It’s October, so you know what that means: time to bring out the pumpkin treats! Pumpkin bread and pumpkin spice lattes are all well and good, but why not expand your pumpkin horizons this year by cooking with pumpkin seeds?
Pumpkin seeds aren’t just for scraping out of your pumpkin before you carve it. When they’re hulled and roasted, they’re known as pepitas, and they make a wonderful addition to fall baked goods and candies.
This caramel recipe, jam-packed with pepitas, contains plenty of fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice, to create a wonderfully fragrant treat that tastes just like autumn! Even though they don’t contain any pumpkin puree, they’re reminiscent of pumpkin pie because of all the wonderful spices and the touch of molasses. Read on to learn how to make Pepita Caramels.
Pepita Caramels (Pumpkin Seed Caramels)
yield: one 8×8-inch pan (about 64 small caramels)
- 1 cup roasted, salted pepitas
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 4 ounces (8 tbsp) butter, divided use
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp molasses
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Candy/deep fry thermometer
Note: as with many candy recipes, you might have difficulty if you try to make this on a day with high humidity or stormy weather. Avoid the possibility of too-soft and sticky caramels and make this on a low humidity day!
Cover an 8×8-inch baking pan with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Set it aside for now. In a small bowl, combine the pepitas, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Set this aside as well.
In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream and 2 ounces of the butter–save the other half of the butter for later.
Place the pan over medium heat and bring it just under a boil–the butter will melt, and you should see bubbles forming and popping along the edges of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and set it aside while you prepare the rest of the caramel. The purpose of warming the cream is so that it won’t cause the hot sugar to seize when you add it later, the way cold cream might.
Combine the corn syrup, granulated sugar, and molasses in a medium (4-quart or larger) saucepan.
Put the pan over medium-high heat, and stir with a rubber spatula until the sugar has melted.
Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. This removes the sugar crystals that are on the pan, and helps prevent sugar crystals from forming in your caramel. Nobody likes grainy caramel!
Once the sugar syrup comes to a boil, insert the candy thermometer. Continue to cook the candy, without stirring, until it reaches 320 degrees Fahrenheit (160 C). This will take 10-15 minutes, and by the end your sugar will have started to caramelize and take on a golden color and be fragrant. Watch it toward the end, as it tends to cook faster and you don’t want it to burn.
When it reaches 320 F, carefully pour the warm cream into the hot caramel. It will bubble up and steam a lot, so watch your hands and don’t put your face right above the pan.
The caramel will double or triple in size in the beginning, which is why a larger pan was required. Stir the mixture constantly until the sugar syrup and the cream are well-mixed.
After you added the cream, the temperature of the caramel dropped, so now you need to cook it, stirring frequently, until it climbs back up to 250 degrees F (121 C). This will give you a soft and chewy caramel. If you prefer firmer caramels, cook it to 255 F. As it cooks it will darken and take on a deep amber color. Make sure you keep stirring, or the caramels will scorch on the bottom of the pan.
Once at 250 F, remove the pan from the heat. Add the bowl of pepitas and spices, the vanilla extract, and the remaining 2 ounces of butter.
Stir until the butter melts and the nuts and spices are well-incorporated. At this point, the candy should smell fantastic.
Pour the candy into the prepared pan and shake it slightly so that it evens out. Let the caramels sit at room temperature until firm, at least 4 hours or overnight. To speed up the process, you can refrigerate the caramels once they reach room temperature.
Once firm, remove the caramels from the pan using the foil as handles. Use a large sharp knife to cut the candy into thin strips, then cut the strips into small squares. The caramels are fairly tall, so you can cut small 1-inch squares and still have a very rich and satisfying candy. To serve them easily, I recommend wrapping them individually in squares of waxed paper. This helps them keep their shape and prevents them from sticking together.
Your Pepita Caramels are finished and ready to be enjoyed! Store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
Halloween is a well-known candy holiday, but store-bought candy bars and fruit chews don’t have anything on these homemade goodies. It’s no trick–these autumn-inspired caramels are quite a treat!
All text and images (c) Elizabeth LaBau