Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Try this at home

Caramels, specifically Ina Garten's sea salt caramels, have been on my To-Make list for a long time. It was a great way to spend the morning, interspersed with working on decorating a gingerbread house.

First, boil a little water, corn syrup and water.

Wait until it gets "a warm golden brown." That was the worst part of the recipe...what does that mean? I let it get much darker than this...but I wouldn't dare take my eye off of it by that stage to take a picture! Sugar is NOT forgiving.

Then add warmed cream with melted butter and a little salt. It bubbles up like lava...lovely smelling lava.

Then cook until it reaches the firm ball stage. Candy thermometer required, and since you can buy them at the grocery store for $5, I don't resent that at all.

And then pour into a parchment lined pan and cool. Be wary of licking any drips until it cools down...because 248 degree sugar does NOT taste good, no matter how much cream or butter is added. Sadly, I speak from experience.

Sprinkle with flaked salt and cut into squares. Wrap in parchment to make pretty little bundles. Perfect for giving away as Christmas gifts. I've already made caramel popcorn and chocolate dipped-marshmallows to give away to friends, Russian tea cakes and dark chocolate truffles to give to co-workers, so I suppose I'll save these for actual Christmas gifts for family.

I made two separate batches. The first batch turned out a little crunchy. Perhaps I let the sugar syrup get too brown before adding the cream or put it too early in the fridge. I didn't intentionally do anything different with the second batch, but I did boil it a few degrees past firm ball (accidentally) after adding the cream and waited until it was really cool to put in the fridge. Maybe it shouldn’t be put in there at all.

I dipped the crunchy ones halfway in chocolate, as compensation for the texture! The second batch was gloriously soft and chewy, easy to cut after a short while in the fridge. Wonderful.

Ina Garten's Fleur De Sel Caramels

• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
• 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan (or loaf pan) with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides.

In a deep saucepan (6 inches diameter by 4 1/2 inches deep) combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. Don't stir - just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!

In the meantime, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.

When the caramelized sugar is a warm golden brown color, slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel - it will boil up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it's hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.

When the caramels are cool, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel, cut into 24 pieces. Cut parchment papers in 6 by 4 1/2-inch squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

My 2nd annual gingerbread house. I am not a decorator...but I throughly enjoyed the process. Hopefully, it will not suffer the same fate as the last one...slowly picked bald by a scavenging husband. An electric fence may be erected around this one, if necessary.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

White Rock (Half) Marathon

Last weekend, Casey and I ran in the White Rock Half and Full Marathon. I did the Half, not very quickly, as running while 5 1/2 months pregnant makes frequent potty-o-let stops necessary, but I was just happy that I was able to be out there and still running.My dad came out to watch us, which was really fun. I also saw a few friends running or spectating too, which was really fun. I love that people brave the cold to stand out there and cheer.

Casey did the full marathon and had a great race with a really good time, 3:36.

In other news, the baby is doing great. I feel him move all the time now, which is really fun. It's like a little "Hi, mom" each time I feel him. It's so much more concrete now that we know the gender and can call him by name. We've got the baby room all cleaned out and the crib is up, even though that's about all we have. I went with my friend, Amy, to Babies R Us, so she could tell me what I need to to register for...and what to do with it! Seriously, it's a huge learning curve. Casey's actually been doing a lot of reading and research too, like on monitors and furniture, which has been awesome. He was the one pushing to get the baby room cleaned out, but we even ended up cleaning up the other two extra rooms, donating/chunking a lot of stuff, and putting other things on Craigslist. It's awesome getting rid of the clutter.

I've also been baking too. I got an early Christmas present from dad of a new mixer and immediately made Russian Tea Cakes and yesterday I made some Dark Chocolate Truffles and Swirled White/Milk Chocolate Bark, most of which will go to school as gifts or for Christmas parties.

There's just one more week of school before Christmas break, and the last day is the Faculty talent show...so really just four days of teaching...and on Thursday I'm giving a test...and reviewing on Wednesday...so really just two more days of active teaching until Christmas break. Can you tell I'm ready? I love the holidays and can't wait for more time to bake! :-)