How To Make Homemade Caramels

I originally posted this back in November of 2006, but I figured if you are a new reader, you may not have seen it, and it’s that time of year again!

Every year my mom would make homemade caramels. If I was lucky, she would let me stir it while it cooked. I loved the smell of melted butter mingling with the sugar as it bubbled away.

Since I left home, there hasn’t been a year go by when I haven’t made these. They are a particular favorite of my new in-laws. Particularly my husband’s father and his uncle. Try them. They may just become one of your Christmas traditions, too.

A large, heavy-bottomed pan. Very important. Don’t waste your time making caramel in anything else. This is like the one I use. The brand doesn’t matter, but the weight of the pan does. The caramel will BURN and cook unevenly unless the pan is heavy-duty. I promise.

A candy thermometer is also essential. You can do the old-fashioned way of testing drops of the candy in ice water, but it’s helpful to know the temperature, too. I often test the caramel in ice water before I pour it into the pan. Just to make sure. You can buy candy thermometers in almost any cooking store. You can also find the one pictured above (the same one I use) here.

Let’s get started with How To Make Homemade Caramels:

How To Make Homemade Caramels
Author: 
Recipe type: candy
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: varies
 
A recipe for delicious, sweet and buttery homemade caramels.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups corn syrup
  • ½ cup (8 Tbsp. or 1 stick) butter (no substitutions)
  • ½ (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
Instructions
  1. Pour the corn syrup into large, heavy-bottomed pan. (At least 6-8 quarts.) Add the granulated sugar to the pan. Turn the stove to high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Add the butter.
  2. Meanwhile, heat sweetened condensed milk and cream in a large glass measuring cup in the microwave or in a pan on the stove until very hot, but not boiling. Carefully pour the cream/s.c. milk in a slow, steady stream into the boiling sugar mixture. It will bubble furiously and rise up. (Hence the need for the big pan.)
  3. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to cover the bottom and corners of the pan. Pay attention to the temperature on the thermometer. You will need to adjust the heat to medium so that the caramel is still bubbling, but not too hard, or the caramel will cook too quickly and you run the risk of it burning.
  4. This is after 10 minutes of cooking time. The temp is roughly 220 degrees F. Don't let that fool you. It will take a lot more time for the temperature to raise the last 10-15 degrees.
  5. Continue cooking until the temperature reaches 230-235 degrees F. That is the soft-ball stage of cooking. There is a little latitude here because you can overcook it one time at 230, or not enough. You should test a little in a cup of ice water to see how it holds up. I usually know mine is done when it reaches about 234 degrees. It will take a few tries before you get it right and cook it to how you like the texture to be.
  6. When it's the right consistency, pour the caramel into an 8" by 8" heat-proof pan. (I use a regular, everyday Pyrex pan.) Spray it with non-stick cooking spray, or grease it well with butter. Don't scrape the bottom of the pan, the last dregs of caramel usually get dark brown and hard, so you don't want that in the final product.
  7. After the caramel cools completely--it make take up to 6-8 hours or longer, you can cut the caramel into bite-size pieces.

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How-To Pictures, Directions, and Tips:

First add the corn syrup

And the granulated sugar to the pan.

Turn the stove to high heat and bring to a boil.

This is what it should look like. Add the stick of butter.

Place the sweetened condensed milk with the cream in a large measuring cup and heat in a small saucepan or in the microwave until the mixture is hot, but not boiling. (I just use the microwave. Who really wants another pan to wash?)

Add the cream/milk mixture in a slow stream to the pan. It will bubble furiously and rise up, which is why it’s important to use a large enough pan.

This is what it will look like after you’ve added the cream. It will take a minute for it to come back to a rolling boil.

Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to cover the bottom and corners of the pan. Pay attention to the temperature on the thermometer. You will need to adjust the heat to medium so that the caramel is still bubbling, but not too hard, or the caramel will cook too quickly and you run the risk of it burning.

This is after 10 minutes of cooking time. The temp is roughly 220 degrees F. Don’t let that fool you. It will take a lot more time for the temperature to raise the last 10-15 degrees.

This is after about 15 minutes of cooking time. The color is starting to change, but the temperature stays about the same.

This is after about 20 minutes. The caramel has changed color quite a bit, the bubbles are much larger, and it is getting really thick. The temperature is creeping up higher, but not yet where we want it.

Continue cooking until the temperature reaches 230-235 degrees F. That is the soft-ball stage of cooking. There is a little latitude here because you can overcook it one time at 230, or not enough. You should test a little in a cup of ice water to see how it holds up. I usually know mine is done when it reaches about 234 degrees. It will take a few tries before you get it right and cook it to how you like the texture to be.

And it looks like this after being in the ice water.

When it’s the right consistency, pour the caramel into an 8″ by 8″ heat-proof pan. (I use a regular, everyday Pyrex pan.) Spray it with non-stick cooking spray, or grease it well with butter. Don’t scrape the bottom of the pan, the last dregs of caramel usually get dark brown and hard, so you don’t want that in the final product. Do what I do–after you pour the caramel into the pan. Go back to the pot and scrape out the bottom into a bowl. When it cools down a little bit, then you eat it. If you wait too long, it will be rock hard. Not that it’s a bad thing….

After the caramel cools completely–it make take up to 6-8 hours or longer, you can cut the caramel into bite-size pieces. My mom and I use paper candy cups, like these.

You can buy them in specialty shops that carry candy making accessories, or you can buy them online. (Google: candy cups)

Sometimes if I want to send the caramels in the mail to someone, I will wrap each piece in waxed paper. It does get a little sticky though. My mom used to cut the caramel into small pieces and pass them around to guests on a platter without any paper cups or wrapping.

A few helpful tips and hints about caramel:

1. Cut the caramel when it is cold. Put the pan in the fridge for awhile or keep it in the garage. If it’s too soft, you won’t get clean cut pieces.

2. We cut whole rows and place the row on a cutting board. Then we cut each row into individual pieces.

3. Use a good knife. A good quality paring knife will do the trick. You don’t want to use a flimsy one when you are cutting the row or it will come out uneven. After you cut the row and remove it to a cutting board, you can use a butter knife, a chef’s knife, or any other kind of knife to cut the pieces.

4. Be very careful. When you are cutting the rows in the pan, especially when the caramel is cold, it takes a little muscle power. Don’t be too forceful or the knife may jump up and get you. I learned the hard way. I promise.

5. You can use these caramels to make dipped chocolates as well. They make excellent turtles or plain dipped in milk or dark chocolate.

My mom used to use molds. She would paint them with chocolate and drop a small ball of caramel inside. Then she would paint the bottom of each one. Chill it well. Then they pop right out.

6. The caramel will keep for quite awhile if you store it in a cool place. We actually prefer to keep it a long time because the flavor improves as it sits.

Enjoy. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will answer it the best I can.

 

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16 Comments

  1. This really brought back memories as my mom was the queen of candy making and I used to help, esp. with the caramels because cutting and wrapping them was a total PITA. It’s so great that you post photos and go into such detail with the process, demystifying the experience and hopefully, preventing errors.

    I have not made caramels in more than 20 yrs…sadly. We sometimes made licorice caramels, which was the same recipe with some anise extract and black food paste added right at the end. I never even liked licorice but when added to caramels, devine. Perhaps you’ll get brave and try it some time?

    Happy holidays from an anonymous reader who linked to your blog through another. I really enjoy it and check in often.

  2. Thank you, Anonymous! I love the suggestion of adding anise and black food coloring. My husband and my kids would go crazy–there’s a lot of black licorice lovers in our home.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I make caramels, too, though my recipe’s a bit different.

    I found wrappers here in a cake-decorating shop–the shiny clear ones that stay twisted (they also had beautifully-colored squares of waxed paper, but those were harder to twist without tearing). They sold them in packs of 100 or 1000, and I think the 1000 pack was about $25. I wrap them all at once, then keep the wrapped caramels in a cool place (with strict instructions to recipients to eat them at room temperature lest they remove all their dental work and the teeth that go with it).

  4. Just one of my favorite ever Just Recipes posts.. but I didn’t think about their being gluten free and so I will make a batch for quite a few friends who can’t have gluten! Great idea!!

  5. so i know this post is months old, but i’ve been craving homemade caramel and just knew you would have a great recipe for it – just one question – while it’s boiling, do you have to stir constantly?

  6. Corinne–

    Yes. Either one is fine. I couldn’t get regular/lighter whipping cream in NY very often. So either one is fine. I think the difference in fat content is negligible and doesn’t really matter for this recipe.

  7. I made these caramels today! PERFECTION! Thank you for sharing. I have tried numerous recipes had no success. The directions and pictures were a huge help. Again thanks!

  8. Could you advise how to keep the caramels shiny? my caramels taste great but the next day after making they loose there shiny exterior. Thanks

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