Of all the recipes my husband John and I have shared over the years, this one is undoubtedly the most requested. Once you’ve experienced perfectly executed caramels — and yes, you can do it! — you will never accept anything less.
Forget the jaw-breaking, tooth-pulling hard work of the caramels you have probably experienced. These are buttery, soft and literally melt in your mouth. A sprinkling of the perfect salt provides counterpoint not only to the sweetness, but to the smooth, creamy texture.
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I don’t care for websites that make you scroll through screen after screen to get to the recipe, so let’s get on with it. This is the way we have made our salted caramels for nearly 20 years.
NOTE: I strongly recommend that you test whatever thermometer you’ll be using before you get started. Boil some water. Position thermometer to register temp of boiling water. If it will clip to the side of your pot, that is best of all. Leave the thermometer in place for 3 – 5 minutes. At that point, it should read 212°F, if you are at about sea level. If it doesn’t, then you’ll need to figure out what YOUR target temp should be for the caramel.
1 cup butter – Plus another teaspoon or so to prep pan
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generously butter an 8 x 8 inch square pan. For additional convenience, you can cut a strip of parchment that is 8″ x 15″ and put it in your buttered pan, pressing it down on the bottom and sides, leaving the excess hanging over two sides to help you lift out the caramel. Be sure to also butter the paper once you have it in place.
In a heavy 4 quart saucepan melt butter over medium heat; add brown sugar, corn syrup and milk. Stirring constantly, heat to 242 degrees F (116 degrees C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a firm but pliable ball. I use an instant read thermometer as well as a laser thermometer (for backup temp plus it’s way cool) and stop cooking as soon as the temperature hits 242 degrees. The hotter the mixture gets, the harder and chewier the caramels.
When I say ‘stop cooking’, I mean turn your burner off AND remove the pan to a cool burner.
Stir in vanilla extract. Pour into prepared pan.
When the caramel has cooled slightly, lightly sprinkle fleur-de-sel or a fine finishing salt of your choice on the caramels. Our favorite for salted caramels is Maldon Sea Salt Flakes. If you do this when the caramels are too hot, they will absorb the salt instead of allowing it to just stick and sit on top.
When caramel has cooled and set, remove it from the pan either by ‘peeling’ it out on to your work surface/parchment sheet — salt side up — or lifting it out of the pan with the parchment handles you created (if you decided to put paper in the pan). You can cut it with a sharp, buttered chef’s knife, or you can use the always awesome bench scraper, buttered. Don’t try to pull the knife or scraper through the caramel. Instead, use a guillotine motion, cutting straight down.
Cut into 1″ pieces, unless you like your bites a bit larger. With 1″ pieces, you’ll get 64 caramels from this recipe.
Wrap each bite in wax paper or pieces of parchment paper cut to size. I’ve tried everything over the years, and parchment paper works the best for me, by far!
Chill in refrigerator until firm, which doesn’t take long, then remove and store at room temperature in a covered container.