Jude’s Christmas Stocking

I actually finished this project quite a while ago—I’m pretty sure I at least had all of the knitting done before Thanksgiving last year.

This is, obviously, Jude’s Christmas stocking. It’s made using the Modern Classics stocking pattern by Nina Issacson. I got this pattern and the yarn as a kit from KnitPicks several years ago, just a few months after I had started my PhD program. The kit contained enough yarn for three stockings. I made mine and Aidan’s right after buying the kit and then patiently held onto the extra yarn until Jude was here.


In the intervening years, I’ve actually made seven other versions of this pattern. Two for my in-laws and five for Aidan’s sister’s family. I reached max burnout on this pattern approximately three stockings ago, but felt like I was locked in and had to keep making them.

At this point, I feel complicated about these stockings. The complicated feelings have nothing to do with the pattern itself, which is perfectly fine. I love the way our family stockings look hanging all together. Aidan also really loves them.


But I still vividly remember knitting the first two stockings for Aidan and I when I was deep in the middle of a crushing bout of depression and struggling to stay afloat during my first semester of PhD coursework. I knit these stockings pretty quickly, but only because I couldn’t get myself off the couch to do anything else. It was knitting as a form of numbing, and I still feel it a bit when I look at them.

The progressive burnout of knitting this pattern ten times only adds to the uninspired feelings. But now the big kicker is that I ever wanted to knit another stocking to match our family stockings for any future family member, the yarn that came with the original kit (Knitpicks Telemark) has been completely discontinued. It’s also not widely stashed on Ravelry, so finding some to buy from another knitter seems unlikely. So the best I would be able to do to try to match it is find a similar color in a similar base. And I have a feeling that even the closest match would result in a fourth stocking that is just off enough to drive me crazy.


But that’s not a situation that is immediately before me, so it’s not something I’m actually worried about. For now, we’re enjoying another Christmas season with our matching stockings hanging in the hallway.

Handmade Christmas Gifts 2016

I ended up making way more gifts this year than I have in a long time. It’s not because I have any desire to foist handmade stuff on everyone on my list or that I think a handmade gift is the best kind of gift. It’s really more that I hate Christmas shopping and I’m not particularly good at gift giving. Frankly, making gifts is kind of nice way to give someone something kind of generic like a hat or a scarf but in a way that feels highly personal. Yes, it’s just a hat, but it’s a hat I knit in my pajamas while I rewatched Battlestar Galactica and drank a beer. Also, that mark right there might be melted chocolate from the fistful of Reese’s Cups I was eating at the same time. How much more personal can we get? Anyway, here’s this year’s gift roundup:

Star Bellied Wallabies

Wonderful Wallaby with star pocket

Pattern: Wonderful Wallaby

Yarn: Plymouth Encore Worsted in Light Gray, Neon Orange, and Neon Blue

Recipients: Our twin toddler nephews

Notes: This is one of my favorite patterns–so cute and wearable. I made the size 2 but added an inch to the length of the body, sleeves, and hood. I also charted out a star to add to the kangaroo pouches, which I knit using intarsia. I love how they turned out!

Modern Classics Christmas Stockings #8 and #9

Modern Classics Stockings

Pattern: Modern Classics Christmas Stockings

Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes in Cloud and Aurora Heather

Recipients: My in-laws

Notes: This is now the eighth and ninth time I’ve knit up this pattern. I mixed the charts from the “Modern” and “Classic” stockings like I’ve done every other time. This is, frankly, not one of my favorite patterns to make but they are at least quick to make. And that’s good, because I’m more or less locked into making these for all future family members on my husband’s side.

Ballydesmond Mitts

Ballydesmond Mitts

Pattern: Ballydesmond

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Sport in Summer Sky Heather (for the blue pair) and Malabrigo Rios in Sandbank for the brown pair

Recipients: The blue pair went to one of Aidan’s co-workers and the Malabrigo mitts were for my sister, Kayla

Notes: This is a great pattern. It comes with instructions for making these in either a sport or a worsted weight yarn. I kind of prefer the way the sport version looks, but the worsted version knits up super fast. Either way–they’re easy and they look great.

Honey Cowl

Honey Cowl

Pattern: Honey Cowl

Yarn: Malabrigo Rios in Aguas

Recipient: My sister, Jenna

Notes: I’ve made this pattern once before for myself, and it’s a very soothing and meditative knit. Sadly, I got about 60% through the cowl before realizing that my skeins were noticeably different from one another so I ended up ripping back and alternating skeins. The final product is definitely worth the extra work, but it put me under a bit more time pressure than I would have liked.

Petal Pouches


Pattern: Petal Pouch Pattern from Noodlehead

Fabric: various quilting cottons

Recipients: Three of my sisters–Sarah, Grace, and Kayla–and my dad’s girlfriend, Jess

Notes: I was inspired to make these after my youngest sisters visited us this summer. They are both big into sketching and drawing and carried all of their art supplies around in ziploc bags. Maybe that’s just their preference, but I thought these pouches were cute and practical. There are a thousand free zippered pouch patterns available online, but I’m glad I went ahead and bought this one. It’s not just the unique shape that makes it worth the purchase–as a novice bag maker, I feel like I learned some really useful techniques that will make any future pouch-making much easier and give me a nicer result. I really love how these pouches turned out. I even used some of the leftover skull print to make a small version of the pouch for myself.

So that’s Christmas 2016 wrapped and gifted. Now back to making things for me.

Handmade Christmas Gifts, Part II

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I prefer to make just a handful of gifts each year so that I focus my energy on the projects that inspire me, so that I can finish my gift-making with plenty of time to spare, and so that I can avoid adding to the list of inevitable end-of-year stresses. This year I made the superhero capes that I blogged about earlier in the week, as well as two other gifts, one for Aidan’s mom and one for my brother’s girlfriend.

The gift I made for my brother’s girlfriend was an attempt to give a bit of a personal touch to an otherwise generic gift. Since we live pretty far from our family, this year was the first chance that I’d had to actually meet my brother’s girlfriend. My dad’s gift suggestion was that she would appreciate any kind of “girl stuff” like candles or lotions or the like. As it turns out, there is no shortage of generic “girl” gifts to be given, but that doesn’t mean the options are inspiring. I’m no Leslie Knope when it comes to gift-giving, but I still hate giving a gift that says, “I did the least I could possibly do to give you something.” So I compromised and paired some generic gift items—a scented candle and a tea/mug gift set—with an easy pair of knitted hand warmers.

Handwarmers via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I made these using the Women’s Wrist Warmer pattern from Last Minute Knitted Gifts. I adjusted the pattern numbers slightly to account for using a lighter yarn and smaller needles than called for in the pattern—you can get all the specific knitting details here on Ravelry. I made these using yarn leftover from a previous project and was able to complete them in a single evening, so making this gift wasn’t a major investment of time or materials. Even if she doesn’t end up wearing them, I like to think that taking a bit of time to make something for her says, “I’m really glad to finally meet you. Thanks for treating my brother well.”

Handwarmer Gift via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

When it comes to making handmade gifts, I think that careful finishing can be the difference between a gift a person wants to receive and a gift they give some major side-eye. When these hand-warmers came off the needles, they looked like little mussed tubes of nothing. When I blocked these, I made sure to let them soak for a good long time to really relax the stitch pattern and then stretched them over some cardboard templates that I cut out myself. (Saying I made a template is a fancy way of saying that I cut a 3” rectangle out of some cardboard to stretch the handwarmers to 6” circumference.) Careful blocking doesn’t change the fact that these are essentially simple knitted tubes with a thumb-hole, but it at least helps them look a little more impressive laying flat.

Tuscan Greeting via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The gift I made for Aidan’s mom definitely took more than an evening to complete, although I finished it much earlier in the year. I thought of Aidan’s mom as soon as I saw this Tuscan Greetings Dimensions kit—not only because it matches the decor of her kitchen and living area, but also because Aidan’s parents celebrated their 30th anniversary this year. This is the third Dimensions kit I’ve made in the last couple of years. Like a lot of mainstream designs, they don’t really match up with my personal aesthetic, but they’ve worked well as gifts that I’ve given people, and I honestly think that they are some of the best kits I’ve used. Their charts are easy to read, the instructions contain good explanations of the different stitches used, they separate out and label the different thread colors, and they rarely make use of 1/4 or 3/4 stitches that can be fiddly or difficult for beginners.

Thus ends my recap of handmade Christmas gifts for 2013. All in all, it was a very low-stress year of gift-making. The worst part was when we shipped our presents and had to sit for a week in a cold sweat hoping they would actually make it to Wisconsin. We ended up getting to Wisconsin before our presents, but they arrived just in the nick of time. Here’s to a new year of making!

Handmade Christmas Gifts, Part I: Superhero Capes

Aidan and I have a nephew and godson who were born just a few days apart from one another and are now just a few weeks away from their third birthdays. We’ve always had fun coming up with gift ideas for both boys and, I think, have done our fair share of spoiling. On the one hand, it’s really easy to come up with gift ideas for really young kids because everything is new to them and because they tend to like just about anything. On the other hand, it’s hard because a lot of kids have no shortage of toys, and because so many toys (and clothes and baby care items and just about anything that you could purchase for a kid) are aggressively gendered and branded in a way that kind of squicks me out. One of the reasons that I like handmade gifts for kids is because it gives you the chance to subvert some of that gendering and branding business. Plus, I figure I should take advantage of the opportunity to make these little guys gifts because it won’t be too long before they are too cool for my crafty shenanigans.

Superhero Cape via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I came up with the idea for superhero capes while I was searching for ideas for what became the Monster Love baby gift. Amidst all the free tutorials for things like bibs and baby hats and whatnot, I came across this free tutorial for superhero capes from Thread Riding Hood. I thought about making superhero masks to match the capes, but eventually thought better of it. I figure that little kids have enough of a time staying upright and avoiding scrapes and bruises that they don’t need to deal with the added complication of potentially obscured vision.

The tutorial has a pattern for two different sized capes—one size for 18m-3T and one for 4T and up. While my nephew and godson are basically the same age, they’ve occupied opposite ends of the growth chart since they were born. So I used the smaller size for my nephew, who is more slight, and the larger size my godson, who is both tall and broad. The difference in sizes is a matter of about 2” of length and a bit of additional width with the larger size.

Superhero Cape via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

All the fabric I used was quilting cotton from Jo-Ann Fabrics. The comic book words novelty print I used to line the back of the capes (which is the same print I used for the coffee cup sleeve I showed in an earlier post) looks like it’s still available on Jo-Ann’s website. I got a yard each of the red and purple and 2 yds of the comic book print and had plenty of fabric left over (all of the fabrics were ~44” wide). I was able to cut the blue backing for the logo out of 1/4 of a yard of fabric.

Superhero Capes via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

While I’m sure the wildly independent toddlers that received these capes would object to the comparison, these capes are not much different than the monster baby bibs I made awhile ago—the capes are larger, but the process of making them is essentially the same. Following the advice in the tutorial, I searched for something like “superman alphabet” and used one of the fonts that came up to trace the letters that I appliqued to the back of the capes. It wasn’t a terribly scientific process—I basically zoomed in on the letter I wanted until it was about 5” tall and then traced it by holding a piece of paper up to my computer screen. When you trace the logo design onto the fusible web, you just have to remember to trace the design backwards so that it will be right-side up on your fabric. I just traced the right side of the logo with a black Sharpie and it bled through the paper enough that I was able to flip the paper over, lay a piece of fusible web over the top, and trace the design backward without any struggle.

Superhero Logo via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

My crowning achievement with these capes is that, unlike the monster bibs, I managed to not totally muck up the edge stitching around the applique. In fact, I think I did a pretty bang-up job managing all the angles and curves and shape changes of the logo. There was that thing where I accidentally sewed part of the cape to itself while edge-stitching, unpicked the stitches, and then made the same mistake except worse. But aside from that episode, I think I showed real sewing growth.

Superhero Logo via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

We gave both boys a copy of Bob McLeod’s Superhero ABC with their capes. As you can imagine, it was hard to find good books about superheroes that weren’t just franchise fodder. McLeod’s book is really colorful and has great illustrations that show a different superhero for each letter of the alphabet. The book features a good number of female superheroes and a more racially diverse cast of characters than you’d see in a lot of books. Plus, the descriptions of their superpowers are silly and fun. It might be a bit before the boys really appreciate the book since they are still pretty young, but I think it stands a good chance of becoming a favorite.

Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod

Around the time that I finished making these, I dreamt that I had a huge Superman logo tattooed on my throat—so huge that it stretched almost from my chin to my sternum. The dream wasn’t about actually getting the tattoo or having other people react to the tattoo—the dream was just me thinking about the tattoo. And in the dream I was genuinely trying to figure out if the tattoo was a bad life choice. I was rationalizing that my tattoo was somehow different than other neck tattoos, because in my dream state, it seemed to me that my giant logo throat tattoo wasn’t really that noticeable. And finally, I was trying to remember everything I’ve heard over the years about the relative pain and success of tattoo removal procedures. They say that dreams are your brain’s way of working out problems while you’re sleeping, and if this is the case, I’m not sure what my tattoo dream says about my problems. Perhaps just that making gifts for people is always more stressful than we anticipate? Regardless, I’m happy with how these capes turned out and even happier that I don’t have a gigantic Superman logo neck tattoo.

Cross Stitched Christmas Ornaments

Here I am, publicly talking about cross stitch again, which I think means my crafting shame has decreased a bit. I’ve been eyeing some of the cross stitch Christmas ornament kits that are around for awhile now. Cross stitched ornaments appeal to me because they have a purpose, and because I have fewer aesthetic objections when it comes to Christmas decorations. Frankly, I much prefer an anything-goes Christmas decor to a more sanitized, monochrome Martha Stewart approach. At Christmas time, I embrace a whole host of things that I otherwise dislike, including Frank Sinatra, claymation, and glitter. One of my life goals is to own a miniature Christmas village, complete with little figurines ice skating on a frozen pond made of cellophane. I’ve even found myself wishing I had a really good Christmas sweater.

Miniature Christmas Village, Birkenhead (1)

I’m coveting this mini village. Photo by Rept0n1x, via Wikimedia.

So while I rarely come across a non-holiday cross stitch design I really love, I rarely find a Christmas-related cross stitch design that I’d totally turn my nose up at. Maybe I need to just embrace this and make cross stitching for Christmas my thing.

Cross Stitch Ornaments via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Anyway, as I was contemplating the purchase of an ornament kit, I rediscovered a set of small cross stitch kits I’ve had sitting around in a drawer for awhile. These are the kinds of cross stitch kits you can buy at places like Michaels or JoAnns for a couple of dollars. Aidan bought me the sock monkey kit last year (you can get the same one here), and I think I picked up the tree and Santa kits for $.99 at JoAnns a couple of years ago (they’re also available online). I’ve always been confused about what to do with these little 2” designs—how many of these little things do you need hanging on your wall? But then I saw someone who was stringing ribbon through the tab on the plastic frame and hanging them as Christmas ornaments, and I realized I was being obtuse. So it goes.

Christmas Tree Ornament via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Sock Monkey Ornament via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

So I stitched these up and got them ready to hang on the tree. I just popped the Christmas tree and the sock monkey into the plastic frames they came in and put a ring of hot glue around the back to secure them. The Santa ended up not fitting in the frame he came with because of where I backstitched the year, so I used a little 3.5” embroidery hoop I had sitting around to frame him. After the design was secure in the hoop, I trimmed off most of the excess fabric, used a hot glue gun to glue the remaining fabric to the hoop, and then glued a piece of white felt to the back of the hoop to hide the back of the cross stitch.

Ornament backs via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The Santa was totally worth the five minutes of extra work because he’s my favorite. Why is he hugging a Christmas tree? I have no idea, but I want to kiss his little cheeks.

Santa Ornament via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Thoughts on Making Gifts

At Christmas, the craft world is abuzz with talk of lengthy gift lists, craft-induced stress, late-night craft-cramming sessions, and the nightmare that is having to wrap an unfinished item. At the same time, parodies of the homemade gift pop up over and over again. Crafters are losing sleep over their lists of gift projects while a whole host of voices want us to believe that everyone secretly dreads a handmade gift. Of course, the parodies, like most pop culture tropes, are cheap, one-dimensional, and tired. Unless you are watching a period piece, you rarely see a skilled maker produce a beautiful handcrafted item that the receiver loves, despite how often this happens in real life. And I think that people who really believe that “the only real gift is a purchased gift” are a small, albeit vocal, minority of people you probably don’t want to hang out with anyway. But given all the stress and anxiety and hurried toiling that comes with gift-related crafting, I’ve been wondering: why do we give homemade gifts?

I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question, as if to say: “why bother?” I ask the question genuinely, as in: How do we make decisions about when to make gifts and what to make and for whom? What kinds of values underlie those decisions? When does making gifts pay off and when is it an unnecessary drain on our creative energy?

Kari at UCreate has a list of 10 reasons to give handmade gifts that sums up a lot of the reasons I like to make gifts. My biggest motivation for giving handmade gifts is that it allows me to give things that are personalized and unique. Handmade gifts can also be a sure thing for people that you know appreciate certain items–I like giving Aidan socks because he wears them enthusiastically and his mom always likes getting knitted dishcloths. In the past, I’ve given something handmade when I’m short on gift ideas, which can work well if it matches the person’s interests and personality. I was stumped for gift ideas for my sister’s 12th birthday and ended up making her this sock monster. It might seem like a random gift, but it matches her quirky personality and her love of all things cute and silly.

But other motivations for giving handmade gifts can creep in, like the belief that handmade goods are inherently superior. Or the belief that a handmade gift is the only way to provide a personal gift or the only way to opt out of the rampant consumerism that takes over during gift-giving seasons like Christmas. The idea of a handmade Christmas is nice, but does it run the risk of replacing the pressures and expectations of consumerism with a different set of pressures and expectations?

Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t also an aspect of performance to making handmade gifts. By that, I mean that I wonder if there is some part of us that is working to show that we are skilled and to have this skill verified by the people who receive the gift. I think this performance is more unconscious than anything and, to some extent, unavoidable. Of course I want to have my skill recognized. I take pleasure in having people appreciate the time and thought and skill that went into making something. But it’s dangerous to let that desire for praise or the need to perform “craftiness” take over—if you fall into a place of looking for external validation as the primary marker of the worth of what you’ve done it only breeds bad feelings and disappointments.

Gift giving is emotional, for both giver and receiver. And for the giver, it seems that the emotional stake in a gift increases the more we invest. We worry more about whether a person will like a gift when it is expensive or when we’ve had to go out of our way to get it. Or, in the case of the handmade gift, we worry more about how a gift will be received if it took a lot of time or precious materials to produce. When we inflate the value of handmade goods (simply by virtue of being handmade) or burden ourselves with more gift projects than we have reasonable time or energy to produce, we increase our emotional investment and, likewise, our risk of disappointment if the gift is not received in the way we hope. When we have an inflated emotional investment in a gift or when we’re desperately looking to have our work validated in specific ways, this puts more pressure on the receiver. And perhaps that’s where some of the disdain for handmade gifts comes from—from people being put in a position where they not only receive something they dislike, but where they know, implicitly, that there is added pressure to be extra appreciative or to actively praise a person’s skill.


There’s always a risk that someone won’t like a gift. The question for me, as a maker, is: how do I keep my emotional investment in a handmade gift in check and make giving a handmade gift as positive an experience as possible? I find that my best handmade gift-giving experiences come when I’m realistic about my time, my ability, and about the person that I’m giving a gift to. Likewise, my worst experiences have come from not being realistic. Usually, being realistic means that I focus on my energy on just a few handmade gifts at Christmas and the occasional handmade gift through the rest of the year rather than trying to make something for everyone. To stay realistic, I’m continually asking myself questions like:

  • Is working on a deadline or making something for someone else going to make me feel resentful? Do I have the creative energy to make this gift or am I already immersed in projects I’d rather being working on?
  • Is this gift appropriate for the receiver? Am I making it for them because I think they will appreciate it or just because I want to make them something?
  • Have I chosen materials appropriate for the person who will use the gift and for how the gift will be used? If I’m thinking about using expensive or delicate materials, do I think the receiver will appreciate those materials? Are these materials that I love and want to keep for myself?
  • Do I really have the time to make these gifts? Have I factored in other life events and responsibilities that will zap my energy or interrupt my ability to work on these gifts? Do I have time to do the finishing work that will make this item shine?
  • If I’m starting to feel overwhelmed or stressed, what can I cut from the list? What can be saved for the next gift-giving occasion?
  • Can I actually make this thing and make it look good/be functional?
  • And when it’s done: Am I happy with how it turned out? Do I feel good giving this as a gift?

It’s always a challenge to be realistic about your time, especially at Christmas when everyone is busy and there is continual pressure to make the season special. But I think it’s also difficult to be realistic about your ability. The bizarre ornament your 6-year-old niece made in art class is charming, but the dry, burnt cookies you receive from someone who only dusts their measuring cups off once a year in December are decidedly less charming. It’s tempting to use new skills to make everyone gifts (because, “Hey! Look at this awesome thing I can do now!”) or to learn a new skill because you want to make a particular gift. But being new to a craft means that even simple projects can take a good deal of time, can require the purchase of new tools and materials, or can make you feel insecure about what you produce, all of which inflate your emotional investment in the gift. It’s not that I think you can’t take up a new craft and start making gifts right away or that every new crafter endures a period of making endless items of shame. I’ve sewn gifts for three people in the very short time that I’ve been sewing, but I’ve tried to be mindful of my ability in doing so by picking projects I feel confident I can execute well and that aren’t a burden to complete.

I take for granted that the only acceptable response to a gift is to say “Thank you,” even if you’re visualizing the fastest route to Goodwill while you unwrap it. But there’s no denying that the handmade gift, despite the thought and love that might go into it, can become a special kind of disaster. I like to think that being mindful about why and when we give handmade gifts can help us avoid playing out the parody.

Since I’ve been thinking a lot about handmade gifts, I’m curious: Are you making gifts this season? How do you choose what to make and who to make gifts for? Where do you think handmade gifts go wrong?

(All of the pictures in this post are of knitted gifts I’ve made over the years. You can click on each picture to get all the project details on Ravelry.)

Christmas Caramels

First off, let me say that these are really, seriously good.

That said, I’m not really sure I executed this recipe the right way. I have an excellent idea of what various kinds of batters and doughs are supposed to look like, but I really have no frame of reference for candy making. The one thing I know when it comes to candy is that you have to be vigilant about what “stage” your candy is supposed to be at when it’s finished, whether it’s soft ball or firm ball or hard ball or whatever other vaguely sports-related stages there are. Some people have a high level of candy knowledge that allows them to visually identify when they’ve achieved the appropriate stage. Bully for them. Most people use a candy thermometer. I struck a balance between using a candy thermometer and just winging it by holding a cheap meat thermometer (which I actually use for bread making) in the pan with one hand while I stirred with the other, even though I’m pretty sure the thermometer is at least 5 degrees off. Still, I think I did well pulling the caramel off the burner when it got to the firm ball stage given that the finished candy is pleasantly soft and creamy while still holding its shape at room temp.


The tricky part came with the first step of the recipe, in which you boil a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, and water until it is a “deep golden” color, at which point you add the cream and butter mixture. Except there’s no indication in terms of time as to when this otherwise translucent mixture will suddenly achieve deep golden-ness. My decision to incorporate the cream mixture was dictated largely by my anxiety about burning the sugar, which peaked after stirring the sugar mixture for the length of several Christmas songs, at which point I would have described it as “kinda” golden. (Maybe 10 minutes? Probably not more than 15?) It still bugs me to think that there might have been a better level of golden that I didn’t hold out for, which is probably why my caramels are lighter in color than some of the others I’ve seen. But like I said before: they are delicious. But really–we’re talking about sugar, cream, and butter. Short of burning, it seems pretty hard to screw up.

Caramels 2

Unlike Ina Garten, I do not have any fancy-pants flaked French sea salt, nor did I have any desire to purchase some just to make this recipe. I don’t have that kind of cash laying around. Instead, I used some humbler Morton’s sea salt in the caramel recipe and decided not to sprinkle any salt on the finished candy. All in all, I thought these were pretty easy–the trick is just to prepare everything in advanced and keep everything you need in reach so you can move from one step to the next without the risk of burning or overcooking the caramel.

Ultimately, these caramels made it on a goodie tray I made up with some leftover oatmeal cookies and some dark chocolate brownies that I took over to a delightful Christmas Eve dinner my office mate hosted at her house. Despite all the leftover sweet stuff I’ve got hanging around here, I just pulled some mini-cheesecakes out of the oven for Aidan and I to enjoy after our Christmas dinner this evening. I hope you’re all having a tasty holiday. Merry Christmas!

goodie tray

Fleur De Sel Caramels (from Ina Garten)

Note: I’ve linked to the recipe as its posted on the Food Network website, but the recipe posted there is wrong as many have noted in the comments. What I’ve posted here is based on the ingredient list given on her show. Also, I cut the caramels into 1 1/2″ rectangles and ended up with about 25 pieces.

  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 c light corn syrup
  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel (or, for those of us who are broke, any kind of sea salt you can get your hands on)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  1. Line the bottom of an 8×8 pan with parchment paper, letting the parchment hang over the edge of the pan, and grease the parchment. Set aside.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/2 c of water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat, and continue to boil until the caramel is golden in color. While boiling, gently swirl the pan to keep the caramel circulating in the pan. Watch it carefully because it can burn quickly.
  3. At the same time, bring the cream, butter, and salt to a simmer in a small sauce pan. Keep the cream mixture warm until you’re ready to add it to the sugar.
  4. When the sugar mixture is golden, slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Cook and stir for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat until the mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm ball stage). Pour the caramel in the pan and then refrigerate until its firm.
  5. When the caramel is cool, use the parchment to remove it from the pan and transfer the caramel to a cutting board. Cut the caramel into small pieces and, if desired, sprinkle additional salt over the top of the caramels. Wrap the caramel pieces in small squares of parchment, twisting the ends of the parchment to close. Store in the refrigerator or keep at room temperature.