You could say that when it comes to candy, my childhood was deprived . Sure, I had halwas, ladoos (sweet lentil balls), gulab jamuns (fried sweet milk balls, soaked in a thick, rose water flavoured sugar syrup) and the like but…no candy. I didn’t know what a dolly mixture was, much to the amusement of British mates. Or pastilles, toffee and fudge. Caramel was a dark, burnt, chemically sweet tasting, thin sauce that sat on top of a conical creme caramel made out of a Foster Clarks packet.
So, I had a lot of catching up to do when I lived in Aberdeen. My first taste of a traditional British sweetie of sorts was the scottish tablet, served on a wee plate with the coffee, after my first meal at a real pub (that was interesting!!). My mother-in-law explained what it was and beckoned me to try some. I will never forget that buttery, sweet scent that reached my nostrils, or the grainy, uber- melting texture on my tongue. I had two fat squares and was eyeballing the one sat on the rim of my father-in-law’s saucer. Bless him, he gave it to me.
Then, my Mother-in-law took me to a sweetie shop in a fishing village of Stonehaven on the coast of Aberdeen. There, bottles and jars and tumblers of sweets and candies stood blinking at me…all pastel and bright rainbow colours! She bought a bag of a few of them and it was there, I had another first, a caramel. It was superb and I sooked away at it while walking up the high street on a rare, sunny, warm afternoon, feeling the pleasurable freedom of a five year old child.
It was not long after that, at Lakeland, that I bought a sugar thermometer on an impulse. I had no idea what to do with it, so I bought Annie Rigg’s Gifts from the kitchen. And Lordy, here was a recipe for Sea Salted Caramels. Now, you’re talking!
Whenever I want inspiration for edible gifts, I turn to this book. Page after page of beautifully photographed pictures of tasty and tastefully packaged foodie gifts cannot fail to inspire you. Recipes are divided according to season, though a lot of them are certainly not restricted to the seasons or just candy making. I find myself going back to it again and again, gazing at the beautiful kitchenalia in the photos and wondering when I can fix another time to try something else out of this book.
Nothing makes me feel more like a conjurer than using a sugar thermometer. I get an adrenaline rush looking in a pot of ferociously bubbling caramel, stabbing at it with the thermometer. For me, this inexpensive piece of kitchen kit, has opened up another edible world in my saucepan. I have to admit, that I am prone to feeling rather smug when I accomplish something as divine and decadent as caramels. It’s heady stuff! Particularly, the look on someone’s face when you have made them Sea-salted Caramels; it is worth the bother of scrubbing sugary tar from your saucepan.
So, one fine, bright morning, I decided to make these for my excellent neighbours, whose two young girls are LilLassie’s playmates. They have been extremely helpful, giving us information on day to day things that are so valuable to relative new comers to Doha, like us. It was the best excuse to wield my sugar thermometer around!
Word of warning. Do not make these if the kids tend to run about the kitchen. Sugar heats to an exceedingly high temperature and a mishap could mean a painful trip to the emergency room, pronto. So I would advise scheduling a time when little, flailing, mobile limbs are not in action around the kitchen. I, am a clutz of extraordinary merit, but am uber-careful when it comes to anything related to heating sugar.
That’s the health and safety bit done…now…
These aren’t difficult to do, at all. You just need a little bit of time, get organised and have all the ingredients out in handy reach and have a tin ready to pour the boiling hot caramel into. The sticky bit is the cutting. Really, do try to wait until it cools fully and hardens a bit overnight before you cut it. They are rich, so small, one inch squares are good enough for me. An oiled pizza slicer or an oiled carving knife, do the job nicely. They are terribly pretty when wrapped in squares of baking parchment and placed in glass jars.
Buttery, chewy, with the treacle flavour of muscavado sugar and the sea salt balancing the creamy sweetness, this is a candy of some class. One is never enough and that’s why I make it to give away. Well, some of it, at least. You are warned. Once you have the experience of making a candy under your belt, you will be itching to have another go. It’s addictive, this candy creating lark. Keep a good dentist’s number handy.
For recipe, please click here.