We're in full Christmas mode here at the Clawson's. The bakery is going crazy, the snow has fallen, and it's time to create a little Christmas at home. First order of business is Licorice Caramels. This is one of those traditions that came from my mom. We spent family night last night wrapping all the tasty little nuggets of black caramel to give to our favorite people. Actually they may never make it to friends and neighbors. We might just eat them all.
Last Sat. we had a full day of activities, but there was one quiet touching moment that I wanted to share. My daughter had a violin recital at a local nursing home. I don't really love going to nursing homes. When I was little my grandma great (that's what we always called her) lived in a nursing home. I remember walking down the halls every week with my mom as she went to put my grandma great's hair up in pin curls. The old people would just stare at you blankly and it was a little scary for me. Ever since I just don't feel real comfortable at nursing homes. The recital was beautiful though. Some older folks listened quietly with soft smiles, and others I'm not sure knew what was going on, but the kids did fabulous and shared their talents with others.
There was one little man in a wheel chair who's wife came to visit him during the recital. She walked up to him and gave him a gentle kiss on the head, and leaned down to whisper something in his ear. Then she grabbed his hand softly and placed a handful of homemade caramels wrapped in waxed paper. I'm sure they were his favorite Christmas treat. We watched as he tried to open the little wrapped gifts. He had a hard time, but I'm sure he loved each and every caramel. I thought it was such a sweet moment between this older couple. She was still doting on her husband with his favorite things. I grabbed James' arm and told him that when he is in a home I'd bring him licorice caramels every Christmas and sit with him as he ate each one. We laughed at the thought of what too many licorice caramels would do to an old mans system. It's kind of like eating too many beets. You sometimes think your bleeding to death. Well too many licorice caramels will do the same thing. Only a lovely blue tint. Gross, but true.
Now I am not a black licorice fan. In fact I hate black licorice, but I love these caramels. I don't know why that is, but it's true. This is an easy recipe, and you can adjust it to make other kinds of caramels too. You can leave out the black food coloring, and anise flavoring and just have naked caramels, or you can add some chocolate chips at the end and make chocolate caramels. Anyway you do it, it will taste lovely.
1 c. butter (Yep 2 whole sticks)
1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/4 t. salt
2 c. sugar
3/4 t. black food coloring
3/4 t. anise oil or anise flavoring
Slowly melt butter in heavy, large pan. Use fork to swirl butter up sides of the pant to prevent sugar crystals. When melted, add the rest of the ingredients, except food coloring and flavoring. Turn heat to medium high, cook and stir constantly with a flat bottom wooden spoon. (Don't cook on high and stir constantly. It burns quickly and easily. I usually scorch the bottom of the pan and there will be dark brown chunks floating everywhere. As long as they're not black chunks, you should be ok.) Cook to softball stage. For me that is 232' F. I live at 4800 ft. above sea level. Check your thermometer and altitude and adjust accordingly. Remove from heat and add the black coloring, and anise flavoring. Mix until combined thoroughly. Pour into a greased 9x13 inch pan. Let set overnight in a cool place. Cut into squared and wrap in waxed paper. For chocolate caramels add about 1/4 c. semi sweet chocolate chips after you've removed the caramel from the heat. Good Luck!