As the holiday season swells, we are immersed in an overabundance of consumer ads. I love gift giving but think the focus on consumption pulls people away from what's important this time of year: spending quality time with friends and family. It's lovely to surprise someone with a purchased gift, (I think we've probably all experienced the incredible feeling of finding the perfect gift) but purchasing a lot is not always economically feasible. If you're looking for some alternative gift options, homemade goodies are always well-received. My friends and I always give "little happies" to each other. You know what I'm talking about, the "I saw this and thought of you" gifts. Just a little something to brighten someone's day. Homemade candy is the perfect "little happy." A way to show the gift-receiver that you were thinking of them and wanted to recognize them.
Ina Garten's fleur de sel caramels make a decadent gift. These are so luscious; they would be a fabulous end to a dinner party. Homemade caramel intimidates me (my mom and I have PTSD from attempting a certain caramel icing - yikes...), but Ina's recipe is simple to follow. The addition of the salt does not make the candies taste salty, but instead balances out the saccharine. I sometimes think ingredients can be substituted without a loss of quality, but this is not one of those instances. The delicate finish of fleur de sel is paramount to the caramel flavor profile, something that could not be replicated with table or kosher salt.
When you add the hot cream to the boiling sugar, it will bubble up violently. I used a larger saucepan (8.5" x 4.5") to reduce the risk of the mixture boiling over. The caramel is so rich that I ended up cutting it into smaller servings, yielding 32 candies instead of 16. (This also extends how many gifts you can make from one batch.)
Get the Recipe: Barefoot Contessa Fleur de Sel Caramels
A Cautionary Tale: The first time I made this recipe, I was too tired to finish. Instead of leaving the caramel in the fridge for a few hours, I left it overnight. The next day, when I went to roll up the caramel, it was rock hard. Assuming I had made an error, I abandoned my first attempt and made a second batch. It turns out that there was nothing wrong. As the hard caramel sat at room temperature, it softened, ultimately becoming soft and chewy -- oops. There are worse things than having a glut of caramel, but if you encounter the same issue, let the caramel sit out for a little bit to see if it softens before deeming it unfit.
Package the caramels in glassine treat bags for a holiday happy that is beyond. To serve, let the caramels sit at room temperature for a little bit to soften.
Do you and your friends exchange gifts around the holidays? Thanks for reading!