Love those soft, classic caramels that melt in your mouth? Us too. Here’s how to make them.
This caramel candy is as close to pure caramel flavor as you can get. It’s slightly firm with a smooth texture. To get the full caramel experience, I suggest placing a piece in your mouth and letting it melt some before chewing.–Carole Bloom
☞ Table of Contents
LC Caramel Coaching Note
This is, quite literally, the easiest caramel recipe we’ve ever encountered—and it becomes even easier with a little caramel coaching. Several of our recipe testers swooned to this recipe, and, in waxing poetic about their experience in the comments below, they shared some hard-won candy-making know-how that comes only with time and experience. Take advantage of it.
- Pastry brush; candy or deep-fry thermometer; clear waxed paper (optional)
- Nonstick baking spray for the pan
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt or fine-grained sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon canola or safflower oil
- Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, letting the foil extend over the edges. Spray the foil with nonstick baking spray.
- In a 3-quart deep-sided saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula, until the mixture comes to a boil, 5 to 10 minutes. Brush around the inside of the pan at the point where the sugar syrup meets the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush. Do this twice during the cooking process to prevent the sugar from crystallizing.
- Place a candy or deep-fry thermometer in the saucepan, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook the mixture, without stirring, until it registers 305°F (152°C), 12 to 15 minutes. (When checking the temperature with your candy thermometer, make sure you hold it straight up and down and that the bottom of the thermometer is in the mixture, not sitting on the bottom of the pan.)
- Meanwhile, in a 1- or 2-quart saucepan, bring the cream to a boil.
- Stir the butter into the sugar mixture, keeping the mixture at a boil. Slowly and carefully add the cream to the caramel mixture, stirring constantly. The mixture may bubble up and steam, so keep your face and arms a safe distance or wear an oven mitt. Cook the caramel mixture until it registers 250°F (121°C) on the thermometer, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the salt and vanilla. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours to set.
- Coat a cutting board and the blade of a large chef’s knife with the oil. Lift the caramel from the pan by holding the aluminum foil. Carefully peel the foil away from the caramel and place it on the cutting board. Cut the caramel into 8 (1-inch) strips and then cut each strip into 8 pieces. Serve the candies at room temperature. (I like to wrap each piece individually in clear waxed paper.)
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Let me just cut to the chase and say that if you’re a fan of chewy caramels, then you’re going to love this recipe. If you’re careful to stick to the cooking temperatures, these ingredients will indeed yield a rich, golden caramel that’ll leave you swooning. For my taste, I like a little more salt in my caramels, so next time I’ll probably add a touch more to the recipe. For this batch, I’m sprinkling each candy with a touch of Maldon sea salt for a briny crunch that’s the perfect complement to the sweet, smooth caramel.
Okay. So now that you know my bottom-line recommendation, let me back up with a couple words of caution, or wisdom, about making caramel. Not to be an alarmist, but I feel I’d be remiss not to mention a few safety tips conspicuously absent in the recipe. I’ve worked with cooked sugar for years and now have a healthy respect for what can go wrong if you’re not careful—think respect here, not fear.
First, you must make sure that all your ingredients are prepped and ready to go before you start cooking the sugar. Once the temperature starts to get above 275° to 280°F (135° to 138°C), things start to move very quickly and you don’t have time to rummage for ingredients. Once you start the sugar boiling, you need to stay with your pan and check the temperature frequently, as even a few degrees over the 305°F (152°C) target and you’ll end up with burnt caramel.
Second, depending on the power of your cooktop, the time it takes to reach the proper temperature estimates in the recipe may be well off from what you experience. I cook on a Wolf gas cooktop with pretty powerful burners, and when I made this recipe I cooked over a medium-high heat as specified in the recipe. Once the sugar started boiling I made it to 305°F (152°C), added the butter and cream, and brought it back up to 250°F (121°C) in about 12 minutes, not the 25 minutes estimated in the recipe.
Third, even though the recipe calls for boiling the cream (in order to lessen the thermal shock) before adding it to the caramel, there’ll still be a violent reaction in the pan when combining the two, so beware. You definitely want to keep your face back from the pan when adding the cream to avoid getting splattered, and it’s a good idea to wear a mitt on your stirring hand to avoid a steam burn from the volcano erupting in the pan. Make sure your pan is no smaller than the 3-quart size recommended and that it has high sides; you definitely don’t want this stuff boiling over.
OK—enough scary talk; go make caramels. Just be safe out there.
I LOVED these. I’ve made caramels before, but these had the perfect density and texture—other caramel recipes can be either too hard or too soft, but this one came out, as Goldilocks would say, “just right.”
I started these at 9:35 pm and used my All Clad Ltd. 3-quart pot for the sugar and the 2-quart pot for the cream. First step—whenever I make candy, I always test my thermometer for calibration. I boiled some water to check, and my thermometer was about 1 1/2°F off, so I knew to adjust my readings.
After the syrup had mixed into the sugar and started bubbling slightly, I started the cream boiling. When the cream came to a boil I held it at a low simmer while I completed the recipe. After pouring the caramel into the pan I stuck the whole thing in the oven overnight. The whole process took me around 30 minutes. I didn’t put any plastic wrap on it because I didn’t want any condensation from the cooling caramel to drop back onto the candy surface, and I have a cat, so the oven was the safest place to keep the candy overnight. It worked perfectly.
In the morning I cut the caramel with an oiled knife and sprinkled it with some fleur de sel, since salted caramel is SO much yummier than plain caramel! I hate cutting wax paper to size for wrapping caramels, so the week before I’d ordered precut wax paper from a lady on Etsy, which probably saved me about 20 minutes of time. The entire wrapping process took about 15 minutes. I kept the caramels close together while I wrapped so that the individual candies wouldn’t lose their shapes too much. Toward the end I had to recut some caramels that had stuck to each other, but that’s okay.
This recipe makes way more caramels than any one person (or two!) could possibly eat before they start going bad, so I wrapped some up for friends. I purchased some little paper Chinese takeout boxes, made ribbon handles, and voila! Instant hostess gift, birthday treats, what have you. These will make an excellent addition to your holiday goodie packages!
You know the old adage that if you eat before dinner you’ll ruin your appetite? Well, that actually happened to us with this recipe. We were finishing up the recipe and had started making our dinner. We taste tested and were loving every droplet of caramel we could dig out of the pot, throwing caution to the wind. The flavor of the sweet, creamy caramel and then the salty finish was just too good to be true, but true it was. I was wondering if we could possibly hold out the 8 hours for the candy to set. It was going to be a long wait. We even discussed getting up at 3:30 a.m. to taste—it was just that good. At this point I was even thinking of changing my allegiance from chocolate to caramel.
This was your typical boil-the-sugar-into-oblivion recipe. With our mise en place, we began our journey. The timings are accurate, but use your thermometer as your guide because of electric versus gas versus induction stovetops. Make sure you’re free from any distractions, as you’ll need to focus on your candy at this point. Stir, stir, stir, and stir some more during this first step to keep the sugar involved in the cooking process. Put a small container of water with a pastry brush close by to wet down those sugar crystals that cling to the circumference of the pot, wanting to ruin the silkiness of your creation. You’ll want to have the cream heated to the boil and ready to pour in WHEN the sugar mixture reaches the all-important 305°F (152°C) mark. After mixing in the cream, the next hill to climb was reaching the 250°F (121°C) temp; continue with the stirring. The candy at this point looks like a growing, bubbling mass and you’ll be glad you used that 3-quart pot. We poured the hot, gooey mess in a prepared 8-inch dish with buttered foil and waited. After 3 hours, I tried to pinch off a piece and all I got was a stringy taffy consistency. So I recovered and waited some more. Then 10 hours after the pour, I was rewarded with a wonderful caramel candy. It’s firmish in that you don’t want to bite it upon popping it in your mouth, but let it melt and warm to a softer consistency. Then it’ll be good to go in any manner you decide.
This is one of the easiest candy recipes EVER. The recipe is simple and to the point and works very nicely. The actual timing is very close to the suggested times in the recipe. When you’re heating the caramel with the cream to 250°F (121°C), don’t turn the heat down too much, which you’ll be tempted to do, or you’ll be cooking it much longer, resulting in an almost overcooked flavor. This happened on my first batch, so when I cubed it, I simply rolled them in coarse sea salt to detract from the intense taste. You may wish to do this with half your batch anyway.
Originally published October 18, 2013