Book Bites is Cooking the Books‘ more easygoing sibling. Authors talk about their book and share a recipe, all in one tasty bite. Today, my friend (and co-editor of the soon to appear 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook) Cat Rambo is here to tell you about her gorgeous new book and first novel, Beasts of Tabat, just out!
Book Bites with Cat Rambo:
My family all shares a sweet tooth, and I’ve always been a fan of candy shops in fiction, to the point where I included one in my first novel, Beasts of Tabat:
Far down past the florist on Greenslope Way is Ellora’s Daughter’s Candy Shop. That close to the College of Mages, plenty of shops and stores supply magical wares to the elite. . . .The candy-maker, Ilyia, is another dropout from the College, like the florist. These living confections are her specialty: butterflies with sugar-pane wings or elbow-long dragons that roar and breathe flame before falling apart into cake with green and scarlet frosting.
In honor of Ilyia’s wares, I’m sharing a recipe that I make every year, gingerbread caramels. It makes a vast amount of incredibly rich, spicy-sweet bites, which are magically compelling enough that around November certain friends and family start making anxious noises about whether or not I’ll be making caramels. It’s based on a Martha Stewart recipe, but I’ve upped the spices considerably.
Two pieces of equipment are vital to the process. One is a five ten-gallon (edited), thick-bottomed pot I inherited from my maternal grandmother – the caramel foams up to two or three times its original size in the cooking and if your pot is too small, you face a flood of molten caramel. The other is a solid, restaurant-grade candy thermometer; mine’s so well-used by now that the markings have worn off and it’s due for replacement.
4 c heavy cream
2 c light corn syrup
4 c sugar
12 T unsalted butter, cut into ½ cubes
1 t vanilla
¾ t salt
2 t cinnamon
1 ½ t ground ginger
1 t freshly ground nutmeg
½ t cloves
½ ground cardamom
optional: coarse-grained sea salt
Steps: Line a 12 x 17 “ baking pan with parchment paper. It will stick better if you spray the pan with cooking spray or lightly wet it beforehand.
Combine cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses in the large pot. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium high and cook until mixture is 248 degrees F on candy thermometer. This will take longer than you think, and stirring can be fairly occasional without much detriment to the caramels. However, when you get close to the right temperature, it’s time to be vigilant – a little difference on either side of things and you’ll have soupy caramels or else caramel-flavored jawbreakers.
Remove the pot from the heat and add the vanilla, salt, and spices, stirring well to distribute them. Pour mixture into baking pan (be careful, it is very hot). Martha Stewart says not to scrape the pan, a practice I approve of because it leaves a lot of leftover caramel to be savored later. (Let it cool first. It really is very hot.)
If you want to sprinkle the caramels with sea salt to increase the trendiness quotient, this is a good time to do it, and if you use something like a coarse-grained black salt, it can be very pretty. Put the pan in a safe place and let stand, uncovered, for 24 hours.
If you’ve gotten the temperature right, the caramels should be a delightful chewy but firm quality, and you can lift them out of the pan with the paper in order to slice them. You can wrap individual ones in paper but, frankly, this is a tedious process and I have never had anyone object to getting a candy bar-sized slab of caramel and told to slice their own.
Supposedly keeps up to a month in an air-tight container. Good luck having any survive that long.
Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Tor.com as well as three collections and her latest work, debut novel Beasts of Tabat. Her short story, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” from her story collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see http://www.kittywumpus.net