Boston Cream Candy
2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecan pieces
2 cups sugar
1 / 2 cup light corn syrup
1 / 4 cup half-and-half
1 / 4 cup whipping cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 / 4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Line it with a piece of parchment long enough to hang over two sides. Butter the paper, too, and tuck it flat against the pan.
Set the pecans near the stove. Combine the sugar, salt, corn syrup, half-and-half, cream and butter in a heavy-bottomed, 3-quart pot. Heat over low, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved. (This can take a while, and it’s hard to see; check the texture by running your finger over the mixture that clings to the spoon.)
Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the mixture foams to a boil. Add the baking soda. Lower the heat and stir like mad. The mixture will double in volume and then gradually subside and begin to take on a golden hue.
After the mixture settles a bit, insert a warmed candy thermometer. Continue to stir constantly, scraping the sides, and cook over medium-low heat until the thermometer registers just 240 degrees. (Watch very carefully, as the thermometer will hover at 239 for a while and then move up. (You must not cook it past 240.)
Remove the pot from the heat and take out the thermometer. Continue to stir briskly. The candy will look like a loose caramel sauce. Add the vanilla (watch out; it may spatter) and stir carefully to incorporate.
Add the pecans and continue stirring briskly. Don’t take your eyes off the mixture at this point. Watch and feel it as it begins to thicken, lighten in color and become harder to stir. When it has thickened enough to leave a path on the bottom of the pan while you’re stirring, it’s just about ready.
The moment you notice that the mixture is beginning to lose its glossy sheen, scrape it into the buttered pan. (Don’t wait until it looks completely matte or it will be too dry to cut.) If you stop stirring at the right moment, the mixture will firm up almost the second it hits the pan. Too soon, it will never be more than caramel; too long, it will harden in the pot.
As soon as the candy cools (15 to 20 minutes), cut it into squares. It will probably have tiny bubbles on top. It may crumble when cut. If it doesn’t harden immediately, let it sit for several hours, even overnight, and it may. If not, you have great caramel.
Makes about 1 pound, 64 pieces if cut into eighths on each side.