Every year I make a batch of sweets—brittle, toffee, cookies—to keep on hand during the holidays. That way I'm covered whenever I need a hostess gift, or a friend drops by and I want to give them a little something, or the UPS guy is at our door at 9pm on Christmas Eve and needs a treat. This year I got it in my head to make coffee caramels, inspired in some subconscious way, by the coffee-flavored Nips candy, which I love. But finding a recipe proved elusive. I was moaning about my inability to find a good recipe when a couple of the gals from Living recommended I make Jen's gingerbread caramels without the spices, and using honey in place of molasses. We debated whether to use instant espresso powder or coffee extract, and settled on the extract. I used 1 tablespoon. They were gorgeous and delicious, with just enough coffee flavor (for a richer brew, add an extra teaspoon of extract). Make sure to choose a VERY large pot for making these, as the mixture foams up vigorously during cooking. And if I had to do it all over again, I would have sprinkled the top with a mixture of crushed coffee beans and coarse salt right after pouring the mixture into the pan, just for a little more coffee flavor and fun. But they were great just as is, with the perfect amount of stretchy chew. Wrapping the caramels individually was tedious, since they yielded more than 12 dozen (cue up some dance tracks to get through that part), but I had hostess gifts by the mile.
Makes about 12 1/2 dozen
4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream
2 cups light corn syrup
4 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coffee extract
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1. Lightly coat a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on short sides; spray paper.
2. In a very large pot (8 quart) over medium-high heat, bring cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and honey to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm-ball stage) on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.
3. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla, coffee extract, and spices. Quickly stir with a heat-proof spatula until mixture is homogenous, then pour onto prepared sheet. Let stand, uncovered, 24 hours at room temperature (do not move pan).
4. Generously coat a large cutting board with cooking spray. Lifting it by the parchment overhang, invert caramel onto the cutting board; use a sharp knife to loosen parchment, and remove. Cut into 1-by-1 1/4-inch pieces. Wrap each in cellophane or waxed paper. Caramels can be stored up to 1 month in airtight containers.