We were all ready. We had a plan.
The Child wanted to give gifts to all her friends and all her teachers, which was fine when she was in elementary school and this meant one girl, one teacher, and one music teacher. Gift baskets and silly hats for everyone!
She’s in middle school now, and this means lists of teachers and coaches and friends and sort-of friends. We begin our discussion with a brief math test: Ten teachers times a $25 Starbucks card is how much?
We move on to budgeting, and from there simple division, and then to more advanced math problems: If it takes an hour to pick out one very personal gift for each of twelve friends, and you still have to do homework every evening, how much time is left to play Minecraft and watch Smosh videos?
Finally, we hit on a plan, and find assorted holiday rubber ducks for all her friends, and some inexpensive penguin mugs for the teachers, which will be delivered filled with homemade caramels. No problem. Christmas under control … until it isn’t, after a huge project at work keeps me late several nights, and a rather odd string of phone calls sucks up even more of my spare time.
Still, caramels aren’t hard, and we plan for The Child to deliver the mugs on the Friday before her break, so I start making caramels on Wednesday evening. I had made Apple Cider Caramels last year, using a recipe from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen, and they were quite good, but the recipe seems to be gone from the site now. I did print out a copy, which I eventually found tucked in a cookbook, but in my searches I also ran across the recipe below over at Smitten Kitchen, and thought, well, maybe I should give it a try.
The caramels are very, very simple to make, with only a few ingredients and steps, and the resulting caramels have a wonderful mild, slightly tart spiced-cider flavor. I made some slight modifications to the recipe, primarily reducing the amount of salt to account for the change in type of salt from the original recipe (she uses Maldon salt, I used regular kosher salt). I also cooked only to just slightly above 250 degrees, since I wanted a very, very soft caramel that the child could eat with her braces. Both modifications worked out very well. The Child pronounced the caramels delicious, and we didn’t have to go to the orthodontist after she ate one.
Thursday morning, we arrive at school, and she unloads a bag of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rainducks from my trunk, and then panics: Where are the caramels?
They’re for tomorrow, I say. They’re not done yet.
But there’s no school tomorrow! It’s going to be a snow day.
I’ve not heard anything about snow, and tell her this. One batch of these caramels doesn’t fill up the mugs, I tell her, so I need to make more tonight. She’s not content with this, but I check the weather on my phone and show her: Look. No snow.
I spend the evening making more caramels as she writes out gift tags and attaches them to the penguin mugs. I keep checking the news for weather updates, but there’s still nothing about snow, until about 9pm, when the warnings start to appear. And sure enough, at 5:30 the next morning, I receive a text that wakes me up: Emergency Notification – School canceled due to snow.
I peek out the window, and discover there’s about a half inch of snow in my yard. By Seattle standards, this constitutes Snowpocalypse.
I wake The Child, so she can see the magical, beautiful snow before it melts. She shrieks and squeals over the school cancellation, instagrams the snow on the roof outside her window, and goes back to sleep.
- 4 cups apple cider
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- Neutral oil for the knife
- Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between ⅓ and ½ cup in volume. This takes about 35 to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- While this is cooking, get everything else ready. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and salt together in a small dish.
- Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 5 minutes, keeping a close eye on it.
- Remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon-salt mixture, and stir to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours. Once caramel is firm, transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut, to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.
Beth F says
ha on the snow in Seattle. I lived in Eugene for a couple of years and remember how excited everyone got when it snowed even a tiny bit. These caramels sound awesome and I love the Smitten Kitchen recipes.
Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) says
Fun story — and the caramels sound delicious.
Laurie C says
I’m still just mastering fudge; I don’t know if I’m ready to try caramels yet! But they sound delicious, and gluten-free!
These look wonderful! What a great Christmas idea.
Lovely caramels. Hope you have a super Christmas. Cheers
Diane (bookchickdi) says
What a cute story- and your caramels look wonderful.
Linda M. says
My husband and I make fudge (really, he makes it. I assist) and you’ve got to hit that smack on for it to be just right. Boil too long and it’s dry. Not long enough and it doesn’t set up the way it should. I am mighy impressed by this effort with the caramels. They look beautiful and I wish I had one here to unwrap and pop into my mouth.
I’ve just had my first really lovely success with a Smitten Kitchen recipe – I’ll have to try these!
J. Doe says
This is the second one I’ve tried and both were really good!
Toby @ Plate Fodder says
I’ve only tried to make caramels twice in my life – the first time they could dislodge fillings with just a look, and on the next attempt they magically adhered to the pan for all eternity…. but if you say these are “easy”, I might have to risk it. I’ll need to look for a pan I don’t like very much….. just in case. Hoping you and the Child have a wonderful holiday season!
J. Doe says
Use parchment paper to line the pan and that will solve that issue. I’ve seen recipes where you butter the parchment as an added layer of protection. Have a great holiday!