I’m about to divulge my secret recipe … the one that has men fighting over the gallon-sized baggie holding these little treasures, and women hinting that they could eat another, and children sneaking their hands up over the counter and grabbing another gooey handful. Yes. It’s my licorice caramel recipe.
I’ve had it forever. I started making it about three minutes after I found it. For the life of me, I can’t remember where I got it, and I’m sorry for that. I would love to give credit where credit is due, but I just don’t know where I got the recipe.
Now, people have asked me for this recipe, and I’ve always had to decline. It’s not that I didn’t want to give it to them, it’s that I couldn’t figure out how to tell them the “how to’s.” That’s because I lost the original recipe somewhere along the way, and although I scribbled down the remembered list of ingredients, I had to rely on my instinct to do the actual cooking. The original recipe listed degrees, as in “cook until ____ degrees.” I couldn’t remember what that was, but I wasn’t worried, because I’d made these so many times, I could tell by the look of the caramel exactly when it was ready. Exactly. And how does that translate in a shared recipe?
I don’t use a thermometer. For one, I wasn’t sure what the original recipe told me to watch for, and secondly, I have a great distrust of candy thermometers in general. I’ve probably owned seven candy thermometers in my life, and none of them were dependable. Every time I relied on a thermometer and not my instinct, the candy was ruined. So I skip all that, “Cook until ______ degrees” stuff and I just cook until it looks like caramel.
Some dear friends (Hi, Ron and Jenny!) asked for the recipe a few years back. I told them, apologetically, “I could give you the recipe, but I’d have to stand over you and tell you how to cook it.” I decided it was time to figure out how to explain how to do that. I could say, “Cook it until the bubbles slow down … pause … and everything seems to shift in viscosity, and you just sense that caramel is in the making.” And I could add, “That usually happens about minute 9 on my gas stove top, in that one pan I always use for this recipe,” but how is that supposed to help someone with an electric stove, who doesn’t have my exact pan?
I wanted to make a batch of this candy for my Uncle Doug, who loves it like almost every man I’ve ever met. I owed it to him. (And he told me as much.) You see, I borrowed some books-on-cassette from him two years ago … and even signed his homemade library card as evidence … and then completely forgot to return them. No librarian ever came close to the disapproval he attempted in his message this week. “We will have to take legal action if the aforementioned items are not returned to the Douglas Kristiansen library a.s.a.p.”
He’s one of my favorite people on earth. So after I admonished him for not having a Facebook account, which would have greatly facilitated his “past due” reminders, I promised to return his books-on-cassette within the week, and pay my fine in the licorice caramels he loves so much. And as long as I was making a batch, I decided to figure a way to explain it to you (and Ron and Jenny).
So here we go. Try it out now, and then tuck it away to make again at Christmas. Because everyone on your list is going to want some of these. Even licorice-haters
like love these caramels.
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup corn syrup
- dash of salt (maybe 1/4 tsp)
- 1 1/2 tsp anise extract
- black paste food coloring–enough to turn it black
In a heavy, thick-bottomed medium-sized pan, melt the butter, then add the sugar, condensed milk, corn syrup and salt. I looked up a lot of caramel recipes to get some exact temperatures for this, and noted that most of them said to let this mixture cook without stirring. That just seems silly to me. Every batch of caramels I’ve made came about with me standing over the stove, constantly stirring the ingredients while they boiled away. So my suggestion is that you get a big wooden spoon and stand there and stir.
Let the mixture come to a boil, and stir continuously. For me, I know at about minute 9 (on a gas stovetop) that I’m getting close. I wait for a “pause,” which never fails me. But according to the recipes I researched, there’s another way to test this. As soon as you are able to drop a little bit of the caramel mixture in a glass of cold water, reach in, pick up the blob, and form a soft but pliable ball out of it, you’ve reached the “caramel stage.”
This is what the caramel looked like in the pan at this point:
For the sake of this blog, I followed their advice and stopped the cooking a tad before I normally would, because I had reached this “caramel stage” already. But the resulting caramel was softer than I like. So my advice to you would be to do as instructed, and then let it cook for another minute before you shut off the heat. I like my caramels soft, but with body. There’s nothing wrong with soft caramels, but if you give it just another minute more, it has a better chew.
Once you reach the desired stage (about 9 minutes, in my experience), add the anise extract and a dab of black paste food coloring. If you’ve never used it before, you’ll be shocked at how little you need. A very little bit turns brown caramel into black.
Over the years, I’ve developed a fool-proof pouring system. I line my 15 x 9 jelly roll pan with the silicone baking mat I found at the Marysville Outlet (but the link will lead you to Amazon) I cut to fit. Then I add a couple of cans of veggies to either end, and fold up the sheet so that it’s about 9 x 9 in size.
Pour the caramel mixture onto your silicone sheet OR your buttered foil, and find something to do for two hours (I suggest playing Dutch Blitz with your seventeen-year old daughter). It takes about that long for the caramel mixture to firm up enough to cut.
When ready, move the caramel block (it will be in a block) to a surface that’s safe for cutting, and begin cutting strips that you can turn into blocks. I think an inch is plenty wide for these strips. These are usually pliable enough that you can fix any knife-marks and round off the corners that would be otherwise very unappetizing. 🙂
For wrapping, I pull out a big blob of waxed paper, cut it in half, cut those halves in half again, and cut those strips in 3-4 inch pieces, depending on how large I want my caramels.
To wrap, place a caramel on a sheet of waxed paper, fold up the bottom, and then the top, and twist the two ends in opposite directions. And that’s it!
Of course, I can’t insist that you wrap your caramels. Maybe you want to leave it in a giant pile, and just twist off luscious pieces as you go. I’ll leave that up to you.
And here are a few pictures of my visit to Uncle Doug (and his garden):
The best corn I’ve had in a very long time. He was right. Five minutes was just enough time to cook it to perfection.
This belonged to my grandpa.
Gardener’s log …
The enemy of all Washington gardeners: the slug.
So glad you’re my Unckie 🙂