When we think Valentines day and candy, we usually think chocolate. Not a bad choice, considering. Good chocolate is rich, silky and sensual. Other kinds of candy can work, too. Almond Caramels, for example.
My daughter, Writer Girl, made a bunch of them yesterday. This was the first time she'd ever tried to make candy, and I think she did a fantastic job. She did accidentally put twice as much sugar in as the original recipe called for, and conveniently forgot to put in the almonds (the poor, deranged girl doesn't like almonds). They were still tasty caramels, if a bit gritter than normal.
I love almonds, so here's the recipe I use.
8 inch square baking pan
candy thermometer (optional)
1/4 cup butter
Additional butter, as needed, to grease the pan
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 cup toasted, chopped almonds
Line the inside of an 8 inch square baking pan with foil. Put one layer of foil lengthwise, and anther layer, top to bottom. This will create a “sling” that will make removing the caramel much easier. Grease the foil generously with butter, and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/4 cup butter. (Don't use margarine for this, please. It's not good!) Bring slowly to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning the sugar. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 4 minutes, without stirring.
Remove from the heat. Slowly add the cream, stirring constantly until incorporated. Return to the heat and cook, without stirring, over medium low heat until the candy thermometer* reads 245 degrees Fahrenheit. This can take anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes.
Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, almond extract (if using), and chopped almonds. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Take you time with this to avoid scraping the sides of the saucepan. (It just makes a mess. Trust me.) Let it cool completely.
Lift the caramel out of the pan with the foil “sling.” Discard the foil and cut the caramel into 1 1/2 inch squares. Wrap individually in wax paper or foil. I find that spraying the side of the foil that contacts the candy with cooking spray makes them easier to remove.
Makes 3 - 4 dozen candies to share with family, friends, and sweethearts.
You can substitute the almonds with almost any favorite crushed nut. Walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts come to mind.
*Firm Ball Stage
If you don't have a candy thermometer, you're going to cook it to the “firm ball” stage. Start testing at about 30 minutes. Working quickly, dip a teaspoon into the hot mixture and drop a few drops into a cup of very cold water (not icy). With your fingers, form the drops into a ball and remove from the water. When it's firm enough to hold it's shape, but soon starts to flatten at room temperature, you've reached the firm ball stage. If it instantly flattens, cook it a little longer. If it doesn't flatten until you press it, you've gone too far.