In the summer, when I was swimming in stone fruits and bathing in berries, I planned to have enough jams, jellies, and other jars full of edible treats to dole out and use up freely all winter long.
But somehow, in between jars opened to accompany toast or yogurt at breakfast, or passed on as host gifts, birthday gifts, or holiday gifts, my reserve of preserves isn't where I thought it would be come midwinter. Unfortunately, this happens to coincide with what are, for many of us, the most difficult months of the year. It's frigid, the snow continues to pile up, and it still feels like it'll be forever before it starts to warm up again.
While I'm sure I could find some apples to sauce or quince to chutney, caramel is an even easier party trick to warm up a cold day. It doesn't require the canning kettle to do, and I know of very few things that wouldn't be made nicer by the addition of a spoonful of caramel, to the point where it doesn't really need to keep for very long anyway.
This one, folded with cooked down pears, is a variation on a classic caramel. Once set, it has a lush, fudgy texture. Ginger and cardamom lend their herbaceous, spicy flavors which, alongside a generous pinch of salt, make for a sophisticated sweet. It's ideal match is ice cream, but nobody would complain if it turned up in bread pudding, was sandwiched between wafers of shortbread, or stirred into a mug of hot cider.
Another nice thing about this caramel is that it easily comes together in steps, so you can take on the preparations throughout the day in between bouts of shoveling the walk and planning a dream vacation to a tropical destination. Infuse the cream while you brew your morning coffee. Cook down the pears while you prepare your dinner and, with only 15 minutes of your undivided attention in front of the stove, you'll have five more jars to add to your collection before you go to bed. Even if we can't yet welcome warmer weather, we can certainly warm ourselves with a little something sweet.