I thought the spices in gingerbread would be lovely in a caramel. To really add to the gingerbread flavor I used molasses instead of corn syrup. Since I was removing the corn syrup from the sugar mixture I used lemon juice to invert (i.e. break) some of the sucrose molecules to help prevent crystallization. It took me several batches to get them to set up well; I needed to cook them about 10º hotter than my other caramel recipes. To add some flavor contrast and texture I added dried tart cherries and candied ginger, something I recommend but leave up to you! The added bonus of making these is that your whole house will smell like the holidays. —hardlikearmour
a lot of caramels
2 cups heavy whipping cream
½ cup light, unsulfured molasses
½ cup unsalted butter
large knob ginger – about 3.5 oz – thinly sliced
15 cardamom pods, crushed with the flat side of a knife
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks, broken into halves
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon allspice berries
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped (optional)
Combine the cream, molasses, butter, and spices and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and remove from heat. Let steep for 45 to 60 minutes, then return to low heat while making the caramelized sugar.
Line a 9-inch square to 9- by 13-inch pan (depending on how thick you want them) with parchment paper, so the paper is only going up 2 opposite sides (essentially forming a sling to remove the caramel with later). Spray with neutral flavored cooking spray. Scatter tart cherries and candied ginger over the bottom of the pan in an even layer.
Combine the sugar, lemon juice and water in a 6- to 8-quart stock pot. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally. Once you can hear it simmering, remove the lid, and increase the heat to medium high. You will need to keep a pretty close eye on the pan, and swirl the pan occasionally. If you are using a candy thermometer you will notice the mixture hovers near the boiling point for a while then starts to climb fairly rapidly. As the mixture approaches 310 degrees F, you will want to start swirling it fairly frequently as caramelization is imminent. Once caramel color is to your liking remove pan from heat. The pan will retain some heat so I like to remove the caramelized sugar mixture from the heat at about 325-330 degrees F, or when it is a golden brown color.
Slowly pour the warm cream mixture through a mesh strainer into the the sugar mixture. It will boil violently and create hot steam, so use caution. I like to wear an oven mitt while stirring until the boiling has settled down. Stir with a wooden spoon until sugar has all dissolved into the cream.
Return caramel mixture to medium to medium-high heat and bring the mixture up to 255-256º F, the middle of the firm ball stage (if you drop about a 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into a bowl of refrigerator cold water it should form a ball, that is not soft but still somewhat malleable.) Stir often, scraping the bottom of the pan. As you get close to your target temperature you may want to turn the heat down to low if you are using a gas stove, or off if you are using electric to slow things down. Your caramels can go from too soft to tooth breaking within a short time frame. You will also want to stir almost continuously as you get close to your target temp to prevent burning.
Remove from heat and quickly stir in vanilla extract. Pour into prepared pan, taking care to minimize disturbance of the cherries and ginger. Allow to cool to room temperature. Use parchment paper "sling" to remove from the pan, then cut caramel into 1-inch squares, or whatever size pieces you prefer. I periodically spray my knife with non-stick spray to help cut the caramels. Wrap individually with waxed paper, and store in an airtight container.
I am an amateur baker and cake decorator. I enjoy cooking, as well as eating and feeding others. I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with my husband and our menagerie. I enjoy outdoor activities including hiking, mushroom hunting, tide pooling, beach combing, and snowboarding.