This is a very exciting Christmas on the “Christmas as a Parent” scale. The first Christmas was all about watching your sweet bundle of drool staring hypnotically at the blinking tree. That’s also the one where you learn that no matter how awesome or noisy or flashy that toy is, the box or bag or wrapping paper that encased it is a thousand times better.
No – 10,000 times better.
The second one is when you learn that those glass ornaments you’ve used for the last 4 years have to go back into the attic for the next 16. But they’re far more excited about play kitchens and trains and puzzles and slide-erasable etch-a-sketch thingies than they are the paper it was wrapped in.
But this Christmas, this is the one where she is just old enough to start to understand the concepts of the holidays, from Tebowing in front of the Christmas tree (not really; but what’s up, Kim), to celebrating with family (I see my Gia and PaPaw?!), to celebrating the birth of Jesus (we make cake for Jesus burt-day party?), to Santa Claus (Mr. Boogie scare Santa?).
And until a week ago, the only thing that my daughter could tell you about Santa Claus had to do with The Nightmare Before Christmas. Oops.
But we get to start fun new traditions this year. Like listening to Bing Crosby while we put up the Christmas tree in our pajamas. And frothing milk for hot chocolate with Shrek the Halls on in the background. Hanging stockings, decorating the mantle, and reading The Elf on The Shelf (I caved and conformed) with the smell of gingerbread filling the house.
The fastest way to get into the holiday spirit is to put up a bunch of plastic decorations, set out a creepy toy elf, and make your house smell like gingerbread.
I whipped up a batch of my favorite caramel recipe the other night and spiked it with a generous dose of gingerbread spices. Mom’s gingerbread was always spiced with plenty of black pepper and plenty of cloves. The warmth from those spices really set her cookies (and bread, and cakes) apart. And it’s just not Christmas without it.
Chewy, buttery caramels full of warm gingerbread spices makes a great grown-up Christmas candy.
- For the homemade gingerbread spice mix:
- 1 Tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp fresh finely ground black pepper
- For the caramels:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 tsp vanilla or vanilla bean paste
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp gingerbread spice
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp light corn syrup or Lyle's Golden Syrup
- 2 Tbsp molasses
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/8 tsp cloves (optional)
- Finely ground black pepper (optional)
- Stir together the ingredients for the gingerbread spice in a small bowl until mixed well, making sure to press out any lumps with a spoon.
- Leftover spice can be stored in a small airtight jar or a zip-top bag.
- Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with buttered parchment paper.
- Bring cream, butter, vanilla, salt, and 1 Tbsp gingerbread spice just to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.
- Boil sugars, corn syrup, molasses, and water in a 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Attach a candy thermometer and continue boiling without stirring (just gently swirl the pan occasionally) until mixture reaches 310-315.
- Carefully pour in the cream mixture into the caramel (take care, mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 246.
- Around softball stage (~240), I took a small spoonful of caramel sauce, cooled it down in a small bowl of ice water, formed it into a ball, and tasted it - I decided I wanted more cloves and a few more grinds of black pepper and just sprinkled those over top.
- Pour into baking pan and cool completely (about an hour).
- Cut into 1-inch pieces (a buttered pizza cutter or very sharp knife is your best friend), and then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.
Yields: 64 candies
Estimated time: 2 hours