One of my favorite memories of my grandpa is that he always had licorice in his front shirt pocket (he wore those Western style shirts with snaps on the pockets). My brothers and I all love black licorice--so it was no surprise that licorice caramels are a big hit around our house. I first had these tasty treats in college when my roommate made them for me. I'm pretty sure the recipe is from The Lion House Dessert cookbook, but I got it from Melissa and haven't been able to come to a family Christmas without it since. Even if you don't think you like licorice, you very well may love these (you can make the recipe without the anise and just use vanilla...or if you are busy like me, you make one batch of caramel and divide it in half and do both in one fell swoop). On years that I get my act together early, I wrap the caramels individually, other years I cut it into squares and stack in wax paper layers. I usually cut up my wax paper squares while the caramel is cooling in the pan.
1 C. butter
1 1/2 C. light corn syrup
2 C. white sugar
1 can sweetend condensed milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp black food paste
1/2 tsp anise oil (NOT extract)
In a heavy 6 qt saucepan mix the butter, syrup, sugar, sweetened condensed milk and salt. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring constantly until mixture reaches "soft ball" stage and a medium caramel color (around 225-235 on a thermometer...I never use one, I use a bowl of ice water and test it). Don't try and make the process faster by turning up the heat, it will burn.
Remove the caramel from the heat and add the anise oil and food paste. Let the caramel cool a 20-30 minutes in the saucepan before pouring it into a well-buttered cookie sheet/cake pan (if you pour super hot caramel, it will melt the butter and stick to the pan). Do NOT try and pour the mixture directly on wax paper, it will melt the wax and stick to the paper (learned the hard way). I usually use my kitchen shears (sprayed with Pam) to cut them into squares.