The candy woman can 

I can't take a sunrise and sprinkle it with dew, sorry. No dipping tomorrows into dreams, either. But with a little sugar, cream and butter, I can probably make the world taste good.

It's December. We all could use a little sweetening to get through the darkest days of the year, which, depending on your mood, may include the holiday season. Try to snap out of it and make the world taste good -- with your very own homemade caramel.

Sugar cookery is a bit like being in a lab. They're a hoot to make, and the end results are caramelly authentic with a buttery, vanilla flavor that melts on the tongue. You might save a few bucks on gifts this year, and the friends and neighbors will love your initiative and sense of creativity.

But here's what I want to know: Do you say "carmel" or "cara-mell"?

Caramels

Adapted from The Ultimate Candy Book by Bruce Weinstein, with additional tips from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage

Canola oil spray

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

Optional: 1/4 cup dark rum

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Optional: 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel

Tool requirement: Candy thermometer

• Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper and lightly grease with Canola oil spray. Set aside.

• In a medium-sized heavy saucepan (tall rather than wide), combine cream, sugar, corn syrup, rum (if using) and salt. (If using fleur de sel, omit salt at this stage.) Cook over medium heat and stir with a rubber, heat-proof spatula until sugar is completely dissolved. Heated cream can cause sugar syrup to bubble, so be careful of eruptions!

• Add butter and stir until it melts. Clip candy thermometer to inside of pan. Cook mixture, WITHOUT STIRRING, until temperature reaches 248 degrees (firm ball stage), about 45 minutes. Remove from heat, and if using, add fleur de sel and stir to combine. Allow mixture to stop bubbling, and pour hot caramel into prepared pan.

• When caramel is cool enough to handle but still warm to the touch, lift parchment by edges out of pan in one piece. Place on a cutting board, marble slab or silicone mat. With a sharp knife, cut candy into 1-inch squares. Don't wait for caramel to get cold, otherwise you won't be able to cut it.

• Let caramels completely cool before wrapping in wax or parchment paper. Will keep in airtight container for a few weeks. Makes about 60 pieces.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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