Friday, April 30, 2010

Don't mess with tradition

I love May Day. I know it doesn't get celebrated a whole lot any more, but it is actually was one of my favorite holidays as a child. While growing up, my siblings and I would run across the field to Grandma's house on May Day to bring her a bouquet of lilacs in a homemade basket of sorts. We would ring the doorbell, leave the basket, and then run as fast as we could to hide. Of course we actually wanted her to find us so she would invite us in for a snack. (which is of course the best reason for going to Grandma's house) So much fun!

And every year my Mom would make caramels for May Day. I really have no idea why. She would make them while we were at school and then a little cup made into a basket with a pipe cleaner handle filled with caramels would be at our place at the breakfast table. Now every May day I crave homemade vanilla (completely unhealthy) caramels. I can't be sneaky about making the caramels, because my children are at home with me, but that's okay. Once you've had a homemade caramel you will think you are in heaven.

This year I tried to alter the recipe. I prefer not to use corn syrup so I tried to sub 1 1/4 c. sugar and an additional 1/4 c. of milk for each cup of corn syrup. It didn't work at all. The caramels tasted okay, but they had a yucky, sugary texture that just is not right. So I made them again following the recipe. I shouldn't try to mess with a good thing-a lesson learned the hard way.

Making Caramels is a labor of love for sure. I actually don't know if anyone in their right mind would want to attempt them, (I'm clearly NOT in my right mind), but I thought I would share how I made them anyway. Caramels are not hard to make, but you need a ton of patience. Maybe even more than a ton.

Chop the nuts as fine as you like. We used walnuts, but any nut you like would be just fine.

Add the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and evaporated milk to the pot and get out your candy thermometer because it will be your best friend for the next hour or so. Cook over high heat to 210º. Lower your heat and stir.

The first part goes rather quickly and you may think "Ha! This is going along just swimmingly", but be warned that it plateaus around 215º and won't budge for a long, long time. I think it took me about 45 minutes. I called my sister while I was stuck by the stove stirring and that helped the time go by a little faster.

I know, I know, I'm a crazy woman for doing this, but its tradition! What else could I do??? Plus, they are just amazingly good.

Make sure the pot you use is fairly big because as it boils it will want to boil over. Eventually it will condense down and thicken up, but right at the beginning it will want to boil over. Just continue to stir and turn down the heat.

Approximately an hour to an hour and twenty minutes after you started the caramels finally reach 244º. Turn off the heat and then add vanilla and your chopped nuts stirring quickly until it is all mixed in. The alcohol in the vanilla will cause some rapid bubbling as it burns off, but don't worry as long as your burner is turned off you'll be fine. (You did turn it off right???? Very important unless you want to have a flambe')

Pour the caramel mixture into a prepared 9 x 13 inch pan lined with parchment that sticks up over the edges. When it is cool you will be able to lift it easily out using the parchment onto a cutting board.

Cut up the caramels and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap.

Vanilla Caramels
2 c. sugar
2 sticks butter
1 3/4 c. corn syrup
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can of evaporated milk
1 1/2 T. of vanilla
1 c. chopped nuts

Combine first four ingredients; cook over high heat until 210º. Reduce heat and stir constantly to 244º(this takes a long, long time-hang in there). Remove from heat; add vanilla and nuts then stir vigorously. Pour into a parchment lined 9 x 13" pan and let cool. Turn out onto a cutting board and cut into small pieces. Wrap in waxed paper. Makes approx. 2 pounds.

If you need May Day basket ideas, Skip to my Lou has a lot of cute ones.

Oh, and I also wanted to tell you that I'm planning a give-away the beginning of next week so make sure you stop by again then.

Happy May Day and have a wonderful weekend.

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