When I was a kid, one of the big treats that my brothers and I had on Sundays after church was a little bag of soft caramels. We usually bought these in Bourg-en-Bresse, at a patisserie de boutique, a store that specialized in making caramels. Some were hard, some were very soft. My preference was for the softer ones.
I have tried through the years to make caramels, with different rates of success. The caramel recipe that I have here is almost foolproof. All you need is a good candy thermometer. I mold my caramels in a nonstick loaf pan. I oil the pan very lightly and put a strip of lightly oiled parchment paper in the middle, with the ends extending over the edges of the pan. The paper should be oiled on both sides, underneath because it makes it adhere well to the pan, and on top to make the caramel mixture release. I like to package them individually in plastic wrap or little squares of waxed paper or parchment paper. Bring these as a treat when you are invited out to dinner; they always get raves. If you like your caramels very soft, take them out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before eating.
I also love chocolate caramels, usually made by adding cocoa powder to the mix, but dipping one end of each caramel from the recipe below into the best quality melted bittersweet chocolate is easier and yields great results.–Jacques Pépin
LC Not-So-Skinny-Dipped Note
We thought we’d include Jacque’s not-so-skinny, chocolate-dipping take on caramels. They’re just as easy as the rest of the recipe. Just let the cut caramels firm up overnight, uncovered, in the refrigerator. Drop a few squares of very best bittersweet chocolate chocolate into a glass measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute. Wait a few minutes, and then microwave the chocolate for another minute. It should be thoroughly melted at this point. Dip one end of each caramel into the melted chocolate, so that it covers about half the caramel, and place the caramels on a piece of parchment paper to harden. When cool and hard, wrap the caramels and stash them in the refrigerator, preferably behind the tub of cottage cheese so no one goes anywhere near them.
- Quick Glance
- 45 M
- 1 H
- Makes about 20 caramels
- 8 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1. Combine the butter, cut into pieces, and cream in a small glass bowl, and microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes, until hot. Set aside.
- 2. In a small stainless steel saucepan, combine the water, light corn syrup, and sugar. Stir just enough to moisten the sugar. The goal is to avoid having the mixture collect on the sides of the pan, which happens when you vigorously mix with a spoon or shake the pan; the sugar will tend to crystallize where it touches the sides. Pouring the water and syrup in first and then adding the sugar allows it to dissolve in the liquid without splattering the sides.
- 3. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil, and then cover with a lid for a minute or so to create moisture in the pan and melt any sugar that may be clinging to the pan sides
- 4. Clip the candy thermometer to the pan and cook for about 6 minutes, until the sugar reaches a temperature of 320°F (160°C), at which point it will begin to take on a light golden color around the edge. At that point, pour the butter and cream mixture gradually into the pan, adding about a third of it at a time, and stir, using the base of your thermometer to incorporate it.
- 5. Continue cooking for another 5 or 6 minutes, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 240°F (115°C) on the thermometer, the soft-ball stage. (This will create a relatively soft caramel; if you bring the temperature to about 245°F (118°C), the caramels will be hard; so make adjustments based on your own taste.)
- 6. As soon as the caramel reaches the desired temperature, pour into an oiled loaf pan, with a base that measures about 7 1/2 inches long by about 3 1/2 inches wide, lined with a strip of oiled parchment paper that is long enough to extend up and slightly over either end of the pan.
- 7. Cool, uncovered, at room temperature for about 4 hours. Invert and unmold onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper (pulling gently on the paper strips, if necessary). If the caramel is still too soft to work with, refrigerate for an hour or so to firm it up. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 inches wide, and then cut the strips into 3/4-inch lengths to have about 20 caramels. Wrap in squares of plastic wrap or waxed paper and enjoy immediately, or refrigerate or freeze for eating later.
Recipe Testers Reviews
If I had known that making caramels could be this easy and yield such fabulous results, I would have made my own long ago. Of course, leave it to Jacques Pépin to guide one with ease and typical French savoir faire through the process. This recipe is, as he says, pretty much foolproof, so if you have never made caramels before, start here, now.
The caramels are thick, chewy, and deep in their flavor without adding a thing, though chocolate never hurts. I made plain and chocolate-dipped caramels, and will continue in my experimentation with flavors: a teaspoon of orange-blossom essence added to the sugar water provides a subtle perfume, and topping dipped caramels with ground pistachio or other nuts is one more way to dress them up, though none of this is necessary.
One important bit of advice, if you are a rogue cook who likes to wing it without recommended equipment: Do not make these caramels without a candy thermometer. Once the cream and butter are added to the sugar, the process goes quickly—for me, several minutes faster than the recipe stated—and you can easily overcook the caramel for your taste if you rely solely on a time indication. A degree or two of temperature variation has a big impact on the texture of the caramels, so watch for that 240°F to 245°F (115°C to 118°C) range and pull the caramel from the heat without delay, according to your preference for soft or hard caramel.
For cutting and dipping: While my caramels were still too soft to cut fully after 4 hours (they needed that extra hour), I nevertheless scored them into 20 pieces to make cutting that much easier, once the caramels were hard. If you’re using chocolate, make sure it cools a bit to thicken before dipping the caramels, to minimize the spread of liquid chocolate once you put caramels back down on the baking sheet.
Wrapping the finished caramels individually in clear plastic shows off their gorgeous rich-brown color. I placed mine in tiny cellophane bags and tied them off with multicolored ribbons for favors for guests who came to visit, and they were a huge success.