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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I know I certainly did. My dad’s cooking was, like always, delicious, and there were more people than usual at Thanksgiving dinner, which was nice. Thanksgiving is really only the beginning of the food holiday season, though, so I hope you’re ready to cook some more! This homemade caramel recipe would be tasty year round, but I think it’s particularly suited to cooler weather and would make a great homemade gift idea.
I have to admit that when I tasted the caramels, my first thought was “Maybe I shouldn’t write a post about these because then friends and family will never know and won’t complain when I don’t share.” Then, of course, I realized that my love of sharing food is why I started Nibbles and Noshes and that I could always just make a second batch to share. (Which, by the way, I only sort of did. They were shared limitedly with people who seemed just as eager to keep them secret.) Yes, they are that good and, no matter what you’ve heard, making candy isn’t the nightmare everyone assumes it to be. I admit I’ve had a few candy fails in the past and I’ve destroyed sugar attempting to make caramel sauce, but these bourbon pecan caramels aren’t that difficult. They require a bit of attention and care, but that’s about it. You can, of course, leave out the bourbon and pecans to make plain caramels, but the combination of flavors is amazing!
I’ve made these a couple of times now and have played around with how much bourbon to add when. There are two good options, and you should pick according to your desired outcome. You can add it to the initial cream, butter, and vanilla mixture or at the very end. Adding it to the cream will result in a subtle, muted taste that’s perfect for people who aren’t big bourbon fans (and those with kids). For a bit of a kick, add it in next to last, right before the pecans.
This recipe does involve corn syrup, but please note that corn syrup is not the same thing as high fructose corn syrup. Regular corn syrup has existed a very long time and is a different creature, entirely. I totally understand being leery of HFCS and, if you can’t bring yourself to use even light corn syrup, try subbing in ‘golden syrup,’ a type of syrup made from sugar. Based on my experience, I have to say that agave nectar really isn’t doesn’t work well in caramels.
The best, easiest way to make caramels involves using a candy thermometer. I don’t have one, so I use my digital, instant read thermometer. This is a huge pain in the behind and I don’t recommend it, but it will work if it’s what you have. You really can’t make caramels if you don’t have a thermometer – failing to cook the syrup to a high enough temperature will create candies that are far too soft and drip down your fingers when you try to eat them. Conversely, cooking them too hot can result in a jaw-breaking experience. As you can see below, candy thermometers really aren’t expensive and are a great investment if you plan to make candy more than once or twice.
- ¾ cup of heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon of bourbon
- ½ teaspoon of sea salt
- ½ cup of light corn syrup
- 1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
- 2 tablespoons of butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons of butter, cubed and at room temperature
- 1 cup of pecans, roughly chopped
- Line a 9-inch loaf pan with heavy aluminum foil and spray the inside with cooking spray.
- Heat the cream, 2 tablespoons of the butter, vanilla, and sea salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to boil. Then, remove it from the heat and cover to keep it warm.
- Heat the corn syrup and sugar in a medium or large, heavy duty saucepan. (I used my Dutch oven.) I suggest heating over medium high and adjusting the heat, as necessary. If you have a candy thermometer, install it in your cooking vessel before adding the sugar and syrup.
- Stir the mixture thoroughly to coat the sugar and prevent sticking, but stir minimally once it begins to boil.
- Cook until the syrup reaches 310 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to tilt the pot and place the thermometer's tip in the middle of the syrup mixture, not along the pan's bottom, to get an accurate temperature reading.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the warm cream mixture.
- Return the pan to the heat and heat until it reaches 260 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cubed butter and bourbon, stirring until the butter is totally smooth. Fold in the pecans.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and wait for it to cool. Placing it on a wire cookie-cooling rack will help this process.
- Once the caramel is completely cool, you can peel away the foil and slice the carmel. Heat the knife by passing it through a lighter flame or the flame from a gas stove burner between each cut to make cutting the caramels far easier.
Storing the caramels is fairly easy – simply cut up squares of wax paper and twist the cut candies inside the bits of paper. Alternatively, you can buy pre-cut candy wrappers at a specialty store, but cutting washed paper isn’t that hard. You can also use plastic wrap, if you’d prefer. If you store unwrapped caramels next to each other, they will re-stick and you’ll be forced to cut them again and again. You can store wrapped caramels in an air-tight container in the fridge for about a month, if they last that long!
Do you make your own holiday candies? What’s your favorite type of candy to make?