I hosted a caramel making class for a bunch of strangers!

I’m part of a Facebook group called Buy Nothing Bothell. It’s a simple concept, people post things up (along with their general location) that they’d like to give away, and people who are interested in them, comment and ask to be considered.  The gifter then lets the person who has “won” know, and they take the conversation to private messages, where the gifter gives the giftee their address and they make arrangements for the giftee to come pick up the item, usually from the gifter’s porch.  It’s a simple concept, and feels a little safer that Craigslist free ads, because you have access to the person’s name and facebook profile.  There are numerous Buy Nothing groups in the area, but based on what I’ve heard from friends, Bothell has the “best” one.  Numerous great things have been gifted, including a working espresso machine, a Wii, tons of Halloween costumes, dishes, baby stuff, a trampoline, etc.  I have given away a dresser, knife block, baking pans, light fixtures, and hundreds of caramels.  I’ve personally had the luck of “winning” a couple purses, an electric roaster, a fondue pot, and a set of hot rollers.

Sorry for the quality of the photos guys, they’re phone pics.  I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off and just couldn’t get it together enough to take many photos with my real camera.

Photo by Mary-Leah Bryson Moore

A couple of months ago, someone who has an apple tree in her yard posted saying that she’d love to learn how to can, and she has all of these apples to use.  This blossomed in to an experienced canner offering to host several of us and teach us how to can.  We all brought equipment and ingredients, a few people on the group donated some canning jars, and someone brought a huge crock pot of chili.  We turned it into an afternoon/evening of processing apples, and at the end of it, we each had 2 quarts of apple pie filling, and 4-5 half pint jars of a couple different apple jams, in addition to some frozen apple sauce.  It was a pretty great ordeal.  Fun was had by all and we walked away with delicious food, new skills, and new friends.

Each time I gave away caramels on BNB, I got requests to share my recipe(which I am happy to do) and comments about how people don’t know how to make caramels.  So I had the genius idea to offer a similar get-together to the apple thing, but there was LOTS of interest.  I created an event page, and the initial 6-8 that I figured I could “handle” quickly turned into 14, as I found that you cannot block RSVPs.  I eventually had to use all caps to write “do not rsvp” in the event title.  But as can be expected(let’s be honest, I was hoping!) 4 people didn’t show up.  Thank goodness!

The way we did this one (and I’m hoping to do a few more, and refine the process) was to post what ingredients were necessary, and have people volunteer to bring stuff like corn syrup, cream, butter, pumpkin pie spice, real food, etc.  It ended up working out in the end, but having a third of the people dropping out had potential to be disastrous.  I made sure we had extra corn syrup, a ton of granulated sugar, and a little cream.  For refreshments, I made some focaccia, got a tub of jalapeno artichoke dip (yum) and made a crock pot full of mulled wine.

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

My husband packed up the escape artist dog (Helo) and got the hell out of Dodge, then guests began arriving.  We had a few snacks, I gave a quick rundown on sugar temps, crystallization, and talked about the importance of an accurate (or at least consistent thermometer), then we got down to business.  I cooked a batch of caramels, and showed the women what different temps of boiling sugar look like, the extreme frothiness when adding your cream, etc.   The first batch was a success.  The second batch, I didn’t add enough initial water to, and got sidetracked, so of course, I taught everyone the lesson of not burning things.  One of the women has her own caramel recipe that she wanted to also make, so she made that.  And we had a good lesson in the importance of thermometer consistency.  Her thermometer at home is calibrated differently to mine, so when she cooked to the exact same temp as her home thermometer reads, using mine, her temperature was overshot, and the caramels are closer in consistency to a sugar daddy candy.

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

All-in-all, we made 5 batches of caramels: my standard French Grey Salt, Coffee, Pistachio, Pumpkin Spice, and Jackie’s plain.  I was hoping to have enough time to cook up a batch of Toffee Popcorn Crunch while the pans of caramels cooled, but time was flying and we’d have been there til after 8 if we had tried to make that happen.  After the caramels cooled sufficiently, we got to cutting and wrapping.  Let me tell you, wrapping happens A LOT faster when you hate 10 people involved.  I’m about ready to start hiring the neighbor kids to come over and wrap candies for me.  I’ll pay them in sugary treats!

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer, The Bothell Blogger

After all was said and done, we each walked away with:
12x espresso
12x salted
6x pistachio
12x pumpkin spice
24x plain

And of course!  Recipe:
Chewy Caramels (makes 64)
Ingredients:
1.5 c granulated sugar (300 g)
.5 c light corn syrup (150 g)
.25 c water (enough to moisten sugar)
1.25 c heavy cream
4 Tbs (.5 stick) butter
.5-1.5 tsp salt
Extras:
Espresso:3 Tbs instant espresso
Pistachio:1 cup hulled pistachios
Pumpkin Spice: 100g canned pumpkin, 2tsp pumpkin spice

Instructions:
* In a 3 qt or larger heavy bottomed pot, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water, being sure not to splash granules of sugar onto the sides of the pan
* Combine cream, butter, & salt in microwave safe container, nuke until butter is melted and cream is warm, stir.
* Cook sugar mixture over medium-high heat to 250°, wash sides of pan down with wet pastry brush, and cook to 290°.
* While stirring, slowly add warm cream mixture to sugar. Cook to 243° (or whatever works with your thermometer), remove from heat, and pour into greased loaf pan
*Allow to cool, unmold, cut, and wrap

If you are considering actually making these, please refer to a previous blog post that I made (but ignore that recipe, I have since fine-tuned it).  There are notes regarding how to test for temp and what to do if the temp isn’t quite right.  On my personal thermometer, the target zone is 243.  Whatever thermometer you have may be off quite a lot.  If your thermo is at least quality, it will probably be consistent though, so once you figure out that thermometer’s sweet spot, stick with it!

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