About 6 months ago, my sister Jody asked me to make caramel dipped pretzels for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. She wanted to use them as place cards for lunch. Of course I quickly agreed. I love my niece and my sister very much. Besides, when it was my oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah, 10 years ago, she laboriously snipped twigs from her garden and fashioned them, with a hot glue gun and incredible manual dexterity, into numbers for the table cards for our dinner.
Another sister (I have four of them plus one bother!), Bo, baked and iced 225 of these adorable sugar cookies to give out to guests. They were created to look like the Bar Mitzvah boy! My siblings and I hail from a genetic pool of hard working and deeply creative folks! With the long lead time she had given me, I had ample time to research and test recipes so that we would have the perfect pretzel. My sister has a finely developed sense of aesthetics and we spent many hours discussing the appropriate colour shape and size of the tag to tie onto the pretzel bag and the colour of the ribbon. We debated fonts as well as font weights and sizes. We looked at the pros and cons of dipping all in dark chocolate or half in milk and half in dark. We contemplated coloured sprinkles vs. Skor bits. No option was left unconsidered.Fast forward to a week before the Bat Mitzvah and I had yet to produce a single dipped pretzel. Somehow I just hadn’t gotten around to it. There was no shortage of caramel chocolate dipped pretzel rods on the Internet for inspiration. I found these and these and these. However, most of them used ready-made caramels and just melted them for dipping. I needed to make 140 pretzels! By the time I finished unwrapping enough tiny caramels for melting, the Bat Mitzvah would be over. Besides, my niece deserved better than store bought caramel.
During my research I discovered that most recipes for homemade caramel followed a fairly similar ingredient list and methodology. I settled on a caramel recipe from Mrs. Fields’ blog (of the cookie fame). Following the methodology of most of the recipes I found, I dumped butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk into the pot, brought it to a boil and started stirring. I ended up burning the bottom of the pot. Dumped that mess out and started over again. Here is an excellent tip to remove burnt debris from the bottom of your pot: fill pot halfway with water, add a few tablespoons of powdered dishwasher detergent and bring to a boil. Rinse and scrub and most of it should come off.
Attempt # 2: I melted the butter, and then stirred in brown sugar until it dissolved. Then I added the corn syrup and condensed milk and boiled until my candy thermometer read 245°F. Once I started working with the caramel and it began to cool, it hardened too much for dipping.
At this point I suspected that my candy thermometer was off. I decided to test it by bringing a pot of cold water to a boil. Once the water was at a rolling boil, I checked my thermometer. It read 202°F. If you recall from science class, water boils at 212°F. My thermometer was off by 10°F!
For my third attempt, I made the mental math adjustments and took the caramel off the heat at 235°F. Perfect!
I prepared a little video to show the coating and decorating process.
My sister and niece were thrilled with the finished pretzels. My sister ended up labelling them with beautiful kraft brown tags and purple raffia ribbon. She displayed them in glass ginger jars, All the guests gobbled them up very quickly.