holiday caramelsIn a season of gingerbread houses and sugar cookies, cakes and pies, and tarts and homemade rolls, those of us who love cooking, but abhor baking can feel a little left out. But my homemade holiday caramels, made completely in the microwave, are always a hit and a welcome relief from the season’s overabundance of baked goods.

These caramels, while fairly quick and easy to make in the microwave, do take a bit of time to cut, wrap individually, and package as a gift, should you choose to share them. After tasting them, you might decide to keep them all for yourself!

If you are making these treats for the first time, buy enough ingredients for at least two or three batches. Microwave ovens vary, so it may take more than one attempt to figure out the correct power settings for your machine.

Homemade Holiday Caramels

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup sugar
1 cup white karo syrup
1 cup whipping cream
4 tablespoons vanilla
Optional: crushed pecans, walnuts, or other nuts to taste
wax paper
gift packaging materials of your choice

1. Melt butter in large, glass, microwave-safe bowl (2-3 quart or larger).

2. With a small hand mixer, blend in sugar, syrup, and ½ cup cream.

3. Cook on medium power in the microwave for 15 minutes. Cover the bowl with a paper towel to reduce splatters.

4. Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave. Piping hot, the mixture will bubble up quickly and somewhat violently when mixing additional ingredients.

5. Blend in the remaining cream.

6. Cook an additional 12 minutes on medium power in the microwave, and then test for desired consistency. Drop a tiny bit of the mixture into a glass of ice water and rub the mixture (while it’s submerged in water) between your thumb and index finger. If it forms into a firm ball, it’s ready. If the mixture still seems runny or mushy, continue to cook it in the microwave in two-minute increments until you can easily form a ball when it’s submerged in a glass of ice water.  Watch the mixture closely to make sure it doesn’t burn.

7. Once the mixture has reached the desired consistency, mix in vanilla.

8. If you choose to use nuts, sprinkle them onto the bottom of a greased 8×8 pan. Pour the mixture over the nuts.

9. Allow the mixture to sit on a flat surface to cool and harden for several hours.

10. Slice into bite-size squares and wrap individually with waxed paper.

11. If the caramels are too soft or runny, you can keep them in the refrigerator to harden. If they come out too hard, throw them out and start again–you don’t want to break a tooth! The caramels should be chewy to taste, but not runny or rock hard.

When she’s not coming up with alternatives to baking, Rebecca writes about reading, cooking, and life at home with a 14-month-old at Dr. Blondie.

Photo credit: Rebecca Thomas