Saturday, January 01, 2011
CREAMY-SWEET, CHEWY LITTLE BITES OF HEAVEN
Once upon a time, a few years back, I belonged to a very special sisterhood. Very special. Back then, when we lived on the Big Island of Hawaii, I crossed over an invisible line that only a rare, few 'outsiders' ever get to traverse.
Somehow or other, all the Hawaiian gods and goddesses were smiling upon me in the same nanosecond of time whilst pushing me with all their legendary might into the blessed, privileged circle of true Hawaiiana.
In fact, hula practice, right there in Kona on the hallowed grounds of Hawaiian Royalty, the Hulihe'e Palace.
I was appropriately self-conscious and terribly afraid they would simply laugh and kindly ask me to leave. But they didn't. Or more precisely, HE didn't. In all fairness I think he probably would have preferred to dismiss this over-eager haole (white person; foreigner) chick, but instead he silently sighed, shugged his shoulders and permitted me to stay. IN THE BACK ROW!
My life changed this day, the day I met Kumu (teacher) Hula Etua Lopes. Etua is a highly revered Kumu Hula and Hawaiian chanter. To this day he is the only Kumu Hula that has the honour and privilege of teaching on the royal grounds of the Hulihe'e Palace.
That's exactly where I, enthusiastically, attended hula practice twice a week for 2-3 years of my life. And Etua was my Kumu Hula!!! Life is good!
Back then, when I had been in hula for a few months, our first Christmas in paradise rolled around and of course I wanted to gift a little something special to Etua. What could I give him to reflect my overwhelming appreciation, happy gratitude and the holly, jolly spirit of the season?
I made him one of the very best things I make. Caramels. He shared his 'best' with me, I had better do no less!
That worked. He loved those caramels! So, so much!! He'd get that mmm, mmmm, mmmmmm satisfied look of sheer pleasure on his face that made me giggle every time. And he still does!
Whenever we come back to the Big Island around Christmas I always come with a big bag of home-made caramels for Etua. Even now, a smile sweeps my heart just picturing his excited grin and eager anticipation when he sees me walking towards him with a overloaded cellophane bag of waxed paper wrapped candy.
Having once been a 'member' of Etua's Hulau Hula Na Pua U'i O Hawaii has given me a secret key of sorts. These days, when I come 'home' to Kona, on any given Tuesday or Thursday, right around dusk, when the Hulihe'e Palace is all closed up for the day I know it's alright for me to go to 'that' particular gate, lift the latch and cross the line back into the inner sanctum of Hawaii. Because once you belong 'they' let you belong forever!
Or maybe it has something to do with my homemade caramels.........
Mahalo nui loa Etua for for sharing your authentically Hawaiian talents and teachings with me. My world is a better place because of you.
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Here we go..........................Put sugar, salt and corn syrup in a large heavy pot.
Add 1 cup of the combined creams and cook over medium high heat stirring constantly, until syrup reaches soft ball stage (234F degrees).
Add 1 more cup of the combined creams and stir until mixture reaches soft ball stage again. Add remaining cream and stir until mixture reaches 245F - 248F degrees. This could take up to about 45 minutes. As the temperature of the candy starts to climb towards the 245F mark, watch carefully and be ready to remove from heat. If you leave the candy past this temperature your caramels will still be amazingly creamy and addictively delicious but they will be hard. We'll looking for soft and chewy here.
As soon as mixture reaches in the range of 245F - 248F immediately remove from heat, stir in vanilla and nuts if using. Pour into buttered parchment paper lined 8 or 9 inch square pan until just firm but not hard.
Once caramels have cooled enough, you may want to refrigerate until just firm enough (but not hard) to cut into little squares. Cut into pieces about 1-inch square with a buttered cleaver or butchers knife and wrap in waxed paper squares, twisting the ends. Store in baggies or airtight containers. Makes 80-100 small chewy, scrumptious candies.
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon Hawaiian, Kosher or sea salt
1 1/3 cups light corn syrup
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
Optional - 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts, pecans or macadamia nuts
Line a 8 or 9-inch square pan with buttered parchment paper, with some overhang so you can easily remove the caramel 'block' from the pan for easy cutting. Combine half-and-half and cream in a 4-cup measure. Mix sugar, salt, corn syrup and 1 cup of the combined creams in heavy 3 or 4 quart pot. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until syrup reaches 234F degrees on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage). Add 1 more cup of the creams and stir until mixture again reaches 234F degrees. Add remaining cream (told you they are creamy!) and stir until mixture just reaches 245F - 248F degrees; this could take up to 45 minutes. Watch carefully and immediately remove from heat when candy is in this temperature range. Stir in vanilla and nuts, if using. Pour into prepared pan and once cooled, refrigerate until just firm, but not hard. (May not need refrigeration to get just firm enough to cut - room temperature might do) Cut into pieces about 1-inch square and wrap in waxed paper. Caramels keep well in air-tight container.