Christmas Confections – Part III

At some point last week, I realized that these random non-baking bits I have been doing – the not-quite almond roca, marshmallows, etc. – are all items I will be able to feature as part of my sellables on the main cocofancy site. This particular realization was very exciting, and very…. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. I was excited/anxious/surprised. It’s as if this whole blogging and baking and doing things thing is actually getting somewhere. It’s an interesting feeling.

In the gift boxes I sent to people, I included the following item, though in a sad form. I had recently purchased a new thermometer from the CIA, and it’s pretty amazing. There are only two things I would change about it – put the sensor about a quarter inch further down the stem toward the tip; and include calibration instructions in the packaging. You see, it has the nifty ability to adjust the temperature to calibrate it correctly should anything happen to make it a bit out of whack. Unfortunately… it didn’t come properly calibrated. Thus, when I attempted to make my caramels the first time, I brought the mixture to the recommended 248°F and took it off the heat… only to find that the caramels came out quite a bit on the soft side. I have had to keep them in the fridge in order for them to maintain their shape. Why did I keep them, and why did I send them if they were a bit of a failure? Because they are frickin amazing. I can only say that I really don’t tend to like caramels – way too sweet – but these have such a wonderful flavor, and they came out so smooth! zomg. Really amazing.

I am attempting the recipe a second time, this time with a rather expensive digital thermometer I received as a gift. This one is from Williams Sonoma, and it has a gigantically large stem, but the sensor seems to be the whole bottom inch of the stem. We will see how that goes.

Apple Cider Caramels

2 cup high-quality apple cider
1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream, divided
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup agave or light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter, cubed

Pour cider into a medium saucepan and boil on high for about 20 minutes or until the cider is reduced to 1/3 c. Keep an eye on it…it might try to run away. Set aside to cool. (I put it on simmer and it took… about 30-45 minutes? The first time I tried this I totally went too far and kind of burnt the cider. I tend to be cautious after that sort of thing.)

Line an 8″ square pan (if you want 1″ tall caramels – I attempted the second batch with a smaller rectangular pan, probably 9″x11″ pan) with parchment paper, making sure to leave about 1″ hanging over the edges for easy removal. Coat with a bit of vegetable oil and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine 2/3 c. cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and reduced apple cider. Set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, 1/3 c. whipping cream + enough water to reach the 1/2 c. line on the measuring cup, and agave/corn syrup. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Insert the candy thermometer and simmer until the syrup reaches 234 degrees.

Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream mixture. Add the cubed butter and stir until the cream and butter are fully incorporated. Return the pan to heat and re-insert the candy thermometer. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the temperature reaches 248°F. (I don’t know if my thermometer was off a bit, but I ended up heating mine to a reading of 253°F. Because I’m paranoid, I ended up reading up on various ways to test caramel – the Culinary Institute of America’s Chocolates and Confections mentions an ice-bath test. When the caramel is around the right temperature, you dip a spoon into the caramel mixture, then stick the spoon into a bowl of ice-water for a few seconds. This will bring it to its normal temperature and you will be able to gauge the hardness of the caramels when they are set. I attempted a few spoon-dips, and got it to a hardness that is definitely a step up from what it was.)

Remove from heat and pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Let the mixture cool completely at room temperature or in the refrigerator. I covered the top of the pan loosely with saran wrap and left it out overnight. You could cut the caramels into 1/2″ squares and wrap each caramel in wax paper, but I’m lazy so I cut the caramel into 1/2″ logs, which meant that I had exponentially fewer pieces to individually wrap. Store in an airtight container or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

So… My second batch isn’t terrible, but still isn’t quite as firm as I want it to be. It’s definitely firmer than the last batch, but it still somewhat soft. I have been doing a bit more research, and it seems that the initial part of sugar-heating is where a lot of people disagree, and where a lot of the variation of the texture and form is realized. I will be making another batch tomorrow and heating the initial sugar syrup to 300°F. Yay for experimentation!

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