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Dec 17, 2013

Holiday Treats: Salted Caramels and Blackberry Walnut Rugelach

My sister, Molly, and I spent this past weekend making 16 kinds of cookies and candy. Sounds like a lot, I know, but it gives us a great excuse to take some time to catch up during the busy holiday season. We've done this every December for a few years now and have developed a list of favorites that we make again and again. But we also like to throw a few new recipes in the mix every year just to keep things interesting. I thought I would share a few of the new ones we tried.

If there is one recent food trend I'm fully behind, it's salted caramel. I love salted caramel anything, so I decided to try my hand at making some of my own. You don't necessarily have to buy a candy thermometer to make these, but it definitely helps! I used this one from Target. The only problem I ran into was that my pot was too shallow for me to clip the thermometer to the edge, so I just had to hold it. Not the most convenient situation, but luckily the caramels were worth it. I think they would make a great gift for any candy lover.

Sea Salt Caramel Recipe (from Inspired Taste)


1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream or heavy whipping cream (36-40% butterfat content)
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup (60 ml) light corn syrup
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon course or flaked sea salt


Lightly oil a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Line with a piece of lightly oiled parchment paper that comes up the sides by at least 1 inch. Set the pan aside.

Cut butter into 8 pieces then combine with heavy cream in a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until the butter has melted. Set aside.

In a small saucepan combine the water and corn syrup. Add the sugar and gently stir it into the water and corn syrup, just until moistened.

Heat over medium heat until the sugar has come to a boil. Then, cover with a lid for 1 minute. This adds steam/moisture to the pan, so any sugar that may have stuck to the sides of the pan melts and falls back into the boiling sugar.

Remove lid then attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan (or hold). Cook sugar for 5 to 10 minutes, until it reaches 320 degrees F (160 degrees C). At this temperature, it will take on a light amber color around the edges of the pan.

The moment the sugar reaches 320 degrees F (160 degrees C), carefully add about a sixth of the butter and cream mixture then stir, using the base of the candy thermometer to incorporate it. Repeat with the remaining cream and butter (adding a sixth of it at a time then stirring). The sugar will bubble violently as you add the butter and cream – so do this carefully and slowly to prevent the mixture from bubbling over the sides of the saucepan.

After adding the cream and butter, continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the caramel reaches a temperature of 240 degrees F (115 degrees C) for a soft caramel or 245 degrees F (118 degrees C) for a hard caramel. I chose to go hard.

My bubbling caramel after adding the butter and cream.
The moment the caramel reaches the desired temperature, pour into the prepared loaf pan. Cool 20 to 30 minutes then scatter the salt over the caramel. Let the caramel continue to cool at least 3 1/2 hours. If the caramel is still too soft for you to cut when you unmold it, you can refrigerate it for 30 to 45 minutes until firm. Use a large sharp knife to cut into your desired shape. I cut them into 1-inch by 1/2-inch rectangles.

You can wrap the caramels in plastic wrap, waxed paper, or mini muffin liners-- anything that will keep them from sticking together. If you don't plan to enjoy them immediately, you can refrigerate or freeze them for later. You should let them come to room temperature before eating.

Another new recipe I tried over the weekend was for rugelach, which are traditional Jewish pastries. They can be filled with a variety of things: fruits, nuts, chocolate, or all three! I went with blackberry walnut. The dough is made with cream cheese, so it is much easier to work with than regular pastry dough.

Blackberry Walnut Rugelach (adapted from Sarabeth Levine's recipe via Serious Eats)


16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons superfine sugar (I used powdered sugar and it seemed to work fine)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
2¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Approximately ½ cup blackberry preserves
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving

For the filling:
¼ cup (1 ounce) finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon superfine sugar (again, I used powdered)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
½ teaspoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon


Beat the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until evenly combined, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Beat in the superfine sugar, vanilla, and salt. Reduce the speed to low. Add 1¼ cups of the flour and mix just until incorporated, then repeat with the remaining 1 cup of flour. Do not overmix.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Flour your hands well and gently knead to be sure that the ingredients are evenly distributed, about 10 seconds. Divide the dough into thirds. Shape each portion into a 1-inch-thick disk and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, about 2 hours or up to two days.

To make the filling, combine the walnuts, superfine sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.

Working with one disk of dough at a time, unwrap and place on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, and roll out into a 13-inch-diameter circle. Using a small offset metal spatula, spread with about 2 tablespoons of the preserves, leaving a 2-inch-diameter space in the center of the dough, and a 1-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the jam with about 2 tablespoons of the filling mixture. Using a sharp pizza wheel or large knife, cut the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into 3 wedges, to give a total of 12 wedges. One at a time, starting at the wide end, fold the corners in about ¼ inch and then roll up. Do not roll too tightly or the jam and filling will ooze out. Try to keep the outside of each cookie free of jam and filling by wiping your fingers clean after rolling each rugelach. Place on the pans about 1 inch apart, with the point facing down. Curve the ends of the rugelach slightly toward the point to make a crescent. Repeat this process with the other two disks of dough.

Bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely on the pans. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar before serving if desired.

Here's what 16 kinds of cookies and candy looks like!
If you have a few free hours in the coming weeks, you should give these recipes a try! Or if you have more time grab a friend (or a relative) and make a bunch to share with friends, coworkers and family. I think all will agree it was time well spent.

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