Holiday gift ideas: Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels

Every year, I try to come up with interesting and flavorful homemade holiday gifts to give my friends, colleagues and family.  I usually bake a variety of cookies, cakes, shortbread and crackers, package them up and give them away in decorative tins and boxes.

This year, I wanted to try something new.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m still baking (as is evidenced by the 80 or so cookies cooling on my kitchen counter right now), but I thought it might be fun to try my hand at something different and unique. I looked through cookbooks, websites and magazines, and the one recipe I kept coming back to was for Salt and Pink Peppercorn Caramels from Better Homes and Gardens‘ December issue.  The photo in the magazine was so beautiful, and the description that accompanied the photo was equally as lovely.  I just knew I had to try this flavor combination.

I decided, though, that I would make my own caramel recipe, and just add the pink peppercorns and salt at the end.  The BHG recipe was fine, but it used brown sugar, and I prefer my caramel made with white sugar.  I know that this is one of those super-refined ingredients, and I would love to experiment with candy-making using unrefined cane sugar, but at this point I’m comfortable with the familiar.  And I just don’t make candy all that often, so when I do, familiar is important.  Candy-making is a fickle art, and I’m not yet knowledgeable enough to be totally experimental, especially since I need these to give as a secret-Santa gift tomorrow.

According to Serious Eats:

Pink peppercorns lend foods a different kind of heat, closer to chiles than black pepper. They have the same peppery bite, but it’s wrapped in a sweet fruity flavor reminiscent of a berry with an attitude. The peppercorns have a thin, fragile skin that can easily be rubbed off (a great lightly-flavored colorful garnish for fish or chicken).

Based on this description, it only makes sense that you’d pair them with something sweet, and when you enhance the whole thing with some French Celtic sea salt, you’ve got a perfectly balanced bite.

Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 40 minutes
rest time: 2 hours
yields: 60 pieces
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup salted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 teaspoon crushed pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon French Celtic sea salt
  1. Prepare a rectangular baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying with oil or greasing with butter.  Set aside.
  2. Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter and 1 cup cream in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.
  3. Stir until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes, then wash down sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in warm water.
  4. Place a warmed candy thermometer in the pan and cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. 
  5. Wash down any crystals that form on the sides.
  6. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 244F, or Firm Ball stage.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and with a clean wooden spoon, gradually stir in the 2nd cup of cream.
  8. Return to the heat, bring back to Firm Ball stage, or at least 245F.
  9. Remove from the heat and pour into your prepared baking pan.
  10. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. 
  11. Sprinkle crushed peppercorns and salt evenly over the surface.
  12. Allow to cool completely – you may want to put it in the fridge to speed this process.
  13. Once cool, remove the caramel from the pan by lifting the foil liner.  
  14. Peel off the foil, and cut into pieces.
  15. Wrap with waxed paper.

Aren’t they pretty?  And I can tell you, the flavor is just as nice.  These are a great little holiday treat for your friends and family.  The pink peppercorns add a unique dimension to the flavor profile, while also adding a touch of holiday color to an otherwise ordinary salted caramel.  Try them and let me know what you think.



9 thoughts on “Holiday gift ideas: Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels

  1. >SOOOO pretty! I would love to get a candy thermometer and actually try this recipe (and a bunch of other candy recipes), but I have to say – candy is the most intimidating "cooking" to me.

  2. >I tried the BHG recipe tonight in the hopes of creating a lovely hostess gift. It yielded an extremely sticky, very difficult-to-work-with mess (even after freezing them for a few minutes as the recipe suggests). The taste is pretty good, but they stick to the teeth and definitely aren't gift material. What's your secret for obtaining a good result?

  3. >@MB – I'm sorry to hear that. The recipe I used for the caramel is for Cream Caramels adapted from The Joy of Cooking. I did refrigerate them for a bit, and then halfway through cutting them I had to stick them in the freezer for a bit to bring the temp down a little more (mainly because I don't think I let them cool all the way in the fridge). They set up beautifully, though. The difference between my recipe and the BHG recipe was that mine used granulated sugar (which contains less moisture) and theirs uses brown sugar; otherwise they were very similar.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s