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Homemade Caramels (Black Licorice and Vanilla varieties)

Posted Apr 27 2009 11:42pm
My mother is an amazing cook. And she's very resourceful. When she tastes something she likes, she figures out how to make it. I like to think I got this trait from her. Often the excitement of going to a restaurant is in trying to recreate the wonderful meal again at home. A few years back my father found some Black Licorice Caramels at the store that he loved, but were fairly expensive. My mom decided that she's just have to figure out how to make them herself, and, of course, she did. Sometimes people don't like the flavor of the anise oil (or simply can't find it) and would like to have some variety. I, personally, always want variety. So you can make up the recipe, then split it in half and flavor some with the anise oil, and others simply with vanilla, or a favorite of mine, rum extract, for other flavors. This recipe will make one 9x13 pan of the same flavored caramels, or two 8x8 pans of varied flavors.

1 cup butter
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp or more black food coloring (my mother uses the paste kind, I use a liquid)
1 tsp anise oil (this is usually found in pharmacies, don't ask me why)

Coat the sides of a heavy saucepan with some of the butter. Add condensed milk, corn syrup, salt, sugar and remaining butter to pan. Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until it reaches 244 degrees (at sea level, which is essentially where I'm at, my mother in Utah goes to 230-234 degrees) on candy thermometer (medium-firm ball stage in candymaking). This can be the trickiest stage for me because I'm no pro candymaker. If you don't let the mixture get hot enough, it'll be too soft, if you let it get too hot, it will be too hard. So, if you want a softer caramel, err on the side of a lower temperature, if you want it firmer, err on the side of too hot.
Remove from heat and divide up if you want to try multiple flavors. For vanilla caramels (I think it's obvious which are which) simply add about a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, or to taste. Then for the licorice caramels, (the black pictured above) add about 1 tsp anise oil (you can use anise extract, it just takes a lot more) then taste the mixture, and add more if you like. Then add about a teaspoon black food coloring, or until it gets a nice dark, sludgy kind of color. Blend well. Pour into well greased pans. Cool. Cut and wrpa in wax paper squares. I tried to include this to give you an idea of the size of wax paper needed for a small. long caramel. This picture also brings up another point. See those dark flecks in my caramel? I was impatient and tried to cook them on a medium-high heat instead of sticking to medium, that brown the sugars on the bottom faster, and left these little burned flecks in my caramels, you didn't really notice them in the taste, but it's best to take your time, and cook on a medium heat so that everything gets heated through evenly and nothing burns.
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