While the mister is lamenting the shorter days, having to give up his time sitting on the back porch staring into the trees, I am embracing everything good about this time of year. The leaves! Sweaters! Baking! Chowder! Corn Mazes! Chili! Halloween! Pumpkin everything! And I'm not really even a pumpkin kind of gal! But this year, something changed and I found myself baking Pumpkin Bread (recipe coming) and making Pumpkin Soup and even ordering a Pumpkin Spice Steamer at Starbucks!!! (Just steamed milk with spices...mmmmm, hits the spot!) The mister has wondered about my new found love/appreciation for pumpkin, "If one more pot of pumpkin in any form shows up for dinner then I'm going to order Chinese." As if he knows how to do that!
FYI for you Western Washington readers, there is a great corn maze in Duvall, Muddy Boots...I whined about having to drive out there, we have a corn maze 2 miles from the house and we passed a half dozen on the way to Duvall but it was worth it so if you get a chance, GO! Now, let's talk caramels, shall we? Toasted pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) on one side of the lightly pumpkin-pie-spiced caramels and sea salt on the other...where's the harm in that?!?
The toasted pepitas add a crunchy nuttiness to the caramel and the salt just sets it all in motion in your mouth. Like any homemade caramel, this takes about 30 to 40 minutes to make and then you have to let them cool. Caramel patience is not something I possess but if you try to eat one too soon you will end up with a burned tongue. Trust me. One batch makes about 80 one-inch caramels...enough for you and your fiends/friends to enjoy.
Don't skimp on the salt! One teaspoon may seem like a lot but some of it falls off before you can bite into it. The first batch I made I used 1/2 teaspoon salt, it wasn't nearly enough (pictured above.) The second batch I used a full teaspoon and it was perfect...and maybe next time I might even use a pinch more! If I had a salt-lick in my kitchen I'd use it!
They are pretty, yes? And they are really good...chewy, sweet, nutty, salty, pumpkin-y. They are a bite of Autumn for sure. While I don't like to be stingy, I have to warn you, IF you decide to share, make sure you give these to Pumpkin Caramel Worthy People...not your average unidentifiable Trick or Treater!
Pumpkin Caramels - Adapted from Food52
2/3 cup raw pepitas
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup good maple syrup
1/4 cup of water
4 tablespoons butter, cut in chunks
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt (Fleur de sel)
Dry toast the pepitas in a skillet over medium high heat until they start to pop. Remove and set aside. Line the bottom and the sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment, allowing the parchment to hang over the sides to you can lift the caramel out once it has set. Evenly spread the toasted pepitas in the bottom of the pan on top of the parchment.
In a saucepan, combine heavy cream, pumpkin puree and spices. Get this mixture quite warm, but not boiling. Set aside. In a second heavy bottomed pan, with sides at least 4-inches high, combine the sugar, both syrups and water. Stir until the sugars are melted, then let it boil until it reaches 220 degrees. Very carefully add the cream and pumpkin mixture, slowing bring this mixture up to 240 degrees as registered on a candy thermometer. This might take about 15 minutes or so, be patient and stir frequently. After the temperature reaches 230 degrees, stir constantly until it reaches 240 degrees to prevent burning. (I like to do the cold water test to make sure the caramel is just the perfect consistency...put cold water and a few ice cubes in a small glass. When the caramel reaches 240 degrees, add a half teaspoon or so of the caramel to the cold water and let it sit for about 5 seconds, then using your fingers or a spoon, remove the caramel and set it on the counter. If it holds its shape but is still a bit soft, then it's done. If you want a chewier caramel, let it cook a minute or so longer and then do the cold water test again until you have the desired texture...but don't allow to cook past 242 degrees or it will be rock hard!)
As soon as the caramel reaches 240 degrees, pull off heat and stir in the butter and lemon juice and mix until fully incorporated. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let cool 30 minutes then sprinkle the sea salt over the top. Let the caramel fully set (at least 2 hours) before lifting the caramel out of the pan with the parchment. Using a hot knife, cut them into 1-inch squares and then wrap them individually in waxed paper or cellophane. Makes about 80 one-inch caramels.
There are 14 days until Halloween, I will be a witch again this year...the mister says it's when I'm my truest self...I hope you'll dress up and get your share of free candy...I intend to! I'll end with a few pics of Max and Elsa - I was with them for 8 glorious days without their parents!! And let me say this, that's the best way to grandma! Yes, I used it as a verb because I grandma-ed those kids to pieces and bought more pumpkins last week than I have in all the years I've been buying pumpkins combined!!