a saved a few to eat, then gave the other 70 away to happy friends

I saved a few to eat, then gave the other 70 away to happy friends

I love Berkeley.  Right now the university is in uproar over student fee hikes, staff layoffs and the future of the school.  I keep reminding myself that there is a mini sanctuary where I can catch my breath.  A small section of the Valley Life Sciences Library is dedicated to cookbooks.  Lots of cookbooks—from many cultures, languages (there are tomes in Arabic) and styles.  When I have an awkward break between classes or I don’t want someone to see me ditching the picket lines, I come to the cookbooks, sit down on the library floor and salivate.

A week ago I came upon Alice Medrich’s book called Pure Dessert.  Its clean, modern and casual style attracted me—the inviting pictures sold me.  Especially the one of gleaming, creamy caramels.

Caramels are probably my favorite candy.  Growing up in suburbia, I thought the little cubes of caramel sold in huge bins at Long’s were the best caramels ever.  Now I realize that those were chalky, artificial imposters compared to homemade caramels.

However, caramel seemed daunting to me.  Thermometers??  Exact temperatures?? Are we in chem lab or something?  So I’ve always wanted to make them and finally Alice’s picture and simple recipe gave me the courage.

I consulted the great Joy of Cooking to see what it said about caramels.  The most important piece of advice was to prepare everything you need ahead of time.  Since I cooked these beauties in a fraternity kitchen, I took extra care in cleaning the interesting smelling pastry brush and  found a lid that kind of fit a pot.  Read through the recipe a few times before you start.  Vigilantly watch the temperature rise on the thermometer.  You will be fine, you can do it.

Actually, the most time consuming part of the process was wrapping all these little guys in wax paper.  High excitement.  My advice:  put pandora on and get some friends together to help you wrap them, it will be less painful.

Honey caramels

Recipe from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

Makes 80 1-inch caramels

For more delicate honeys, increase the honey to 1/3 cup and ruduce the corn cyrup to 2/3 cup.


2 cups (8 ounces) broken or coarsely chopped walnut pieces (optional and I used pecans because that is what I had)

3/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup honey

2 cups sugar

3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


a 9 inch square baking pan

candy thermometer


Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil.  If using the walnuts, spread them in the prepared pan.  Set aside.

Combine the corn syrup, honey, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture simmers around the edges.  Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.  Cover and cook for 3 minutes.  ( Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon for use again later.)  Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more.  Attach the candy thermometer to the saucepan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered, without stirring until the mixture reaches 305°F.

Meanwhile, heat the cream in a small saucepan until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan.  Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture is at 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks.  Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically.  Turn the burner back on and adjust so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently.  Stir until smooth.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F.  Then cook, stirring constantly, to 248°F for soft chewy caramels or 250°F for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour the caramel into the lined pan.  Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight, until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper.  Peel off the liner and turn the caramel right side up.  Cut the caramel into 1 inch squares, skinny bars, or any shape desired.  Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

you really can't just eat one

you really can't just eat one