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
Christmas just isn’t as fun without a kid around, that’s for sure. 🙂 I love gingerbread spices but not so much gingerbread itself. I think I’d adore the caramel form though!
Love this idea! And love your wreath in the pic! 😉
I love this!! Can’t wait to try them!
I pretty much have the whole “White Christmas” CD on repeat. Bing’s rendition of Jingle Bells has always been my favorite. Mele Kalikimaka!
They look great. One question: am I supposed to heat the mixture to 310, and then add the cream which will cool it back down to 246? Or am I supposed to heat it to 210 and then let it heat it up to 246? Just wondering if the 310-315 degrees was a typo or not! Thank you!
Yep, heat it up to 310 to caramelize the white sugars – if the recipe didn’t call for brown sugar or molasses, this would be where the white bubbly mixture would turn a pretty amber color. But since there’s already brown ingredients, you can’t just go off the color change. Hope that helps!
Thanks for the clarification!
Love this post! And love the idea of these caramels too. I’ve been totally obsessed with gingerbread lately, and these sound fabulous.
I just glanced up at my tree and realized there isn’t one ornament below the 4-foot mark. I hear you! But Christmas is 10,000 times better with kids, isn’t it?
This may sound lame, but we aren’t even putting up a tree this year. The place in the house we normally put it, is being taken up by my little Mr’s Jumparoo. My thinking is, if he’s young enough for a jumparoo, he’s definitely too young to have any clue about Christmas. I think I might buy a small “tabletop tree”, but definitely no full sized. I am looking forward to next year when he’ll be 19 months, and have a little better idea that something is going on!
That being said, OMFG these sound divine.
Erin! We aren’t putting up a tree either! I have my two mini trees up and they make it feel festive. But we won’t be home for actual Christmas, so I’m being lazy!
Shawnda! I can’t wait to one day have kids her age. That is such an exciting and fun time and I can’t wait to stalk your instagrams of her unwrapping gifts this year!
Gingerbread caramel sounds like pretty much the best thing ever right now. Every one of my caramel experiments has been a disaster, even with two helpers in the kitchen. But these? These are enough to motivate me to learn. 🙂 Hope you enjoy Christmas this year with your little one!
I kinda sorta thought I knew of (and had devoured) every variation of caramels. But nope. Not gingerbread. And I think the idea is brilliant. And by the way, your daughter is adorable. Seriously. What a fun Christmas Day (and really all month, it sounds like) you have ahead of you!
Is there ANY chance at all this can be made w/o a thermometer. I just bought one and its horribly wrong. I tested the temp. Gage per the instructions after burning my candy apple sauce…….but anyway…..i cant go off color and i know time is just a guide so im hoping there is a sliver of hope?!?!?!
Do you know how far your thermometer is off? You could boil water and see what temp the thermometer registers and then adjust the “final” temperature based on how far over/under your thermometer read at boiling (212F).
One more quetion….do you know how long these will keep? Id like to give these out in a basket this year, it would make s great addition!
They’ll keep for weeks, maybe even a couple of months, as long as they’re not exposed to humid air.
This looks amazing, going to give it a try, but how does it make 64 candies if it is put in 8 inch baking pan? I’m not real smart when it comes to these things. Thanks
You’ll cut the candies into 1-inch squares – 8inches x 8inches will yield 64 candies.
I’m just making these now and am having a terrific problem with the molasses burning! It started to smell burnt shortly after the beginning and actually began smoking. The sugar is no where near melted….still very granular. Very disappointed! Thoughts?? I have a heavy bottom pan….AllClad, so no problem there. I’ve made caramel before, so the process is not new to me; I just haven’t ventured out on flavor.