Inhale. Again now, just a little deeper. Do you smell that, the chocolate?
That delectable smell is wafting from our house. Nope, not just our kitchen either, our house. Our entire house smells of chocolate. Rich. Gooey. Chocolate.
Christmas caramels are a tradition around here. Mom's friend, Gail, started it by sharing her recipe for good, old fashioned vanilla caramels. Mom's been making Gail's Caramels for years. They're tricky though. There's a process of adding cream while keeping the rest of the ingredients at a boil that gets me. It's a fine art too. You don't do it E-X-A-C-T-L-Y as the recipe says and you end up with a pile of golden gritty mush, a nasty combination of sugar granules and butter or, on the other end of the spectrum, you end up with a caramel brick and perhaps a very large dental bill.
There were years where I threw away entire batches of caramels time and time again before finally getting it right. Then, I discovered Martha Stewart's Golden Caramels. They're not Gail's, but they'll do. They've become my go-to caramel recipe more for their ease than anything until this year.
This year, I read a little farther down the page in the back of my Holiday magazine, the word 'chocolate' having caught my eye. This is what I discovered:
WM declared the first batch of chocolate caramels my 'best caramels EVER' and that was after just one bite. He refers to them as gourmet Tootsie Rolls. Someone else suggested that there is absolutely no comparison between these caramels and a Tootsie Roll.
It's a labor of love, standing over the stove, watching the pot boil. Tonight, I had help. Although, I think my helpers were less interested in the process and more interested in snatching up the stirring spoon once the cooking process was complete. Channing had the faster hand. Lucky boy.
In case you're interested in making a batch for yourself, the recipe is as follows:
Chocolate Caramels (as adapted from Martha Stewart. Yes, adapted, as she says to use unsalted butter and then add salt. I don't. I just use salted butter. She says to add the butter after everything been brought to temperature. I don't do that either. In other words, this is simplified.)
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
4 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Pound Bittersweet Chocolate, either finely chopped or use chips
4 Cups Sugar
2 Cups Light Corn Syrup
1/4 Cup Butter
Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray; line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the two short ends. Coat parchment paper with cooking spray; wipe off excess; set aside. Bring cream to a simmer in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add chocolate, and stir until melted. Stir in sugar, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cook at a low boil until a candy thermometer reaches 'Firm Ball' stage. Don't stir. Trust me on this part.
Remove from heat. Without scraping the pot, pour evenly into prepared pan. Let stand, uncovered, until completely set, about 8 hours.
Lift out caramel using parchment paper. Cut in to 1 inch squares. Wrap each piece in waxed paper. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks.
That last bit makes me laugh. I'd like to find someone who has the willpower to let a batch of these last two weeks. I'm not saying we've eaten an entire batch ourselves. They're so good, you can't help but share. I took some to my favorite nurse, Holly, at chemo. Channing packed up a bag of them for Nancy and traded her for a batch of home baked gingerbread cookies which he's spent the better part of the last two evenings decorating. WM took some to L. A. this past week to share with his co-workers at their annual holiday gathering.
I never expected to change my ways. I thought I'd always be a vanilla caramel kind of girl. Not any more. This year, I'm making way for a new tradition, one that involves chocolate. Chocolate caramels.