Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.
Cow Tales were a special treat for me as a kid. On Mondays, my mom drove an hour outside our hometown to plant me in front of a piano and a ticking metronome for lessons. The one thing I looked forward to on that day was a stop at the only mini mart between these two very rural areas. There, they sold my favorite candy – or rather, my reward for sitting still for so long.
For those not familiar, Cow Tales (not Cow Tails) are 8-inch lengths of soft caramel filled with vanilla cream. They’ve been around as long as I can remember (and even longer -- the company that makes them was founded in 1895!), and even though this homemade version is better suited to my adult palate, the original candy will always hold a special place in my heart .
This recipe makes a rather large batch, so enlisting some help from a friend or family member is a good idea. Just be sure to reward their efforts with candy.
Makes 45 to 50 eight-inch-long candies
Zip-top bag or disposable pastry bag
Parchment paper or wax paper
1 cup clear or "light" corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream, divided
2 cups white granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, unsalted, cut into 8 cubes
Extra butter for buttering pans
5 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 ounce packet of unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup water
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Generously butter two 10x15 jelly roll pans. Larger pans will work, too, but smaller ones won't. Place the pans on cooling racks.
In a large saucepan over medium heat combine the corn syrup, a cup of heavy cream, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a bubble, about 10 to 12 minutes. Once the mixture boils, very slowly add the remaining heavy cream. Keep stirring, making sure not to disrupt the boil. Once all the cream is added, lower the heat to medium-low, and let the mixture bubble for 6 minutes. Then add the butter, 2 to 3 cubes at a time, and mix until melted.
Insert your candy thermometer and let the mixture bubble until it reaches 250 degrees; this will take a good 30 to 40 minutes. Do not rush the process by turning up the heat -- now is the time that the caramel develops its beautiful amber color.
Once the thermometer reads 250, remove the pan from heat. Divide the caramel evenly between the two jelly roll pans and let it cool. While you're waiting, make the cream filling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together sugar, shortening, and vanilla. The mixture will be dry and crumbly and you'll probably wonder if you've done something wrong, but keep going -- you’re on the right track. Stop the mixer and scrape down the edges several times. Place 1/4 cup water in a small bowl and sprinkle in the gelatin. Let stand until absorbed, and then microwave for 10 seconds. Add this to the sugar mixture; it will soften and become thick and doughy. Mix the heck out of it until it starts climbing the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the sides (and bottom, especially if using a Kitchen Aid) and mix again. Place some dough in a disposable pastry bag or zip-top bag with the corner snipped. Make sure the hole is big enough to pipe a nice thick line of filling -- at least 1/4 inch. Set aside.
Note: Cover the remaining cream filling with a damp towel so that it doesn't dry out.
Lay out several sheets of parchment or wax paper on a work surface. Remove caramel from one of the pans and place on your work surface. It should release easily if you lift one corner and peel the entire slab of caramel away from the buttered pan. Cover the caramel with additional wax paper and roll it a little thinner with a rolling pin. Try to achieve an even thickness.
Remove paper and cut caramel into long strips, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide. Pipe a line of cream filling down one long side of the caramel strip.
Roll the cream filling into the caramel; the caramel will fold over easily and overlap. Roll and gently stretch it into a 16-inch length, then cut it into two 8-inch pieces.
Tip: The caramel rope will squeeze together when you cut it, making the ends flat. You can either squeeze it back the other way to make a round end, or refrigerate the candy for a few minutes before cutting. Once chilled, the ends will snap off evenly when cut with a sharp knife.
Repeat with remaining caramel and filling. This will take some time, as there is a lot of candy to work with.
Roll the candy in powdered sugar and dust off the excess. Wrap each candy in a layer of plastic wrap, then in a length of wax paper with the ends twisted. Most importantly, be sure to share.
Photos by Heather Baird