If you know me, you know I love two things: booze and sugar. Actually I love more than these two things. I love kittens and art history and swing dancing and Arrested Development, among others. But booze and sugar rank pretty high up there. Usually this takes the form of me trying some combination of beer and baked goods, but today it’s come to me (and you!) as bourbon and caramel. Yum.
These candies are super easy to make, festive for the holidays and wonderfully delicious. You can substitute a lot of different flavors if bourbon isn’t really your thing (which would beg the question, why on earth do you not like bourbon??) – try vanilla, orange extract and orange zest, maple, etc. etc. As always, you should play and experiment! But me, I like my bourbon.
Bourbon Caramels (adapted from Sophisticated Pie)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons bourbon (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
- pecans to taste, toasted and chopped
Prepare an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish by lining it with thoroughly buttered parchment paper.
Mix the first six ingredients (all but the bourbon and nuts) in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until boiling, stirring frequently. Once boiling, insert a candy thermometer and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 245 degrees.
I’d actually never made candy before this (though I’ve watched my mom make her ultra-secret peanut brittle for years), so I was surprised at how quickly the pot boiled and, subsequently, how long it took for the pot to reach 245 degrees (a temperature between soft ball and soft crack stage for candy). Don’t be discouraged! It’ll start out looking like this…
Then once it’s boiling it’ll be thin and really effervescent like boiling water…
But later, as the temperature nears what it’s supposed to be, it’ll become thicker and almost foamy looking. I think it took me like 20 minutes to reach this stage.
When the thermometer reads 245 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and gently stir in your bourbon (or other flavoring) and nuts, if you want them in the caramel. Make sure the temperature doesn’t get above 250 degrees, to keep the caramels really soft. When your add-ins are incorporated, pour the caramel into your prepared dish.
I noticed that I didn’t have enough caramel to really fill the baking dish and still maintain a good thickness, so I simply lifted up one end of the parchment paper and kind of folded it where I wanted it to make my caramel about a half inch thick. The butter made the caramel easy to move on the paper, and the stiffness of both the candy and the paper made it easy to adjust the size of my finished product.
This is where you’re supposed to sprinkle on your chopped nuts, if you so desire, but I found that even with very warm caramel the nuts ultimately didn’t stick very well. You can remedy this by either mixing the nuts in the caramel or putting a layer down in the pan before you pour in the candy…or you can just make due. You can also sprinkle more coarse salt onto the caramels if you want.
Let the candy set and cool for a couple hours before cutting. I popped mine into the fridge for about a half hour to make it that much easier, then I used a sharp knife to cut bite-sized pieces.
It turns out wrapping the caramels was the most time-consuming part of this. You can use parchment paper, wax paper, foil or plastic wrap, but I found none of these stayed closed very effectively on their own (even when I tried sealing the plastic wrap with a lighter…all I did was burn my fingers. And actually I didn’t try foil, I didn’t think that’d be very attractive). I found the best solution was to cut a small square of plastic wrap and put it inside a larger square of parchment paper, then twist the ends carefully and tightly in the direction of the fold.
Of course you could also just layer them between parchment paper in an airtight container, or dip them in chocolate (melted with a little bit of oil). I liked the old-fashioned look of wrapped paper though. And then you’re done! You just made candy! They’ll keep for a few days on their own, and I’d tell you how to store them longer but they’ll probably be gone by then anyway. Now don’t you feel fancy?