When I ask my dad if he wants to do something—it doesn’t matter if it’s running to Sam’s Club on a Saturday, sitting to talk one day I’m upset or going for a walk with me and my brother Father’s Day evening—his answer is, always, yes.
And while I could tell you a lot of other things I love about him—the fact that I sometimes catch him watching kids’ movies by himself, or that he taught me to invest money when I was only 17, or that he has the kind of natural passion to sell you on any idea, anytime—it is this first thing that I love most.
My dad doesn’t read blogs, but he tells everyone he knows I have one. He doesn’t use Twitter, but he asks me to explain it. He has this natural ability—and it’s not just with me—to know what you’re interested in and talk with you about it. He knows how to care about people, unselfishly.
So for Father’s Day, after we took him out for lunch, which he thanked us for at least five times, and after we gave him a card, which he said was perfect, I wanted to give him something else, something that would match his interests, you know? And if there’s one thing I know Dad loves, it’s caramels.
On a recent trip to Minocqua, Wisconsin, my parents came back with, among other things, a white paper bag filled with soft, chewy caramels—the kind you chomp like taffy. And Dad said, more than once, it’d be nice if I could make some like that.
A quick Google search yielded me this: a recipe from Allrecipes.com that had 63 reviews and four-and-a-half stars.
Here is what happened, all while I was on the phone with a friend, who responded “Good luck” when I mentioned candy thermometer: I combined ingredients in my Le Creuset pot, latched the thermometer on the side and waited, watching the mixture gradually melt the butter and begin to bubble, then froth, then come very close to overflowing the pot. First lesson: when making caramels, use a very, very large pot.
Still on the phone, I used a glass measuring cup to transfer a third of the mixture to a separate pan, figuring the chances of huge, sticky caramelized mess to be less that way. Within a few minutes, the mixture was again overwhelming my first pan, so, though it was at more like 235 degrees F than 242, I took it out and poured it into the buttered 9 X 13 glass dish.
Hours later, I cut the first piece of caramel, and it was delicious— buttery, sweet and chewy. But it was also slippery and sticky, enough that it barely retained its shape when I sliced away a piece and enough that it would adhere to the wax paper I tried wrapping bits in.
The next day, Father’s Day afternoon, I reached a new decision: I would scoop up the gooey mixture in the pan, reheat it in a larger pan and not remove it until it hit the right temperature.
What resulted this time was a different kind of caramel entirely: glassy and hard, like toffee, the kind you can break with your hands and want to hold on your tongue, letting it dissolve, slowly.
It was this second kind I gave to Dad later that night, in a round, red tin filled with wax paper. And, true to form, he said they were delicious, just like the softer sample I’d saved—and he loved them, but, to be honest, I know that’s mostly because he loves me.
Adapted from AllRecipes.com
So the moral of above story is this: making candy is ALL about temperature. If you want chewier caramels, you’ll want to remove the mixture from the heat at 242 degrees F, no later. If you want harder caramels, 245/250 degrees F will work. Both were interesting, but next time, I’m going for a happy medium.
2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Begin by buttering a 9 X 13 dish, which you’ll set aside.
In a heavy (and very large!) pan, combine sugar, corn syrup, a cup of the heavy cream and the butter. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring it often. Next, add a cup of cream, and continue heating, without stirring, until it reaches 242 degrees F (116 degrees C). To test it, you can drop a small bit of syrup into a glass of cold water—if the syrup turns into a firm but pliable ball, it’s ready.
Remove the mixture from heat, add vanilla and pour it into the buttered 9 X 13 dish. Put this in the refrigerator.
When cool, return the candies to room temperature and cut into one-inch pieces. If you do things just right, you’ll be able to wrap them in wax paper. If not, you’ll have fun caramels reminiscent of Werther’s originals, just not in those neat little circles, and those will be good, too.