Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have a Chewy, Gooey Christmas

When Charlie and I were first married, I remember wondering what our first Christmas together would be like. Sure, we’d buy our own tree, decorate it with our few meager ornaments and call Mom for her Tom and Jerry recipe but what would our new family traditions look like?

Somehow, I knew that I wasn’t going to find a shiny new Baby Tenderlove under the tree like I did every year of my youth (check me out below complete with foam hair curlers) and Mom and I weren’t going to stay up until all hours wrapping home made Christmas candy.
I was also quite sure that Santa would not replace Charlie's cool bike that he totalled Christmas morning 1970 nor would he dance around the Christmas tree hand-in-hand with his Danish cousins singing traditional Christmas folk songs as he did growing up…at least I hoped he wasn’t…

Well, nineteen years and gallons of Tom and Jerrys later, I am happy to report that there is no shortage of Christmas tradition in the Christensen household. It seems that every year has seen the addition of a new “must do” lest the season not be merry. Gingerbread houses, candy cane cookies, Christmas card collages, our favorite Christmas morning wakeup song (blared by Charlie off of our beloved Stars Come Out for Christmas CD that I got free with the purchase of two Burrito Supremes and a Sprite)…ah yes, tradition is rich at Casa Christensen.

In recent years, we’ve decided to share the homespun Yuletide love with our friends in business as well. Could we order up a few Harry and David gift baskets and call it a day…sure…but where would the fun be for Donna in that? Could we have cards printed and send them off with computer-generated labels…you bet…but what else would Donna have to ponder as she drifted off to sleep if she couldn’t obsess over what sweet treat to make, what color ribbon to choose and how to create an original label on my dinosaur of a desktop complete with CWC logo?

Yes, I have issues…welcome to the twisted mass of blinking Christmas lights that is my brain from November 27-December 25!

This year’s treat of choice resulted in two weeks of chewy, chocolaty, caramel craziness. The recipe sounded easy enough (Chocolate Caramels with Sea Salt).

Now, I’ve made plenty of caramels in my day but I guess I forgot that every batch tends to turn out wildly different than the next and that no manner of ingredient, time and/or temperature control would produce consistent results. The taste was consistent, I must say, so I had that going for me, but one batch would be gooey and the next chewy as can be...go figure!

So, if you are one of the honored recipients of this year’s CWC treat we hope you enjoy them no matter what…chill them if they’re gooey (they’re perfect cold) and eat them at room temp of they’re chewy...if you chill them, you’ll break a tooth. I think they’re good both ways. If you choose to make them yourself, just go with the flow and enjoy them no matter what. Buy more ingredients than you need and expect to keep the less than perfect batch for yourself if you are planning on giving them as gifts.

Here’s what I started with.

My friend brought this cool salt back from Bali for me.

This is what the caramel looks like before and after it reaches the right color.

This is the perfect pan to pour your molten mixture into…see how I prepared it with parchment…this is important!

Use a greased knife to cut them into 1” squares and wrap them in waxed paper. Check out these special wrappers I bought at Cake Art…isn’t the package awesome…out of the 50’s!

Here’s how I packaged them…

Chocolate Caramels
with Sea Salt

Heat until just bubbling

  • 2 cups heavy cream
Remove from heat, add to saucepan and stir until melted

  • 10.5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
In a separate heavy saucepan mix and melt over moderate heat

  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ tsp salt
Continue to boil caramel over moderate heat swirling from time to time until it is golden in color. Add chocolate and cream mixture to the caramel pot (it will really bubble up, don’t fear), stir and continue to boil until candy thermometer reaches 255 degrees. This is the tricky part…watch it…it changes temperature quickly.

Also, the consistency should feel somewhat thick but not blobby…remember, it will set up a lot when cooled. It is so hard to judge by consistency and candy thermometers aren’t always accurate. Another way to check is to drop a blob into a glass of ice water, pull it out and feel the consistency. It should set up like caramel, not too runny and not hard like a Tootsie Roll.

Stir in

  • 1 ½ Tbs unsalted butter
Immediately pour into a parchment-lined 8 x8 inch metal baking pan. Let caramel stand 10-15 minutes then sprinkle with

  • 2 Tbs flaky sea salt
Cool completely then invert onto a clean parchment-lined cutting board. Flip right side up and cut with a greased sharp knife into 1" squares.

Caramels keep wrapped tightly in a cool place two weeks.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine December 2006