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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday Traditions and The Best Caramels EVER

With the holiday season fully upon us and the smell of evergreen and hot toddies in the air, it has me waxing nostalgic.  There are so many wonderful memories that remind me of this special time of year with my family.

Our little Christmas went a little something like this:

As soon as the last drumstick was eaten our Christmas traditions would begin, we'd all gather around and watch the greatest of all holiday movies - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas we'd make my Nana's secret recipe (Betty Crocker) caramels, which we'd give out to friends and family in hopes that they'd follow in our 10 pound holiday gain.  We'd spend nights sledding down our black diamond hill and sharing hot buttered rum with Meme (our other grandma).  My mom would purchase 100s of holiday cards only to forget to send them and in true procrastinator spirit - we'd decorate the tree a week before.

And finally, Christmas Eve would arrive - we'd snuggle up and listen to Mom read "The Night Before Christmas" with holiday music in the background, play some cards and then around 6 pm we'd all run to one of our rooms (because on Christmas Eve we all slept together) so Christmas morning would come early.  We'd lay there too excited to sleep dreaming about all the surprises we'd find under the tree the next day - and usually, I'd try to get the secrets out of my younger siblings.  We'd wake up to my Dad's blueberry muffins baking in the oven and drag ourselves sleepily to the sofa and sit sheepishly waiting for our gifts because even on the greatest of holidays and in the comfort of our own home - we're all incredibly shy.

Josh has some pretty amazing memories, too but the one that I think is the sweetest is their personalized Christmas cards.  He and his three younger siblings would each draw a picture on their family's card - each a little peek into the child's personality.  I can only imagine the crazy creations that came out of Josh.  That guy is weird.  And I like it.

And now, with a little family of our own, it's our time to make our own traditions - adapting a few from each of our families and new ones that we've come up with on our own.

Nana's "Super Secret Best Caramels In The World" Recipe - (Otherwise known as Betty Crocker's "Widely Published And Not Secret At All Best Caramels In The World" Recipe).  This is the quick version of the recipe.  Be warned - these are soft, delicious and very addicting!

1 cup butter
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
Dash of salt
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light-colored corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

First, cut wax paper squares to wrap your candies; set aside.

Butter the bottom and edges of a 9x13 pan.  Lay out parchment paper on a cutting board and butter the parchment paper.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan melt butter over low heat.  Add the brown sugar and a dash of salt.  Stir well.  Add the corn syrup and stir until combined.  Slowly stir in sweetened condensed milk.  Stir frequently and cook over medium heat until a candy thermometer registers 248 degrees, firm ball stage (about 15-20 minutes.)  Adjust heat as necessary to maintain a steady boil.

Remove saucepan from heat; remove thermometer.  Stir in vanilla.  Quickly pour mixture into prepared pan.  When firm, flip the pan over onto a lightly buttered cutting board.  Use a knife to gently pull the edge away from the pan.  Leave it upside down.  The candy should release from the pan on its own.  Use a buttered knife to cut the caramels to size and wrap each piece in wax paper.
For a little twist, I make salted caramels by sprinkling sea salt on top before I cut and wrap the pieces.  We've also added semi-sweet chocolate to the recipe - just pour in one bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips when you add the sweetened condensed milk.  Also, we skip the candy thermometer and just test the candy with cold water

So what are your traditions and how do you celebrate the holiday season with your family and friends?



  1. These look just like the caramels we buy when we are at the beach. Love them! Thanks sooooo much for the recipe.

  2. Oh my, this looks delicious! Can't wait to try it out. Thanks for sharing.


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