Homemade soft caramels should never be made when you are home alone. These may possibly be the most dangerous thing that has ever been cooked in my kitchen.
Not because it will hurt, although it could if you aren’t careful playing with molten lava temperature melted sugar, but because you need to get them wrapped and out of the house as quickly as possible.
Do not send more than a few of these at a time to friends, as these will also be dangerous at their house. Do bring them to work for brownie points! Should be worth at least a few of those.
You and everyone else who eats these will not be able to stop eating them until either your teeth hurt, your stomach hurts, or you have eaten all of them. Once they are all eaten, you will be thinking of them for days to come.
After reading several caramel recipes, I settled on starting with this one from Land O’Lakes and tweaking it ever so slightly.
Do not start making these if you have something else to do or are pressed for time. Even though they are easy to make, they take a long time to cook. Mine took almost 45 minutes once the mixture started boiling. Next time, I might wait until someone else is in the house with me to give me a stirring break every now and again.
UPDATED NOTE ON COOKING AND STIRRING: Ron and I made a double batch of these on my last visit. Do not try a double batch in a standard size soup pot that comes with standard pot and pan set, it will bubble over. You also do not need to stir continuously, stay near it and give a good stir every 5 minutes or so. There may have even been a period of up to 10 minutes that neither of us checked the pot. They turned out fine, even with changing pans and turning our backs for a few minutes. With that being said, I probably would not turn my back on it for more than 5 minutes.
Notes: Weather will affect the time it takes to make this recipe. Calibrating your candy thermometer before starting will help ensure the proper temperature is reached. It will take much longer to reach the last 5 to 10 degrees than it did to reach the first 230°F or so. Do get impatient during the cooking process. It will be worth the wait. Trust me on this!
Testing your candy thermometer occasionally is also a good idea. A 2 degree difference can be make or break for most candy recipes. I boil some water and test my thermometer by letting it sit for a few minutes and reading it. If it reads 212 degrees F, my thermometer is fine for my sea level. If you are in a higher altitude, your water may boil at a different temperature and that is the temperature you are aiming for on your thermometer.
If you find your thermometer is off, make the appropriate adjustments to your target candy temperature. In other words, if your thermometer is reading 210 degrees F, your target for this recipe will be 242 degrees F. If it reads 215 degrees F in boiling after your target for this caramel recipe will be 247 degrees F.
If all of this has left you confused or you want more information about why altitude affects thermometers just do a quick Google or Bing search, There are some really great articles out there on the subject.
In a large pot, add butter and heavy cream.
Add the corn syrup to the middle of the pot and allow it to settle in a bit.
To the center of the pot, add the sugars, being careful to avoid getting sugar on the sides of the pan. If this happens use a pastry brush moistened with melted butter or water and gently brush the sides of the pan to get the sugar off the sides.
Allow this to sit in the pan for a few minutes to allow the cream to start working its way into the sugars.
During this time, prepare a 9 X 13 baking dish by spray it with baking spray. Cover the pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper and spray that with baking spray as well.
I use 2 sheets of parchment paper, one cut as wide as the long side, and one cut as wide as the short side. I place those in the pan leaving and overhang on all four sides.
Once the pan is prepared, add vanilla, if using, to a small bowl set near the stove.
Gently start pushing the sugar mound down into the moistened sugar on the bottom, again being careful not to get sugar on the sides of the pan, use above method if it does happen.
Turn heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally until mixture begins to boil. This will take 15 to 25 minutes depending on your idea of medium heat and the weather. I find it takes a little longer in humid weather and even longer on rainy days.
Once it begins to boil, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot.
Begins stirring constantly until candy thermometer reads firm ball stage or 244°F. This can take 25 to 45 minutes, again this is dependent on exact heat and weather.
Once the candy is ready, turn off the heat and add vanilla if using. Up to ½ cup of chopped nuts can also be added if desired.
Immediately pour into prepared pan, being very careful, this mixture is very hot.
Allow to cool completely in pan.
Once cool, remove from pan and cut into desired size. I usually get 90 to 100 two to three bite caramels.
Wrap each caramel in wax paper or candy wrapper.
Other Treats to Try: