Growing up, Christmas meant helping my mom make candy. Tons and tons of chocolate dipped fondants and such that we would give away to friends and relatives. And eat, of course. One of my favorites was the caramels.
This is, to my mind, the most perfect caramel candy around. It's soft, and buttery, not hard like the stuff you buy in stores. There's a purity to it, perfect for Christmas.
3 cups whipping cream
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla
Grease a 9 inch x 13 inch pan with butter, and set aside.
Heat the cream and sweetened condensed milk in a double boiler until it starts to steam. If you don't have a double boiler, place a pan of water on the stove, and put another one on top.
Add 1/ 2 cup of sugar and 1 /2 cup corn syrup and bring to boil. Add the remaining sugar and corn syrup, 1 /2 cup at a time, returning the mixture to a boil between additions. Add the vanilla and slowly boil for about 40 minutes, stirring constantly, to about 240 degrees Fahrenheit (if you have a candy thermometer) or to the “soft ball” stage.
You can test if the candy for readiness this way. Working quickly, drop a few drops of the hot mixture int a cup of cold water. With your fingers form the drops into a ball (don't burn yourself). When the ball of candy is removed from the water with your finger, it should quickly flatten and start to run off. Continue checking the candy every two or three minutes until it reaches the proper consistency.
Pour the mixture into the greased pan and let it cool before putting it in the refrigerator overnight. Using a table knife, remove the caramel from the pan to a cutting board. Grease a sharp and heavy knife, cutting the caramel into 1 inch pieces. Wrap each piece in a small bit of wax paper and put in boxes as gifts.
NOTE: Don't skimp of the cooking time or it won't set up. Don't try rushing the cooking time, either. You don't want it to burn. Don't try doubling the recipe, either. Cooking it in two batches will give better results. If it doesn't set up well, you can return it to the double boiler, add a couple of tablespoons of cream, and recook it.
Another great way to prepare these caramels is to dip them in melted chocolate before, or instead of, wrapping them.