Every Christmas I try to include some kind of caramel candy in my cookie gift bags. This year I made Eggnog Caramels, which I adapted from Artisan Caramels by Sandy Arevalo. The eggnog caramels are not only delicious, but also a great way to use up a container of eggnog. I find the flavor of eggnog is enjoyable, but the richness of the drink means I’m over it after one glass so I always have more than I need out of a carton. The eggnog flavor for these comes from using actual eggnog in the caramel mixture and from eggnog extract and a little nutmeg that is stirred in after cooking.
I did some things differently with this recipe than I’ve done with other caramel recipes. The first change was to cook the caramel in a stockpot. This prevented all worries of the caramel overflowing the pot, which boiling sugar always tries to do. The second difference was that all the ingredients except the extract and nutmeg were mixed together from the start. In other recipes I’ve made, the fats are usually added partway through cooking. The final difference was that I stirred the caramels all the way through the cooking process. In other recipes, stirring ceases after the sugar has been dissolved, supposedly to prevent crystallization. Maybe adding all the cream up front helps prevent that problem? I don’t know, but the caramels were very smooth with not a hint of crystallization to be found.
Caramels can be intimidating, but if you read through the recipe several times, have everything ready and have an accurate candy thermometer (test it in boiling water first and make sure you take the temperature of the liquid, not the bottom of the pan), they are actually pretty easy to make.
First, all the ingredients are mixed together in a heavy-bottomed stockpot.
The ingredients are brought to a boil (notice the small, fluffy, fast-popping bubbles).
As the caramel gets closer to the final 248F/120C, the mixture visibly thickens and the bubbles will be larger and slower to pop (this photo is about 15 degrees away from the final temperature as I was too busy stirring to take photos later).
Once it reaches EXACTLY 248F/120C, not a degree sooner or later, the pot is pulled off the heat and the extract and nutmeg are stirred in. The mixture is then poured into a greased foil-lined pan and the painful waiting for 8 hours to cut it begins. I often make caramels at night so that I don’t get impatient waiting for them to cool!
All that remains is to cut and wrap (and eat) them!
Notes on fixing caramel:
Many people have trouble with their caramels being either softer or harder than desired. These two problems can be easily fixed, so don’t despair if it happens to you! If your caramel is too soft, put it back in the pan and melt it over low and then bring it back to your original cooking temperature and recook it to just a degree or two higher than you did originally. Seriously, 2 degrees can make a difference! If your caramel is too hard, put it back in the pan with a splash (2-4 Tbsp) of heavy cream and recook it, this time to a degree or two under what you did originally. Pour the mixture back in a greased and lined pan and let it set up. These steps have saved me a few times, especially when I let myself get distracted and overcooked the caramel, resulting in a candy that was too hard to chew! The only reason to ever throw out caramel is if you’ve burnt it. That’s a mistake that can’t be fixed.
- 1 cup (236.5 ml) heavy cream
- 1 cup (236.5 ml) best quality eggnog (the non-alcoholic kind)
- 2 cups (14oz/396.5) granulated sugar
- 6 Tbsp. (3oz/ 85g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1 cup (236.5 ml) light corn syrup (or glucose syrup if you prefer)
- 1½ tsp. eggnog extract
- ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
- Place the cream and eggnog in a microwave safe measuring cup. Microwave for 1 minute. This step is optional, but I like to do it as it makes the cooking time quicker than heating the refrigerated ingredients. You can also leave the cream and eggnog out at room temperature for a couple hours before making the caramel.
- Line an 8"x8" baking pan with foil and spray it lightly with an oil spray. Wipe away any excess.
- Mix the cream, eggnog, sugar, butter and corn syrup together in an 8 qt. heavy-bottomed stockpot.
- Bring the mixture to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.
- If desired, brush the sides of the pot with a brush dipped in water to help dissolve any sugar crystals on the side of the pot.
- On medium-high heat, cook the caramel, stirring constantly, until it registers 248F/120C on a candy thermometer. You'll know you're getting close when the bubbles get bigger and the mixture becomes lightly golden in color. This can take some time. On my electric stove, using pre-warmed ingredients, it usually takes between 20-30 minutes.
- When you reach exactly 248F/120C, remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the extract and nutmeg.
- Pour the hot sugar mixture into the prepared pan. Tap the pan gently a couple of times on the counter to bring any air bubbles to the surface.
- Allow the caramel to cool completely and set up, 8 hours or so.
- Cut the caramel and wrap each piece in wax or parchment paper.