Ugh, in the past month or so, two friends have had their houses broken into and their possessions (many irreplaceable) stolen. There’s really not much to say to them other than to express my sympathy and send them a care package. Honey cream caramels with smoked almonds are not a substitution for lost family heirlooms and savings, but here’s to hoping that the caramels bring a smile to their faces.
Soft Honey Cream Caramels with Mesquite Smoked Almonds
(Adapted from Mini Treats and Hand-Held Sweets by Abigail Dodge Johnson)
Makes about 80 pieces
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, softened
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup (3 3/8 ounces) of nuts (I like Trader Joe’s Mesquite Smoked Almonds, and I use them whole)
- Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan (with straight sides) or a quarter sheet baking pan (9×13 inch) with parchment or foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang on two sides. If using foil, generously butter the bottom and sides of the foil. I typically use parchment and don’t need to butter it.
- Scatter the nuts (if using) evenly in the prepared baking pan. Set the pan aside.
- Put the sugar, honey, heavy cream, butter, and salt in a large heavy saucepan. Cook, stirring, over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Cover the pan, and increase the heat to medium. Cook, covered, for about 2 minutes to help dissolve sugar crystals that may have stuck to the sides of the pan.
- Uncover the pan, attach a candy thermometer, and boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 242°F. This took me about 10 minutes. Continue cooking the caramel until it reaches 250°F, carefully swirling/stirring the caramel in the pan over the heat to even out the color and prevent hot spots from forming. Make sure to check the temperature often as it can heat up quickly.
- Pour the caramel into the prepared baking pan without scraping the bottom or sides of the saucepan, as the mixture on the sides can cause your finished caramel to be grainy and hard. Put the baking dish on a wire rack and set aside, without stirring or jostling the pan until completely cool. Depending on how warm your kitchen is, this can take 3 to 4 hours or overnight. If I’m really impatient, I’ll wait until the pan has cooled a bit and then put the pan in the in the refrigerator to help speed up the cooling process. I do not put the hot pan directly into the refrigerator.
- The original recipe provides the following directions for cutting caramels: “To cut and serve, use the foil handles to life the caramel from the pan. Carefully peel or tear away the foil and toss it out; put the caramel on a cutting board. If the caramel is sticking to the cutting board, spray the board with a little oil. Using a ruler as a guide (or by eye) and a long, sharp knife, cut crosswise into 9 equal strips and then cut each strip into 9 pieces. Serve immediately or wrap in small pieces of waxed paper or cellophane (2 3/4-inch squares).” My method for cutting caramels is slightly different. I use parchment to line my pan. So, after the caramel has set in the parchment (I tend to refrigerate the caramel to firm it up a little and make it slightly easier to cut), I pull out the parchment and place it on a cutting board. I cut the caramel directly on the parchment and peel the parchment off of the cut caramel squares. I butter my knife to cut the caramels, and I also rinse off the caramel residue from the knife quite often as I’m cutting. I tend to return the uncut caramel to the refrigerator to harden it as needed to make cutting easier. Ultimately, cutting caramels can be a sticky mess, so it’s a bit of trial and error to find the way that works best for you.
I used to cut wrappers for my caramels from parchment and wax paper, but it was so mind-numbingly tedious that it tainted the caramel making process for me. Now I use pre-cut cellophane candy wrappers from caramelwrappers.com. They’re sturdy, non-stick, and look “professional”, and they’re reasonably priced. I make a lot of caramel, so I buy the 1000 pack.
My favorite non-stick pan for candy/caramel making is this type of ceramic Green Pan from Calphalon. It heats evenly and even the stickiest substances slide right off which is perfect for caramel making. I noticed that Costco sells the set of pans, but I was able to find my pan at a kitchen outlet store.
I prefer using parchment paper over aluminum foil because I often don’t have to take the extra step of buttering/greasing it. Parchment paper can be a bit pricey at the grocery store, but I buy it bulk (it comes in a 2 roll pack) from Costco which saves on costs.
I have yet to find my favorite candy making thermometer. I haven’t had luck with accuracy of regular candy thermometers (and I find them kind of hard to read). I have a digital thermometer made by Epica which has a temperature range from -58 to +392°F (mine is similar to this one but an older model). It’s not a clip on though, so I have to hold it in the liquid to measure the temperature which is a bit high maintenance and tedious. But it has been very accurate in its temperature readings.
I love Trader Joe’s Mesquite Smoked Almonds. They provide a unique smokiness and contrast to sweets such as caramels. Plus, I don’t have to take the additional step to toast them. I add them anytime I’m looking for an extra pop to my caramels or other desserts.