The Creation of Caramel

Though I’m given full run of the house and the kitchen, being a live-in nanny means that there’s a level of awkwardness that remains when it comes to baking for pleasure in my employer’s house. I keep my own supply of dry ingredients, but eventually I have to use one of their eggs or some milk and that just feels wrong, despite it being emphatically allowed.

So I don’t do a lot of cooking or baking these days, unless the house is quiet and empty and I have everything prepared. Fortunately, I have creative friends.

On Sunday night my friend Oliver invited me over for dinner and the creation of caramels, and I agreed to go if he would pronounce “caramel” correctly the whole night, which he most certainly did not.

Oliver is dangerously domestic. We had a lovely homemade dinner, which Oliver creates on the fly with no effort and with the earned superiority that comes from being competent in the kitchen.


And it was delicious, damn him.

We did up some Bailey’s Irish Cream next, pending the creation of our own chocolate syrup, and I don’t think I ever fully understood how much heavy cream goes into it. It’s a lot.


I, of course, had none of this because I won’t be 21 for seven days and it’s illegal and I’m a good citizen, don’t arrest me.

Next we went on to craft the caramel, and as it turns out, I never truly wanted to know what goes into caramel, and I even find it fortunate that I haven’t consumed much of it in my life, because after making it I feel like any I ate is probably still lining my intestines.

The ingredients are really quite simple. First, you dump several cups of white sugar in a pot. Then you add the corn syrup.


And you just… just mix up this sugar and corn syrup. I know this is difficult to follow.

After that you heat it to 310 degrees, which is, as we discovered, hot enough to melt a rubber spatula. Note to future self: Do not use rubber spatulas when creating caramel.


Nothing makes you feel more like a witch than watching this stuff boil. Bubble, bubble…

After it’s reached 310 degrees, you throw in a lot of heavy cream, which results in an interesting reaction and which causes everything to instantly congeal. When this has become a horrible oobleck-resembling mess, you throw in the healthiest ingredient (butter!) and you’re done. And somehow, these four terrible ingredients have produced the smooth and chewy substance we all know and will probably die from.


Now you just stare at it for several hours until it hardens under your harsh gaze.

We did this twice more just to really experience it, and because Oliver, who may not actually be a real human being, is planning on distributing homemade caramel and homemade Bailey’s to his co-workers, who are probably very glad that they know someone who will provide them with 50% of their Christmas treats.

If you have a friend that creates, go spend time with them, because there’s really nothing like the feeling of scraping congealed brown junk off the bottom of the pot and knowing deep down that you ate far too much of this as a child and that it may never have left your body.

Feliz Navidad!

Puzzle Rolls

On Fridays both Mr. and Mrs. Parent and all the boys are gone, leaving me with the run of the house. As such, I’m torn between doing something productive and lying around like a lump all day. Typically lump wins out, but last night in a heroic feat of athleticism I managed to pull something in my back while sleeping, so lying around was painful and I was forced to keep on the move.

I cleaned up my room a little, and after I piled six pairs of leggings on the bread machine box I realized that the bread machine could be used for things other than storage, such as for making bread.


There really is no greater feeling than knowing you don’t have to mix this yourself.

I opted to make some dinner rolls reminiscent of my mother’s, which is typically a Thanksgiving treat. Because Idaho is 2,600 miles away, I went to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, and they were light on rolls and heavy on cranberries. Unacceptable.

I used the recipe I found here, because it looked good and most importantly I had all the ingredients already. After throwing all the ingredients in haphazardly and only consulting the manual four or five times, I managed to start the machine again. Thirty minute wait for the kneading and first rise.


“Hey,” I thought to myself, “maybe I’ll actually put together a puzzle to justify the fact that I impulse bought it during that Barnes & Noble sale!”

I pulled out my Thomas “Every Christmas Card You’ve Ever Received” Kinkade puzzle to pass the time and decided to pick one at random. This turned out to be a good idea, because there was actually had no choice in the matter.


This certainly is a puzzle. Ha.


I spent the thirty minutes of the cycle sorting edge pieces and center pieces, and there was something quite soothing about it. Puzzles are an excellent way to send your brain into hibernation, and the room was soon permeated by the smell of rising bread. It was charming.


Thoroughly appetizing.

When the cycle was done, the recipe dictated a halving, flattening, and eighthing of the dough. I’m a slave to instructions.


The recipe called for a twelve inch circle of dough. Not even the boots of the gods could have gotten this dough past eleven.

Once it was sliced into eight pieces, I rolled them from the bottom up and tucked the tip under the bottom of the roles.


Hey, these are kind of cute.


It’s not American enough if it’s not slathered in obscene amounts of butter.

While they rose for a second time, I pieced together the outside of the puzzle. This may have been the only time in my life that I’d managed to correctly separate all the edge pieces from the box; there was not a single gap. I’m done with my life now, everything I needed to achieve has been achieved.


For people prone to forgetting they made tea and letting it run cold, might I suggest a covered Death Star mug.

Just a preheated oven and fifteen short minutes later, rolls were produced.


And re-buttered. You can’t have too much butter. AMERICA.

They actually came out well, and I was appropriately shocked. They even tasted adequate. Much like any generic roll you would find at a church gathering or the local buffet. This is all I’ve ever really wanted in life, let me tell you. This and never needing to do laundry again.


I may have neglected a little of the children’s laundry during the baking process.

Baking Bad(ly)

Before I begin I’d like to thank Spectres and Stardust for nominating me for the Black Cat, Blue Sea award, which I was hugely giddy about for only eight or nine hours yesterday. Because these awards are like chain letters you actually like getting, the rules dictate that in order to accept it I must nominate some other bloggers who fall under the same category… and of the few I know, most have already been nominated.

I think I’ll just put off this whole award thing until I’ve managed to follow more blogs. I’m trying, but general bloggers are hard to find. Stop being so general, darnit.

One of the youngest boys in my care was down with a foot injury the other day, and was forced to stay home from school for a day. I had to come up with some low-key activities that did not involve leaping from high places, climbing dangerous structures, or hitting feet with a rubber mallet, so I suggested that we try baking some bread in my new bread machine from a post ago. He gleefully accepted.


And I only had to read 18 pages of the manual before we began!

Now, my mother has used one of these since I was born. We never lacked homemade bread in the house. Every few days she would create another loaf. She probably made around 1,800 loaves of bread in my lifetime.

Naturally, I helped her make the bread maybe twice. Probably when I was the same age as the youngest boy here. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing with this thing. “It’s like one of those Star Trek replicators, right?” I was thinking to myself. “You just press a button and there’s bread. That’s the most effort I ever had to put into getting bread when I was a kid.”

Bread machines aren’t rocket science, but they do require ingredients such as yeast and frustrated tears, so I had to take the boy to the grocery store to purchase some. When I do this I always hope the other patrons of the store are judging me for being a young mother. It’s funny because I’m not.


Once back home I told the kid that he could add ingredients after I measured them out. He was fine with this, because it allowed him to do important things in between, like playing Bejeweled on his mother’s iPad.

After we had thrown everything haphazardly into the bread machine bucket, we carried it over on our three good feet and rifled through the manual until we found the settings and buttons to press. Confidently, we pressed them.

Nothing happened.

“Oh, it’s supposed to do this,” I said knowledgably to my charge. “It always does absolutely nothing when you first start it up. Why don’t you go play on the iPad some more?”

And then, when he had run off to play more mind-numbing matching games, I called my mother in a panic. “I don’t think my bread machine is working!” I said, horrified at the idea that I might have wasted $10 on a bread machine from Goodwill.

My mother very patiently started trouble-shooting with me. We eventually tried setting it to a regular cycle rather than the “Whole Wheat” cycle, and it started right up. It was at this point that I realized that the Whole Wheat cycle began with 30 minutes of rest, but too late for that. Who even has time for 30 minutes of rest these days? Not neurotic bread-makers, certainly.

And so, on the wrong cycle, my bread mix was stirred and kneaded and risen and baked.


Oh look, I’ve baked the surface of the moon.

When it came out, it looked a little underwhelming. As a test run we had only baked a 1lb loaf, and it sat at the bottom of the bucket and looked as though it was a witch we had just thrown water on. The boy was very enthusiastic.


Like the kid you always pick last for dodge-ball.


Surprisingly, it wasn’t all that bad inside. A little less flavorful than my mother’s wheat bread, but better than you might have guessed by looking at it. I toasted some with some butter and it tasted quite like the sort of bread you might have had in the Middle Ages before all the interesting spices were readily available.

All in all, not a failure, but I’ll have to do some experimenting with it. Like, for instance, putting it on the right cycle and actually being patient.


I buttered some for my little helper and served it with tea. The tea was gone in seconds, because the tea I serve the boys is roughly 80% sugar. He found the bread to be palatable, but he was puzzled by the crust, which was crispy. He only ever eats store-bought white bread, so this was new territory.

He probably never would have eaten it if he hadn’t helped make it, but since he did, he loudly informed his brothers upon their return from school that they had to try the wheat bread, because he had made it and it was awesome.

Middling success, I say.