I’m struggling to process the fact that it’s December. I mean where on earth did 2010 go? It has been, without a doubt, the craziest, busiest, most fabulous and rewarding year of my life and has absolutely flown by. Now it’s time to think about Christmas shopping and New Year’s plans.This year I decided to get a head start on my Christmas baking. I always have the best of intentions and lots of ideas but run out of time to actually make them during the ever-busy festive season.
Over the weekend, I tried my hand at making candy with these gorgeous caramels, based on a recipe from Alice Medrich’s fabulous book Pure Dessert. This recipe was actually an optional part of a Daring Bakers challenge a few years ago, which I didn’t make at the time, but kept on file for future reference. And what a lovely recipe it is! I decided to infuse them with French Earl Grey tea leaves for an interesting twist, which worked really well.
Wrapped in wax paper or cellophane, these caramels would make beautiful Christmas gifts and you can get really creative with flavours to infuse into the cream, perhaps vanilla bean, ginger, lavender or something more unique like chilli or lemon myrtle. Use your imagination!
Making caramel is a little bit scary for many people as it can cause some very nasty burns, but as long as you have a candy thermometer, a large saucepan, a fair bit of patience and take a few simple precautions, it’s actually quite easy. I chose to make a softer chewy caramel, however next time I would probably try heating to a just few degrees higher for a slightly firmer candy.
So tell me, what edible gift would you love to receive this Christmas?
Earl Grey Caramels
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
Makes 80 1-inch caramels
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 3 tablespoons loose leaf Earl Grey tea
• 1 cup golden syrup
• 2 cups sugar
• ¼ teaspoon fine seat salt, preferably fleur de sel
• 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened
Add the Earl Grey tea to the cream and allow to infuse for at least 2 hours. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminium foil and grease the foil.
Combine the golden syrup, sugar and salt in a large, heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes (meanwhile rinse spatula or spoon before using it again). Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom, and cook, uncovered without stirring, until the mixture reaches 150°C (305°F).
Meanwhile, put the tea infused cream in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.
When the sugar mixture reaches 150°C, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream through a strainer to separate the tea leaves. It will bubble up and steam dramatically so be careful. Turn the heat back on and adjust so the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally to about 120°C (245°F). Then cook, stirring constantly to 125°C (260°F) for soft chewy caramels or 130°C (265°F) for firmer, chewy caramels.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4-5 hours or overnight until firm. Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Sprinkle with more salt, if desired, pressing in to the caramel. Cut caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.