Christmas Countdown Gifts: Vanilla Sea Salt Caramels

I genuinely thought I had more time than 3 weeks before Christmas. Did I pass out for a week and miss something? It scares me how much faster time goes since I entered my mid-twenties. Despite this panic I am feeling pretty festive. Over the weekend we went to the German Christmas Market in Manchester, I drank 3 pretty strong mugs of gluhwein and left a lot rosier in the cheeks and merrier in the head (adding rum to your mulled wine will do that to you). We also put the Christmas tree up, bought our Lego advent calendar and I watched Miracle on 34th Street so I'm feeling ready for it all now.

Caramels are great present to give at Christmas. Like the cookie dough truffles, you can make a big batch and give them to a few friends. I would create a box again and wrap each one in a small square of wax paper twisted at each end, just like a sweet wrapper. I ordered my wax paper from eBay but I ordered it too late for this post so it hadn't arrived yet but I will be using it when I make these again.

I initially tried a different caramel recipe for this post. Inspired by the Apple Cider Caramels by Smitten Kitchen I tried to make some cherry caramels by boiling down some cherry juice. The result was very much like a cherry treacle. I liked it but then, I like treacle but I decided not to post about it because giving someone treacle toffee is a bit risky if you aren't sure they like it. If you want the recipe just let me know and I'll tell you how I adapted it. I've got lots of caramel flavour ideas now running round my head, I want to try out some with those flavoured creams about in the supermarkets for Christmas. I saw a black cherry and chocolate one in Tesco which I'm going to try out. I also want to have a go at one inspired by Rachel Khoo's sweet chestnut cream recipe. So, if you know me, don't be surprised if you all get boxes of caramels for Christmas.

I was sent a copy of 'Pure Vanilla', the new book by Shauna Sever and was more than happy to review it as I love both Shauna's recipes and vanilla. It's often viewed a boring flavour but, done right, vanilla is amazing and has so many layers to it. Flicking through the book I came across the recipe for these Vanilla Sea Salt Caramels and decided that was going to be my caramel recipe for this week.

They are so good. I changed the recipe slightly just by missing out the vanilla bean paste - largely because I didn't have any and also because I felt the seeds from the vanilla pod were enough, but if you want an extra hit of vanilla add 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste in right before you pour the caramel into the tray to cool.

I would encourage you to add this book to your Christmas list. Pure Vanilla is full of recipes that I know will stay favourites. I am particularly keen to have a go at the Vanilla Cloud Cake but that might have to be in the new year as my blog 'to do before Dec 31st' list is getting pretty crammed. The photography in the book is beautiful and it's written in a clear and concise style. I would have preferred a picture for every recipe but the majority of the recipes have gorgeous pictures to accompany them so that would be my only comment.

I was sent this book for free but the opinions are completely my own. 

Vanilla Sea Salt Caramels
(adapted slightly from Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever)

120ml double cream
1/2 (good quality) vanilla pod, split lengthwise
90g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
200g caster sugar
40g light brown sugar
140g light corn syrup (or golden syrup)
2 teaspoons fleur de sel (or course flaky sea salt), plus more for sprinkling

  1. Line an 8x8 inch baking tray with greaseproof paper or foil coated with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium sized heavy based saucepan, combine the cream and vanilla pod. Heat until the cream just begins to simmer then remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes while the vanilla steeps in the cream.
  3. Remove the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds into the cream. Add the butter, sugars, corn syrup and salt and bring the mixture to a boil over a medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. 
  4. Place a sugar thermometer in the pot, reduce the heat to low and stir occasionally until the temperature reaches 116 C/242 F. 
  5. Remove from the heat, stir and pour the mixture into the prepared pan set over a cooling rack. Let the caramel cool at room temperature overnight (or 30 minutes at room temperature and 30 minutes in the fridge) until very firm. 
  6. To cut the caramel into squares, grease the sharp side of the knife with a little butter and cut into your desired  size squares. Sprinkle with a little more salt and wrap each square in wax paper.