Monday, December 11, 2006


Around the holidays, my family always made these caramels. The recipe was originally from my grandparents' best friends, and I grew up thinking that it was a super secret family recipe. Last year we discovered an almost identical recipe in Shirley Corriher's excellent book Cookwise. Go figure.

Candymaking can be tricky, but it's within reach if you have the right tools and a few important bits of knowledge. A trustworthy candy thermometer is key, since a few degrees in either direction can make the difference between hard candy and a nice soft caramel. A very solid pot (for even heat distribution) will make your life much easier, although my dad usually did okay with a nasty old aluminum pot.

Start by buttering up a sheet pan (so you don't have to do it later). Then, melt 2 cups of granulated sugar and 2 cups of light corn syrup on medium heat. The corn syrup helps keep the granulated sugar from recrystallizing once it's melted and prevents the candy from becoming grainy. You can stir a bit at the beginning, but not once the sugar has started melting (since again, that might cause recrystallization). You also don't want too much sugar on the sides of the pot - to avoid this, put the lid on when the sugar starts steaming, and let the steam collect and run down the sides. Once the sides are clear, take the lid off and put in your thermometer. Keep the sugars on medium heat until they reach 310°F/154°C - this will take a while, but keep an eye on it from about 270° on.

While the sugar has started melting, cut 1/2 c. of butter (1 stick) into 1 Tbsp. chunks and measure out 2 c. heavy whipping cream. Once the sugar has reached 310°F, stir in the butter chunks and cream sloooowly. The temperature will drop pretty rapidly. Stir constantly (scraping the bottom and sides to fully incorporate the melted sugar) until the mixture reaches 245°F/118°C. Take the caramels off the heat and quickly stir in 1 tsp. vanilla extract (or vanilla paste). Then pour the caramel out into the buttered cookie sheet. Typically, the candy will already have started to cool by the time you're done pouring it out, so don't scrape out the sides (you might end up with a big lumpy mess on top of your nice glossy candy).

You will be tempted to lick the spoon/scrape the caramel out of the bottom of the pot right away, but trust me, you don't want to do this. It's still over 200°F and it will burn the hell out of your tongue. So, let it cool a little bit (or, my personal favorite - put a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the pot and eat it with the hardened caramel). Give the caramels 1-2 hours to harden a bit, then cover them with plastic wrap. This will prevent the caramels from absorbing excess moisture from the air and becoming too gooey. It's best to let the caramels harden for a few more hours (or overnight) before you cut them.

The easiest way to cut the caramels efficiently is to turn out the whole sheet of candy (pry it out from one end with a flexible spatula) onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then, use a pizza cutter to slice lengthwise into strips and then widthwise into chunks. Wrap in rectangles of parchment paper and enjoy!


Anonymous said...

These sound great. I really want to make caramels this year!

Jackie said...

They're SUPER delicious (hard not to be when all that's in them is sugar, butter and cream) but really addictive. We usually make them and give them out as gifts... I think we're on our sixth batch now! It's not so bad as we do double batches.

I remember a few years ago my dad tried to make quadruple batches, but that did not go down so well!

Anonymous said...

I am truly tempted!

Patricia Scarpin said...


This type of candy is not common here in Brazil - our candies here are mostly based on condensed milk (what is not bad, if you'll ask me). :D

I have loads of American books and always feel that candy making can be so tricky - I've changed my mind after reading your post. You make it sound totally possible!

I already have a good thermometer (used it a lot with chocolate during Easter), so I'm half way there!!

Tks for sharing the recipe. I'll let you know how it turned out!

Jackie said...

Patricia - I do hope you try them! We're on our fourth double batch now and I really think we've gotten most of the kinks worked out... I hope the tips are helpful. Let me know how they turn out for you! :)