Soft, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth Homemade Caramels are the perfect holiday gift! Package them up and enjoy this heavenly candy all season long.
For as long as I can remember it has been a tradition to make Homemade Caramels and give them away as gifts to others during the holiday season. And when I say “caramels” I am talking multiple batches. We gave them to our family friends, teachers, friends at school, mailman, hair dresser… basically any person we came in contact with during the month of December.
My mom would make the caramel (often two batches at one time… she’s got skill!) with the assistance of a child when she noticed we were bored and our hands could go to good use stirring. No one minded standing over the that yummy caramel and smelling the buttery sweetness though. Now when I smell caramel I instantly think “Christmas!”
Later at night or the next day after the caramel cooled completely we would all gather at the table as a family and my mom would lay out pieces of perfectly ripped and cut wax paper (and ripping wax paper perfectly every time is really hard to do). She would then proceed to cut out the caramels out of the pan and place them on the wax paper. My brother and I turned it into a competition to see who could wrap the most caramels the fastest.
Each wrapped caramel was then tossed into the gigantic yellow bowl that said “blockbuster” (are any of those still in business?). It was fun…until our wrists started to hurt– child labor! But really, I loved it and plan to enlist my kids once they don’t try to eat them all.
Once all the caramels were wrapped we then got out the cute holiday cellophane bags and filled them. Families got 20 caramels, really big families got 30, and individuals got 8 (with some exceptions… the more praise/obsession gets you more the next year). Some of my friends were lucky enough to get a family bag AND an individual bag.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas with out these yummy caramels. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do and make them part of your holiday tradition!
Ingredients needed for Homemade Caramels:
GRANULATED SUGAR– As the sugar cooks it goes through the Maillard reaction that results in a sweet nutty flavor and brown color.
SALTED BUTTER– The salt perfectly balances the sweetness and the butter gives it an amazing smooth creamy texture and richness as butter always does.
HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM– Makes the caramels smooth and creamy. For optimal results do NOT substitute with lower fat cream or milk.
DARK CORN SYRUP– Corn syrup is necessary to create smooth creamy caramel. I use dark corn syrup for both color and an added depth of flavor.
Vanilla– Adds that delicious flavor we know and love.
How to Make Homemade Caramel:
- Line a 11×7 or 9×9 inch pan with parchment paper. (Makes removing caramels so easy!) Alternatively, you can grease the pan (use a glass dish so you don’t scratch up your nice pans) with softened butter.
- Stir together the sugar, 1 cup whipping cream, corn syrup, and butter in the 4 quart sauce pan. (Place remaining cream in a liquid measuring cup and the vanilla close at hand.) Bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Once it comes to a boil, heat the remaining cup of cream in the microwave for 45-60 seconds until hot. Gradually add the cream in a slow stream to the pot while stirring. You need to add it slow enough that the caramel never stops boiling (if it stops your caramel will become sugary/crystallized).
- Stir frequently as the mixture begins to thicken and then stir constantly as it starts to darken. (I like to use a heat resistant rubber scraper)
- Cook until it reaches 240-242 degrees F. (I like mine at about 242 F.)
- Remove pan from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into the prepared dish. Let cool completely.
- Grab the edges of parchment paper and lift out the caramel. Use a sharp knife and cut caramel into bite size squares.
- Wrap up the caramels in cellophane or wax paper. (Caramels last up to 2 weeks but are best if eaten within one week.)
HOW LONG TO COOK CARAMEL?
You want your caramel to be soft but firm enough to hold it’s shape so you can coat it in chocolate. In the candy making world, this is referred to as the soft-ball stage. and ranged from 135 °F to 145 °F.
Altitude alters boiling temperature so you’ll need to make the following adjustments if you’re over 1,000 ft:
For every 1,000 ft above sea level, reduce cooking temperature by 2 degrees.
Sea level: 240-242 °F
2,000 ft: 236-238 °F
4,000 ft: 232-234 °F
6,000 ft: 228-230 °F
While a candy thermometer is the easiest way to make candy, you can use the cold water test if you don’t have one.
- Spoon some of the cooking caramel into a small dish of cold water. Let it sit for about 10 seconds and then use your fingers to push it together into a ball. How it feels in the water is very close to the firmness of the caramels when they’re cooled. The caramel should easy form a ball in the water but when brought out it will start to flatten.
HOW TO PREVENT CRYSTALLIZATION?
- Don’t shock the mixture. Be sure to heat that second cup of cream before adding it to the pan. Drizzle it in slowly so that the caramel doesn’t stop boiling.
- Use Corn Syrup. It’s chemical structure discourages crystallization so you get a smooth silky texture. (Read more about candy making and crystallization here.)
LOOKING FOR MORE HOMEMADE CANDY? CHECK OUT THESE:
- 4-Ingredient Chocolate Truffles are so easy but such a yummy treat.
- I’m not a huge fan of Oreos, but mix them with some cream cheese for these Peppermint Chocolate Oreo Truffles and I’m in love!
- Easy Chocolate Fudge is the absolute best! No dry crumbly fudge here.
- White Chocolate Raspberry Truffles are so pretty and such a yummy flavor combo.
- I’m addicted to this Spiced Pecan Triple Chocolate Bark. It’s seriously so delicious and I love that it’s unique and different than the classics everyone else makes.
- Crockpot Candy is a cinch to make and tastes so yummy!
- Sticky Paws are a delicious treat that everyone loves.
TOOLS USED TO MAKE HOMEMADE CARAMELS:
4 Quart Pot– This is the perfect size pan for cooking caramels. Any smaller and it will over flow. I use this all the time for making sauces, rice, pasta…
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream, (divided)
- 3/4 cup dark corn syrup
- 3/4 cup butter, cut into chunks (I use salted butter)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Prepare a 9x9 inch or 11x7 inch baking pan and line with parchment paper or grease with butter on bottom and sides.
- Place sugar, corn syrup, butter, and 1 cup cream in a 4 quart pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat resistant spatula.
- Once it reaches a boil, heat the remaining cup of cream in the microwave for 45-60 seconds. Gradually add the cream in a slow stream to the pot while constantly stirring. You need to add it slow enough that the caramel never stops boiling (if it stops your caramel will become sugary/crystallized).
- Stir frequently (and scrape the sides of the pan) as the mixture begins to thicken and then stir constantly as it starts to darken. Cook until it reaches 240-242 degrees F*. I usually just do the cold water test by spooning a little of the caramel into cold water, let it sit for a few seconds and then pull it out and if it can hold the shape of a ball then it's done. If not, keep cooking and repeat the test.
- Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into prepared dish. Let the caramels cool completely before cutting.
- Hold two sides of the parchment paper and lift the caramel out of the pan. Using a sharp knive, cut caramels into squares.
- Wrap up the caramels using pre-cut cellophane wrappers or cut wax paper strips 5 inches long and then cut each strip into thirds to get pieces that are bout 4 inches wide.