I Made Caramel!
Caramel, it seems, is quite a popular holiday tradition. I saw recipes in countless places around the nets, inspiring me to give it a whirl myself.
The one criteria I had was the recipe must not call for corn syrup. Which recipe was actually fairly hard to find; it seems corn syrup makes caramel creation much simpler and is definitely a popular choice. I ended up finding one here that fit the bill entirely. After a quick run to the grocery store for a candy thermometer I was ready to go.
Of course, I decided to embark on this candy making experiment about 20 minutes before leaving for a holiday party, so time wasn't really on my side. Add to this that I really did not know what it meant to let the sugar and honey "carmelize" or exactly how to read my thermometer, and it is probably not surprising that this first, and let's call it trial, batch did not turn out the lovely chewy caramels I had envisioned. Instead, we have a ridiculous amount of soft caramel sauce. Not actually too terrible after all.
The next time, however, I meant business.
I cooked that honey and sugar until it was a strongly odorous (you might want to warn the family), lava-like concoction, whisked in the butter and hot cream (that part is a blast, sometimes quite literally. Be careful.) and let the whole deal boil and bubble until I was sure it was 260˚F at least (my candy thermometer is somewhat difficult to read). I had a cookie tray all lined with parchment and poured the sticky liquid out, creating a disappointingly small, shallow puddle. It was the right color, though, and hardened nicely on a spoon under cold water. Thrilled with my success, I tried the whole thing again. This time I used a small cake pan lined with parchment and I would definitely recommend this strategy.
In the end, the cookie tray caramels stayed pretty soft and very thin. The cake pan batch hardened beautifully and I sliced them into small squares, twisted them in wax paper, and had a mountain of lovely smooth caramels to package and give away. I salvaged the thin batch by folding the whole thing in half. They were just hard enough to cut and wrap, though scraping them back out of the wrappers to eat is a little tough. However, they taste divine.