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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

the unexpected caramel recipe

Sometimes the things you plan so precisely for don't turn out exactly as you expect them to, like this toffee.

It was supposed to be soft, chewy caramel but instead what I got was hard, crunchy, salty toffee and it turns out that this was even better than what I had imagined. You plan so carefully then things take off in a whole new direction.  Funny how that happens, sometimes in life, isn't it?!

Last week I decided I would make caramels for holiday gifts. I scoured the internet for the perfect recipe and settled on Martha's Stewart's recipe for Classic Caramel Candies. I spent an afternoon at Michael's choosing the exact color of candy wrappers (silver), the bags for the the candy (clear pouches) and the ribbon--Happygirl aqua (of course). I also picked up a candy thermometer and  ingredients at the market.

The following morning I turned on a little James Taylor Christmas music and prepared the kitchen for my first attempt at candy making. The recipe looked easy enough and so I followed the directions precisely, boiling and simmering the creamy, sugary mixture until it turned into the distinct gorgeous caramel color. When it reached about 248 degrees (following directions) I removed it from the stovetop and poured the beautiful golden mixture into the prepared pan. It sat on the granite counter until I came home later that afternoon.

When I started to remove the caramel from the pan I realized that instead of being soft caramel, the sugary mixture had become hard, like a block of ice. Ruined. I called two friends who are expert chefs and both said "Well, once it reaches this stage you can't bring it back to being soft. What's done is done." I followed the directions exactly but somehow, something went very wrong.

As I stood there staring at the hard block of candy about to throw it out I tasted a small chip that had come off. It was sublime, the flavor had a creamy depth that reminded me of a warm afternoon by the fire on a cool, drizzly day in London. The taste was a winner but what to do with it? It hit me then that if I smashed it, it would be perfect toffee to eat either as candy or to sprinkle over ice cream. So I grabbed a coffee mug and broke off a chunk of toffee. It was kind of beautiful in this simple state and tasted extraordinary. I chipped the rest of the block and then added the pieces to the bags. They looked beautiful. Simple. Elegant, as if it was supposed to be this way all along.

Maybe I didn't get pretty little soft caramels wrapped into shimmery silver little bon-bons. Instead I got lovely little cellophane bags full of delicate bits of toffee goodness. Sometimes you have to go with it. Life is just full of surprises.

Thanks, Martha.

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