Grandma Klein’s Chocolate Caramels

It wouldn’t be Christmas in our family without this recipe tradition of my Grandma Klein’s Chocolate Caramels!

Chocolate Caramels from afarmgirlsdabbles.com

If I had to choose one Christmas treat with the most sentimental value attached to it, this would be it.

Grandma Klein’s Chocolate Caramels.

For so many people, including myself, these caramels could be considered my grandma’s food legacy, the single recipe that we’ll always remember her by. Each Christmas day, Grandma Klein would offer two pans of her homemade chocolate caramels. One pan with nuts, one pan without. I always went for the no-nuts, but if that pan was emptied I had no problem moving on to the one with nuts!

(This post was previously published December 2010. Grandma passed away in the fall of 2017 and I wanted to update this post with new photos and share it again. Because it really is one of my favorite recipes of all time. Photographs and some of the text were updated December 2017.)

Chocolate Caramels from afarmgirlsdabbles.com

Something my daughter said made me start thinking about Christmas gifts I received as a kid. I thought I would be able to rattle off a big long list to her of things I had been given.  But this brainstorming activity had very little outcome. There weren’t many things that stood out. Except for Wetsy Betsy and my first clock radio.

And my boombox.

Ahhhhh…my beloved boombox. I’m positive Mom and Dad regretted putting that package under the tree, as I rarely knew a volume softer than “extra loud”.

So, besides the boombox, what else do you think entered my mind as my brain was out for a jog?

I had a flood of memories.

And they all came down to moments, to shared experiences with special people in my life. Meaningful memories that I still possess to this day, unlike the boombox and numerous other gifts I can no longer recall.

Christmas memories, 1974

Grandma Klein with a handful of her grandchildren, 1974

I smile to think about some of these Christmas memories:

  • Playing at Grandma Klein’s house on Christmas day. Her little house at the end of the street was filled to the brim with cousins, cousins, everywhere!
  • Listening to my mom, grandma, and many aunts bustling away in the kitchen, preparing the feast. Their happy chatter and laughter could rival my boombox any day!
  • Snitching Grandma Klein’s homemade chocolate caramels. She always made two pans. One with nuts, one without.
  • Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus at our small town church’s Christmas program, in the same angel costume I had worn the previous year. And the year before that.  AND the year before that!
  • Visiting Grandpa and Grandma Renelt at their winter Florida home, celebrating with a decorated Christmas palm tree instead of our usual evergreen.
  • Slurping Grandma Renelt’s heavenly oyster stew on Christmas Eve.
  • Baking Christmas goodies with Mom and my sisters.
  • Making homemade ice cream, taking turns cranking the pail by hand. And taking that first spoonful…yum!
  • Waking up on Christmas morning to Mom’s magnificently tender caramel rolls.
  • Indulging in just one more of Aunt June’s cream wafer cookies or one more piece of Aunt Donna’s cranberry cake. (Yes, I have LOTS of fond food memories!)
  • Listening to Grandpa Renelt or my dad read the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve, the room reverently silent.
  • Looking out across the farm, at the lit star that Dad hung from the northward pointing peak of the barn, imagining that one bright star so many years ago…

Christmas has become increasingly more about focusing on finding joy and meaning, about savoring the stuff that’s real. And passing all this good stuff (including the food!) on to my own kids.

So, here’s that recipe that I love so much, an annual Christmas treat.  I hope you like it, too.

Chocolate Caramels from afarmgirlsdabbles.com

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Chocolate Caramels from afarmgirlsdabbles.com

Grandma Klein’s Chocolate Caramels

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. white sugar
  • 1-1/2 c. corn syrup
  • 1-1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 c. unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I use Baker’s brand)
  • 1-1/2 c. chopped nuts, optional (I prefer without!)
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Generously butter a 9″ x 13″ pan and set aside.

Place all ingredients except nuts and vanilla in a heavy medium sauce pan. Over medium to medium-high heat, stir the mixture quite constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon until it just reaches 240° F, and then quickly pull pan from heat. This will take quite some time, be prepared to stand by the stove for awhile, stirring, stirring, stirring! Do not let the caramel mixture over cook, or you will have hard caramel. Likewise, undercooking will result in softer caramels. (See note below about using a candy thermometer.) With pan off the heat, stir in the vanilla. Stir in nuts, if using. Pour into prepared pan. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

If you prefer regular caramels, omit the chocolate.

If you want to gift these caramels, simply cut them into your desired size and wrap in wax paper.

This is how I achieve those super clean cuts: With refrigerated caramel, I first cut around the outer edge of the pan to loosen the caramel from the sides, and then invert caramel onto a wood cutting board that has a layer of wax paper on it, flipping the caramel slab right-side up again. Let warm a bit. Depending on the consistency of the caramel, this can take 20 to 60 minutes. If it’s hard to cut, wait another 15 minutes and repeat as necessary. Then I use a long non-serrated knife (a “sandwich knife”) to make the cuts. For even more precision, use a ruler to mark out exact sized cuts.

Please note:  Using candy thermometers can be a tricky thing. Thermometers are known to vary, which can give you different results. It’s a great idea to know the accuracy of your candy thermometer. If you want to calibrate your thermometer, to know exactly where yours sits, I found a great tutorial over at Our Best Bites. Check it out!

From Grandma Klein’s recipe box, originally from her dad’s (my Great Grandpa Braun’s) sister, Victoria Sand.

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Here are a few more favorite family Christmas treats you might like:

(This post was previously published December 2010. Grandma passed away in the fall of 2017 and I wanted to update this post with new photos and share it again. Because it really is one of my favorite recipes of all time. Photographs and some of the text were updated December 2017.)