Friday, March 23, 2012

DIY Caramel Favors: How to Make Caramels

We learned several things the hard way while making caramels for our wedding favors, including the fact that dropping your candy thermometer in a sink full of water is a bad idea, and wrapping 800 individual caramels in wax paper is a pain in the rumpus. In all seriousness, it has definitely been a learning process. Here are some things you need to know if you’re diving into caramel making for the first time.

Cook the candy to firm ball stage The higher the temperature to which you cook a candy, the less water that remains, which changes the final texture and hardness of the candy. Caramels need to be cooked to ‘firm ball stage’ which is between 245 and 250F. The recipe that we were using initially said to cook to hard ball stage, which we did for our first batch and ended up with caramels that were way too hard to cut into pieces. We had to resort to hammering at it with a knife to get pieces to come off of the block. They still taste fine, but we’re obviously not serving these to our guests!

Use a candy thermometer but also use your judgment First, make sure your thermometer is calibrated correctly by boiling some water and checking that the thermometer reads 212F. If it’s off, remember by how many degrees it is off and use this information when you are making your caramels. Even if your thermometer is calibrated correctly, candy can reach firm ball stage at different temperatures depending on the weather and the humidity outside. Therefore, it is important to know visually when the caramel has reached firm ball stage. To determine this, drizzle a little of the hot caramel into a bowl of cold water. If you can form the candy into a ball that doesn’t deform when you set it in the palm of your hand, and that flattens when squeezed, then you have reached firm ball stage.

Stir, stir, stir! Make sure to stir together all your ingredients before you initially turn on the heat. Also make sure to keep stirring occasionally while you’re waiting for the caramels to reach firm ball stage. It actually takes quite a while for candy to reach firm ball stage, at least 30 minutes. While making our second caramel batch, we mixed it at the beginning and then just kind of let it do its thing. When we returned to the pot we saw that some fat had separated and risen to the top, and some of the sugar had burned a little bit. We quickly stirred it together and everything was fine, but let this be a lesson!

Phew. Caramels can sure be finicky. But ohhh sooo tasty.

DIY Caramel Favors

It took us a lot of time to decide on the perfect wedding favors, in part because they had to meet all of these criteria: edible, economical, easy to DIY, and able to be made weeks or months before the wedding. We knew we wanted to do something edible since we’ve heard time and time again that no one takes the favors unless they can eat them. Because we love to cook and bake, we wanted to DIY our favors. Additionally, I wanted to make something that could be done far in advance and keep well in the pantry or freezer so that I wouldn’t have to scramble around the week of the wedding making 130 favors. I came across many ideas but rejected them almost as quickly as I found them: homemade vanilla extract (no one would use this), truffles (freezing the chocolate will cause it to discolor), candy (not very tasty), fortune cookies (sounded like a pain in the butt), mochi (no one would know what this was) and the list goes on and on. Finally, one day I was looking through a candy cookbook and it suddenly dawned on me and I knew we had to make them: caramels!

Caramels are pretty easy to make, the recipe scales up easily, they freeze well, they’re inexpensive, plus they’re tasty! I went to work making a batch of caramels using this recipe from All Recipes. After I cut them into pieces, I wrapped them in wax paper and put them in the freezer. I wanted to see how long they kept in the freezer, so every week Jeremy and I took some out and taste tested them for freshness. They are still going strong at two months, and I imagine they’d be good for a few more months. Since we’ve got two months until the wedding (yikes!) we’ve started making all of them. We’ll detail all the trials and tribulations of caramel making in an upcoming post!

Once I knew we were going to make the caramels, I started thinking about packaging ideas. I immediately thought about clear cello bags because they’re inexpensive, but I wanted to jazz them up somehow. I decided to make a tag from cardstock that says “Thanks for making our day extra sweet!”, punch a hole in the card, affix an eyelet around the hole, and attach the tag to the bag with a ribbon. And, my favorite part of the whole thing: Jeremy and I came up with the idea of putting a personalized sticker on the wrapper of each caramel. We designed the 1” circle sticker in Powerpoint and copied and pasted it over a bunch of times in Word to fill an 8 ½ x 11 page. Then I bought sticker paper to print them on and a 1” punch to punch out the stickers. (By the way, doing it yourself this way is much cheaper than having stickers printed from an online company like VistaPrint.) Below is a list of all the supplies I used to make these favors; the cost works out to be around $1/favor.

Materials to make caramel favors:
-6 caramels per favor, about 12 batches of this recipe
-Wax paper
-Cello bags (3.75” x 6”)
-8 ½ x 11 sticker paper (fit 80 1-inch stickers per page)
-1” punch
-¼” wide satin ribbon (used a 12” length of ribbon/favor)
-Cardstock (I used leftover cardstock from our invites)
-1/8” hole punch
-1/8” quicklets (eyelets that can be set without any tools)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wedding Invitation Design

Wedding invitation design is probably the decision that I have agonized over the most so far in our wedding planning process. I have pretty much known from day one that I wanted to make our wedding invitations, partly because I love scrapbooking and partly to save money. Although some pretty cheap invitation suites can be found at places like Michael’s, I wanted our invites to be a little more personal and unique. So here are the steps I’ve gone through to design our invites!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Great Beer Tournament: Bottles 37-42

The next match-up of Great Beer Tournament has been completed!  This round goes back to our standard style with all random beers going head to head.  Unlike the previous match-up, which featured all pumpkin beers, the results of this round were much more varied as all of the beers had different flavors that we both enjoyed and disliked.

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