Beer and Pretzel Soft Caramel Candies
Pretzels have been a snacking companion to cold beers for ages. Combining them into a candy? Absolutely, without-a-doubt, genius. Caramel is made with one bottle of beer, part of which is added directly into the caramel and the other part reduced down to a concentrated teaspoon that takes the place of something like vanilla extract. The caramel is cooked to the firm ball stage, which keeps it softer and chewier after setting so it won’t pull your teeth out. The caramel is topped with pretzel rods and once set, cut into little bite-size pieces. These are full of amazing complementary flavors and textures. Soft caramel and crunchy pretzels… sweet caramel and salty pretzels… And full disclosure here – these are tremendously addicting. Eating piece after piece without realizing that you have downed at least five is entirely possible, and very likely. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
This was actually my very first time making caramel. I was a tad bit nervous but so excited that it came out exactly the way it was supposed to! I had my trusty candy thermometer attached to my pot and just made sure I kept a close eye for when it hit the “firm ball” line. I think that these are great candies to make for the holidays for all of the men on your Christmas list. It’s a manly kind of candy, and these would be perfect in a little festive bag or tin as a stocking stuffer or a homemade present. The caramels got a big thumbs up from my Chief Culinary Consultant and his brother, so they are officially man-approved!
– Please be very careful when pouring the caramel into your pan! It feels like molten lava if it hits your skin. I got splashed on two fingers and the caramel immediately stuck to, and burned, both fingers. Nothing major, but it sure did hurt for awhile, so be careful!
– Make sure you heed the recipe note instructing you to wrap the caramels as soon as you cut them or they will lose their shape. If you decide to set aside the really perfect-looking ones for pictures but figure you’ll finish wrapping the others and do a few other odds and ends first, this is what they’ll end up looking like after a number of hours have passed (they really were perfect!!):
Ale and Pretzel Soft Caramels
1 12-oz. bottle of ale, divided (I used a local pilsner)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup light corn syrup
About 15 pretzel rods
Wax paper, for wrapping
1. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of the ale to a simmer and cooked until reduced and syrupy, about 20 minutes. This will yield about 1 teaspoon of concentrated ale flavoring. Set aside.
2. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan or two 9x9-inch pans. Combine the remaining beer, both sugars, the butter, heavy cream and corn syrup in a heavy 4 or 5 quart pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. The butter will melt and the mixture will begin to boil.
3. Continue to cook until a candy thermometer reaches 244 degrees F (firm ball stage). When the correct temperature has been reached stir in the ale reduction and remove from the heat. Pour into the prepared pan(s) and top with the pretzel rods.
Let cool for several hours or place in the refrigerator until firm. (If refrigerated, let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.) Remove the caramel block from the pan and place pretzel-side up on a cutting board. Cut wax paper into 5x5-inch squares and wrap caramels.
Note: Caramels must be wrapped or they will lose their shape (see example above).