As far as I am concerned, two of the best kitchen-cooking-smells are browning butter and cooked sugar.
Caramels are my new holiday jam. Perfect in a little bag tied up with string for a friend, perfect in a jar for you.Perfect to mail. Perfect to cover in chocolate. Plus, there is very little that is as painfully darling as the little waxed paper bundles they make.
I thought someone out there might need an easy-ish and last minute present idea, so here is the recipe I'm using (it's Mark Bittman's, from How to Cook Everything).
(directly transcribed from emailing excitedly to Amy)
1/2 stick butter
1 1/2 c heavy cream
2 c sugar
1/2 c light corn syrup
pinch salt (I say more!)
1 teaspoon vanille (more if desired)
Mix all of this stuff in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low. Stir like a crazy. When every single last sugar particle is dissolved (this is when I use my little brush and a cup of water to wash down the sides of the pot because I am terrified of crystallization), crank up the heat to medium (just medium) and let it go, only stirring every five minutes or so. Mine were bubbling for 30+ minutes at least. Measuring with a candy thermometer, let it go to: 240 for soft caramels, 245 for hard-ish ones, or 250+ for "toffee"-like ones. Take off heat, add vanilla, pour into parchment-lined 8"x8" dish. Cool on rack!
They solidify pretty easily, so after an hour or two you should be able to cut (I used scissors).
PS: Thank you so much for all of the book-excitement (bookcitement?). It was so exciting for me to finally say something about it!