HOLIDAY SPECIAL: I've got 2 bags of caramels set aside for readers of this blog. Just write a comment below telling me about your favorite holiday treat and you'll be a contender to win one. I'll announce the lucky recipients next Wednesday, the 14th. Come on, the only thing you have to lose is maybe a couple of teeth...


Gosh ... it would be a toss up for this gemini, it would either be traditional rum cocktails made in the 1,2,3,4 proportions (sour, sweet, strength and weak) a family tradition or really good marzipan (if it's not homemade ... my favorite is Niederegger, they ship selections from Germany, including advent calendars) Warmest wishes for the holidays - the caramels look incredible Christine
Christine Elizabeth Smart on December 8, 2011 at 8:57 am —
You are lucky woman !! Copper pot ! And your caramels!! I love these. So..... I am the first contender!! I am proud.
tomo on December 8, 2011 at 9:02 am —
Treat? Just one? It is hard between my Mom's Betty Crocker Gingies, which I make by the dozens and give away but only so many as to have a load to soak in tea all during the bleak mid-winter. I have shifted the ingredients just a bit and use blackstrap molasses and part whole wheat pastry and my kids love them. Then, there is my memory of my Mom's Prune Whip, which you can imagine is again, Ms. Crocker's recipe. But, my sister Elsa lived with us for a while and it became her Christmas speciality, again loved by the short people here, but called "Prune Lip". You can see why I must love that too. I love caramels, hand hewn and wonderful. Your description puts a serious cramp in my afternoon snack possibilities. I will say, as I too have longed for a copper pot like yours, that I will be forwarding this post on to my dear husband, who has his own favorite treats. xoxox Love, S
Suzi Banks Baum on December 8, 2011 at 9:29 am —
I could write about the tamales and posole that are required fare on Christmas Eve (yes, we're talking New Mexico here) or the Linzer Heart Cookies that I adapted and made "mine" from The Silver Palate but just yesterday, I was introduced to a package of unstoppable deliciousness. Spiced Almond Caramel Corn from CC MADE. If you have any weakness for caramel corn, this will have you on your knees.
Gina on December 8, 2011 at 9:40 am —
Oh, I can already tell that this was a great way to find out more about my secretive readers! And I must find out about the 1,2,3,4 recipe for cocktails!
laura on December 8, 2011 at 9:44 am —
Ha! One person beat you to it, but never fear...
laura on December 8, 2011 at 9:45 am —
Suzi, I am a big dunker, too! The gingies should perfect. But I have a real weakness for prune, and can only imagine how I would delight in your mom's Prune Lip. xo
laura on December 8, 2011 at 9:46 am —
Gina, tamales were always a Noche Buena tradition in my mom's house, too! My husband has a serious problem with caramel corn (see my recipe for "Crack") which I may just have to enable with this new version...
laura on December 8, 2011 at 9:48 am —
My Dear Laura, you have indeed passed down this delicious family tradition to your readers. We are about to embark on our second batch of caramel making (the "heroic" feat of stirring is shared by Jeff & I). The first batch was enjoyed by friends and strangers alike at my annual holiday gift sale and the next batch will be gifted to our neighbors, family and friends. I'm sure these delicious treats will become a family tradition to be passed down to our grand daughter when she is old enough to help stir the pot. Thank you so much for sharing your passion and knowledge with us all ! XOXO
suzinn on December 8, 2011 at 9:50 am —
Suzinn, I am so thrilled you have picked up the mantle! Before you know it, you will be making double batches...xo
laura on December 8, 2011 at 9:54 am —
as far as what's been passed down, i make my italian grandmother's rabbit stew and polenta every christmas eve. and the last few years i have made the olive scourtins from susan herrmann loomis for my friends. (which reminds me!) and oysters are always a fun time! i hope you have a wonderful holiday. thank you so much for taking the time to share.
giovanna on December 8, 2011 at 10:51 am —
Oooh, thanks for introducing me to olive scourtins—I just looked them up and they sound divine! Will try to make some and post about them soon.
laura on December 8, 2011 at 11:00 am —
Love the Yule Log Cake ( can't do French spelling) for Christmas dinner dessert, but would love to have some of your yummy sounding caramels!
Nancy Ball on December 8, 2011 at 11:04 am —
Ah yes, the legendary Bûche de Noël with the marshmallow mushrooms...très chic!
laura on December 8, 2011 at 11:13 am —
here's a link to the recipe http://www.travelerslunchbox.com/journal/2005/11/27/imbbshf-cookie-swap-around-the-world-in-four-cookies.html i use the round cookie cutters... also, don't let them get too dark, changes the taste quite a bit.
giovanna on December 8, 2011 at 11:21 am —
Thanks for the tip, Giovanna!
laura on December 8, 2011 at 11:31 am —
I would love to try your caramels to see what they are supposed to taste like! I have yet to make them, but are determined to this holiday season. One of my favorites is something my youngest loves to bake each year -- dark chocolate candy cane cookies. Another favorite is a stollen that a friend makes.
peggy on December 8, 2011 at 11:59 am —
Last year at this time I went to the best grocery we have in town and bought all the ingredients for my own caramels. They still sit in their original containers waiting for me to try this year. Let's hope I have some "get up and go" and find out for myself how easy I can make your delicious recipes.
Vivian on December 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm —
Sounds delicious, Peggy!
laura on December 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm —
Oh, Vivian. I hate to burst your bubble of energy, but there's a bag of these caramels winging its way to you even as we speak. Though one bag is probably not enough...
laura on December 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm —
I am in awe of your fortitude and drooling over the photos of your caramels!! Happy Holidays to you.
Nancy on December 8, 2011 at 2:14 pm —
Thanks, Nancy! Hope you have something wonderful planned.
laura on December 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm —
Oh, goodness. First off, what a lovely, generous ritual you have! I am so bad at making caramels, and I love them, so of course I want to win. But who wouldn't? I'm sure you make some amazingly fine caramels. But secondly, I do want to say that I covet your gorgeous pan. Of course you opened it right away! And more so, I covet those 9 pounds of apricots you ordered. That article had me in a tizzy, and I wanted to go out and chase those apricots, camp out in the orchards if need be. Of course, that's not happening, but I guess I'll have to wait until your write up on the jam you make. Now, if you ever want to do a jam exchange, please let me know! And lastly, but not leastly, my favorite holiday treat is marzipan. I used to get it in my stocking as a child, and I still can't pass it up, whether it's a sausage-shaped Odense supermarket variety or Sicilian organic or artistic sculptures from Fortunato brothers in Brooklyn, that's my treat.
Julia on December 8, 2011 at 2:47 pm —
I'm surprised how many people love marzipan—it seems very European and sophisticated to me, in a good way. Julia, I would love to do a jam exchange and will do my best to make those apricots shine! They are truly gorgeous. Thanks for your kind words, a gift in of themselves.
laura on December 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm —
Ooooh. Caramels! Lovely.. My favorite holiday treats have had to change due to heightened allergies, once upon a time I baked glorious cookies and desserts (professionally too), now I stick to simpler treats that are easily made gluten free, Chocolate Gingerbread cookies, gingerbread cakes, Buche de Noel, Flourless Chocolate cake, Honey Seed Brittle.. mmm, one of my fav's. I'd love to try your caramels!
tamika on December 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm —
We're mostly gluten-free in our house, too, Tamika, and the caramels—while not exactly health food, though they are organic—are a once-a-year treat. Thanks for stopping by!
laura on December 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm —
I think I'd have to say my favorite sweet holiday treat is fudge, but my favorite savory treat is a French Canadian meat pie, or tortiere. Those caramels could change that answer however.
Krista on December 8, 2011 at 3:48 pm —
This is such a sweet giveaway idea! My favorite holiday treat is Lebkuchen. It's from Germany and can be made either as a cake or as a cookie. My favorite is "Elisenlebkuchen" with chocolate glaze. I tried to make some myself this year, and they came out okay, but they are incomparable to the ones that my mom ordered for me from a gluten free bakery when I was growing up in Germany. They are really my all-time favorite cookies, and only being able to have them in winter made them extra special. :)
Jess on December 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm —
Krista, I have a real weakness for fudge, too, and always think of my grandmother's at this time of year. I'm curious about tortières, and will have to look into that!
laura on December 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm —
My favorite Christmas treats are your caramels. I had never tasted the amazing combination of caramel and salt before.I hope I win!.A runner up was caramel coated popcorn..I think both of which come with a downpayment to many visits to the dentist and oral surgeon.
Brad on December 8, 2011 at 4:02 pm —
Wow, I'm really learning about so many new holiday treats. I love how they are often attached to memories and family traditions. I recently got a cookbook of Austrian pastries and will have a look to see if Lebkuchen is among them, Jess.
laura on December 8, 2011 at 4:02 pm —
Awww...let's try not to think about the after-effects, Brad!
laura on December 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm —
My favorite holiday treat used to be the porchetta sandwiches they sell on Piazza Navona in Rome at Christmastime...until your caramels... which are now my favorite holiday treat... they were my first introduction to the divine trinity of chocolate, salt and caramel. I started this to lobby for free caramels, but during the season, joy should be spread to other people who haven't been so lucky I suppose...xo
MD on December 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm —
Oh ye, of little faith...
laura on December 8, 2011 at 5:43 pm —
You are making a beautiful tradition and I think it resonates just as powerfully with a larger, global community as it does with more intimate family. As for favorite holiday treats, I'm torn between American and Italian holidays. However, always best to do as the natives do...when in Arkansas I'll enjoy delicious blackstrap molasses ginger cake and cookies or in Firenze it's more of a whole shebang thing, which means a full lunch cooked by my husband's Tuscan grandmother. Too many good things to choose from! Be well!
Kristina on December 9, 2011 at 12:47 am —
Kristina, such an embarrassment of riches! Sounds like you have two disparate but equally rich cultures to choose from! Thanks for your comment.
laura on December 9, 2011 at 1:24 am —
Your caramels sound divine, if I don't win a bag I'll have to pull out a pot and attempt your recipe. Favorite holiday treats - I fall back on English childhood memories. Big bowls of trifle with alcohol doused cake, artery clogging custard and lashings of whipped cream, warm sticky toffee pudding, chocolate yule log, mince pies and a peach coffee cake I make for breakfast that my children now insist on as part of the Christmas ritual.
Mary on December 9, 2011 at 1:55 am —
Oh my, the English really know how to do "pudding"! Your coffee cake sounds delicious, Mary!
laura on December 9, 2011 at 2:01 am —
but you are the czarina of traditions! your wonderful ideas, in the hands of your devoted followers....well, sounds like you are creating enduring traditions for hordes of grateful people! I am sure I will be making your caramel pommes petites sur twig for years to come, given their reception this year, and I kept cooking the excess caramel for that until we amassed our own pile of sea salted and attractively bound caramels. It isn't a large pile, though, so don't feel you need to remove me from the running for the booty here....
janet on December 9, 2011 at 5:53 am —
Such sweet words, Janet! I could almost think you were trying to butter me up...;-)
laura on December 9, 2011 at 9:44 am —
Divinity, baby! I think I brought you some one time when my mother was still alive. Haven't made it recently but I think I'd rather have your caramels on my tuckus.
Robin on December 9, 2011 at 9:46 am —
I love divinity--and penuche! All staples of my grandma's holiday kitchen! And I think you mean "tuchus," Robinowitz!
laura on December 9, 2011 at 9:55 am —
In my memory, the tastes of Christmas are bound up with non-pareils or ‘cringles’ as we called them at home. These cringles were from a tiny store called Elk Candy on east 86th street in what used to be informally known as German town. On the few occasions that I went to the shop during the holiday season, I remember how the lines extended around the block and how waiting with my mother, I heard german spoken more often than English. But mostly I remember waiting at home for my mother to return from Elks Candy with boxes of cringles wrapped in tissue paper that made a sound I only ever heard in December. I loved the ritual: my mother placing half a box of milk chocolate and half a box of dark chocolate cringles in a tin on the glass table. My cousin only ate the dark chocolate ones and I the milk chocolate, and we both would inspect each cringle so as not to take the one from the other. I liked to rest them on my tongue and let the chocolate overwhelm my mouth, and on Christmas morning I ate them alongside a Clementine or two, right before turning to the presents!
Nina on December 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm —
Laura, I am so impressed by your energy and industriousness! One of the on and off tradition at our house is that I attempt to make a gingerbread house . The first year, it was so bad that my kids had all a good laugh: it was called a gingerbread tenement and they even suggested to call the contractor that had jacked up our Catskills house to the rescue! It is getting better but still not great, but we still have fun with it and the decorations are a family pastime. I am hooked on Misa Criolla since last Xmas, thanks to you.
Josée on December 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm —
These tales are so enchanting! What a wonderful world this conjures up, Nina! And thanks for reminding me that clementines are a holiday favorite. My mother always placed a few and some walnuts in our stockings.
laura on December 9, 2011 at 7:42 pm —
So funny, Josée! Would love to see some photos of that house. And glad that you, too, love Misa Criolla. New music recommendations coming next week, I promise!
laura on December 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm —
Hey Laura, what a touching entry. I have learned over the years that often we have a much greater influence on the world and the people around us than we realize. Our actions and way we carry ourselves through life and the world many times touch people in ways we never know. If that's not a legacy, then I don't know what is. As for my favourite holiday treat, we used to make candy cane cookies when I was young. My sister and I would make the cookie dough, and colour half with red food colouring, and twirl them together to make the candy canes. I haven't done that in a long time. I must get at my own holiday goodies tout-de-suite! p.s. One of our fave salts these days is a cherry wood smoked sea salt from Vancouver Island. The texture is nice and soft - it crumbles gently rather than being too hard on the tooth, and the smoke flavour is also mild.
Rob on December 10, 2011 at 4:29 am —
Beautifully said, Rob, and very heartening. Those cookies sound very laborious—and probably made with the dreaded red dye #2—but I'm sure you could put a new spin on them now. (Beet juice? Pomegranate?) Thanks for the salt tip. In return I recommend The Meadow's Iburi Jio Cherry Smoked Salt, http://www.atthemeadow.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=336.
laura on December 10, 2011 at 4:44 am —
wow! tough one. in my family we always do the seven fish dinner on christmas eve. my favorite thing at the end of dinner is a prosecco slush. then of course anisette toast, and s cookies. i miss those days, now my family is all spread out, and we usually buy the goods in brooklyn. have a wonderful holiday.
trixx on December 10, 2011 at 5:49 am —
Sounds fantastic. I love all the different cultural slants! And the anisette toast--my fave!
laura on December 10, 2011 at 6:01 am —
Okay, the copper pot came just in time for the person who is going to make those amazing caramels! I understand completely the feeling of not having family around and wanting to pass on some traditions but these are experienced right now and for all who get to try them they will definitely be living in the moment! I can't offer much of a recipe for the holidays, but here's a youtube video that might warm your heart while you're wrapping up those gorgeous delicious caramels with G . It's called "Have an early merry happy whatever": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBWgWzNH-qI&feature=youtu.be
Lulubean on December 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm —
That is hilarious! We are cracking up.
laura on December 10, 2011 at 5:29 pm —
pralines! and crackly topped brownie cookies. YUM.
Steph on December 11, 2011 at 4:15 pm —
Certain to give me sweet dreams as I drift off this evening...!
laura on December 11, 2011 at 7:07 pm —
Doh! And I even googled it.
Robin on December 12, 2011 at 5:05 am —