One of the things I'm beginning to love about the holidays is the freedom to unapologetically retreat for hours at a time to the kitchen. Today I'm preparing a rich vegetable stock with roasted vegetables and dry red wine. Tomorrow I'll use that stock for a hearty vegetarian shepherd's pie to take to a friend's house for dinner. Yesterday, though… Yesterday was a great day for caramels. Cold, rainy, and cloudy — really, what else is there do on a day like that? Cue favorite Good Will Hunting quote:
Maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.
I've made caramel before, but never with any success. It has always been a miserable fruitless endeavor that ended in a sticky mess of liquid brown stuff. Sure, it tasted alright, but it didn't look like the pictures! (And that matters, okay?)
Yesterday I gave it another go. Vance's family has a long history of making Christmas cookies and candies together. In an attempt to find some sweets we'd both enjoy to continue that tradition, I landed on a recipe for caramels. I pulled out all the stops — got out the biggest pot, the best quality local and organic ingredients, and (the key tool I was always missing in the past) a candy thermometer. I also set aside the whole afternoon, as everything I'd read told me it would take two hours of continuous stirring to get it right.
Miraculously, I ended up spending "only" one hour stirring, 15 minutes of which was taken care of by the wonderful husband. Caramels truly are a labor of love. The more love you put into them, the better they'll taste.
I'll give you one piece of advice about making caramels: Do it in the largest, heaviest pot you can find. You want a pot that heats evenly and holds more than three times the volume of liquid called for in the recipe. At its highest boil, your pot will most assuredly overflow if you pick a pot that holds any less (speaking from experience). Okay, here's another piece of advice (free of charge!): don't ever walk away from the pot. Grab a stool, turn on some Cooking Channel, and keep on stirring.