I've been on a mission to make non-dairy caramels. I know that the word "buttery" is usually used in conjunction with the word "caramel," so a version that doesn't contain any milk-based products sounds a bit ... well, odd, to be very polite about it.
But those who keep kosher - many of my friends - don't mix meat and dairy products; therefore, they wouldn't eat a caramel apple, for example, after eating a chicken sandwich. One of my co-workers has a very severe dairy allergy, and many people are lactose intolerant.
And so, it seems to me that being able to make a good non-dairy caramel would be a mitzvah ([MITZ-vuh = good deed]), enabling all of these people to enjoy treats that are currently verboten.
I first tried this project last year, using a non-dairy version of half-and-half; my "caramels" - I use the term with a roll of my eyes and a groan - separated into a layer of goo topped with a layer of grease. This was not one of my finer moments in the kitchen.
But my friend Emil Boch - The Kosher King of Ann Arbor, for those who remember my interview with him - told me that coconut products might be helpful, eliminating the chemical factors of pseudo-milks.
In all honesty, by the time I got around to trying this little venture again, I couldn't remember precisely which coconut product - milk? water? cream? - Emil had recommended. My brain has gone beyond being a sieve, and now qualifies for "burst dam" status. Age will cause your brain cells to implode ... I'm living proof.
But I am determined to make this work! So I bought one of the new coconut milk-based So Delicious non-dairy coffee creamers that are all the rage. I had some pareve ([PAHRV] = neither meat nor dairy) margarine. I had brown sugar. I had the last little dribble of my bottle of Drambuie, for flavoring. I was ready.
I put the margarine, corn syrup, brown sugar, Drambuie, and vanilla extract into a saucepan. I brought it to a boil. It looked beautiful.
I added the creamer, and brought the mixture back to a boil. It was much lighter than my dairy caramels had ever been; but I also knew that the mixture would darken as it cooked down.
From having made caramels before, I knew that it takes a loooong time to boil the ingredients down into a candy. You stand, you stir, you stir, you stand, you wait. Fifteen minutes ... liquid. Fifteen more minutes ... liquid. Fifteen more minutes ... thickening, kinda gooey. But still not looking like caramel. Still not the right consistency.
Since my candy thermometer broke and I haven't yet replaced it, I used the cold water test to see if my candy was even remotely approaching the right state. I dropped a little dribble into ice water, and tested to see if it felt like a little rubber ball ("soft ball" stage).
It was well beyond that. The candy was hard.
So I stopped stirring, I turned off the heat, and I poured this beige, marshmallow-y goo into a greased pan.
It wasn't looking particularly appetizing. But I thought perhaps I could call it "nougat," since it was clearly not even remotely resembling caramel. It might be lighter and fluffier than I'd planned, but that wouldn't mean it wasn't good.
But after I wiped up the grease bubbles and let it cool, it was hard. It was a rock. Seriously, this stuff could've scratched a diamond.
So, obviously, I wasn't going to cut it into little squares, wrap it in pretty papers, and give candies to anyone! What to do, what to do ...?
Well, I picked off a little bitty shard that was thin and fragile. I dared to taste it. And ... it was really good! It was sweet, an indescribable hint of the Drambuie and vanilla shining through, a wisp of butterscotchy-ness. I let my boyfriend, Craig, taste it, and he agreed that it was really nice.
He said, "It reminds me of that taffy you used to get, where you'd smash it and break it into little pieces."
That's it! I didn't make non-dairy caramels, I made non-dairy Turkish taffy (which is hard, rather than the chewy salt water taffy).
So, since today is Hallowe'en, I'm offering both tricks - caramels that magically transform themselves into an entirely different entity! - and treats, which are lovely little sweet taffies.
Once the taffy is broken up, larger pieces can be served as a candy; crumbs can be pressed into a shortbread cookie base, mixed into chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie batters, sprinkled over ice cream ... there are countless possibilities!
Always remember: if your recipe doesn't work out the way you'd originally conceived of it, just rename it, re-purpose it, and pretend that's what you'd intended all along ... :)
- 1/2 cup margarine
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Drambuie
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pint So Delicious dairy-free French Vanilla coconut milk creamer
Place margarine, corn syrup, brown sugar, Drambuie, and vanilla into a 3-quart (minimum) saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Add creamer and return to a boil; cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Skim foam from top, then continue to boil for 30 more minutes, stirring frequently.
Prepare a glass of ice water, and dribble a very small amount of the sugar mixture into the water; if it solidifies and is quite hard, the taffy is ready. Remove the saucepan from heat.
Line an 8"x8" pan with foil, extending the foil beyond the edges of the pan, then grease the foil with margarine. Pour the taffy mixture into the pan, and let cool completely.
Pull the taffy out of the pan by using the foil; peel the sides of the foil down. Place the taffy into a sturdy plastic freezer bag, then smash it against the countertop to break up the taffy.