Mom was resolute. Halloween was her favorite holiday, and she was unyielding in the candy selection. The shelves of the grocery store were stocked, literally bulging, with eye-catching displays of my favorite candy bars and confections, wrapped in special Halloween-themed packaging and perfectly bite-size (or two-bite-size) for trick-or-treaters. Mom ignored these, barely acknowledged my pleadings for the Hershey’s multipack, and moved quickly to the less-colorful part of the candy aisle. She always made a beeline for the caramel candies, Brach’s maybe, the kind wrapped tightly in white wax paper. The kind that stuck in your teeth and tasted overwhelmingly like vanilla. The kind of thing I didn’t want Mom to give out on Halloween.
Over the years, I grew to appreciate the caramel candies and even anticipated their presence in our house; however, the homemade version is infinitely better. These soft candy caramels have a pleasingly smooth texture and the smoky, buttery dark caramel taste that is absent in their mass-produced counterparts.
Lightly spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to just overhang on the sides. Lightly coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium saucepan, gently stir together the corn syrup and sugars along with ¼ cup water. Set the saucepan over low heat and continue to stir gently until the sugars dissolve (avoid sloshing the sides of the pan). Once the sugar has dissolved, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high, and wait for the mixture to reach 240 to 245 degrees F, about 7 minutes. Keep a watchful eye on the temperature while you proceed with the next step—you do not want it to exceed 250 degrees F.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, stir together the cream and condensed milk and set over medium heat. Gently warm the mixture; do not let it boil.
Once the sugar mixture turns amber, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter and warm milk mixture until completely combined (be careful about splattering; it usually bubbles up when you add the milk mixture). Place the pan back on medium heat, stop stirring, and bring the mixture back to 245 to 250 degrees F.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla and salt, and pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Allow the candy to set for 8 hours, or overnight.
Place a sheet of parchment over the caramel and invert it onto a cutting surface. Remove the aluminum foil.
Spray a chef’s knife with nonstick cooking spray or carefully rub a tiny bit of vegetable shortening along the blade. Cut the caramels into 1 by ½-inch rectangles, and immediately wrap them in wax paper or candy papers. Twist the ends of the papers to resemble old-school candies. Distribute with brio to friends and family.
The caramels will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days.
© 2010 All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books.