Recipe 40: Making Caramel

Chewy, with a soft bite, and perfect for coffee!

Hello all! Happy November! In spite of the explosion of inexpensive Halloween candy now 50% off, I still feel the need to make something a bit sweet.

The first recipe I tried (and subsequently failed) was only slightly modified from the Spiced Cider caramels on Not So Humble Pie (an EXCELLENT source for anything sweet as well as hilarious commentary). Find the original here…┬áThis recipe failed for me due to a number of reasons, prime being that I pushed the heat a bit over, so I ended up with a substance halfway between caramel and toffee. My teeth still hurt…

Frustrated and disappointed, I turned to a slightly different recipe here. It’s easy, quick, and the amount of butter will make Paula Deen shiver with delight.

We now look forward to Mondays at work, as I bring leftovers from these posts with me to share. I’m not taking any blame for the widened hips that may result from this tradition… ;) (Colin is also increasing in popularity at school as I load him up with goodies to take his med school mates).

Now, to the good stuff. Caramel is a beautiful thing. It’s simple enough, but the process of turning sugar and the other starting ingredients to that perfect flavor and texture can be a challenge. Sugar is fickle, especially at saturated (less water) and high temperature conditions.

While I usually rely on the cold-water test to get my caramel just right, I broke down and got a candy thermometer from Bed Bath and Beyond. You need to calibrate it first (boil water/ice test) to get how many degrees it’s “off” by. Remember this number and if it’s over 5F of a difference or if it drifts even higher the next time you use it, you might need to get a new one.

Another important tool is a clean paint/pastry brush. Something with bristles as you need to wash down the sides of the pot your caramel is cooking in so that sugar crystals don’t drop into the solution and turn your caramel into a gritty mess!

With caramel, you’re essentially heating the mixture over time to remove water in the form of water vapor and slowly concentrate the mixture. As the sugar breaks down you get that nice caramel flavor and color. Too far, and some of the sugar breaks down all of the way back to carbon, which doesn’t taste good (trust me).

So be patient, and keep a keen eye on this mixture and you will be heavily rewarded. :)

Recipe 40: Making Caramel (and failing the first time)

Note: This recipe can be found with a beautifully written explanation here.

Total Time: About 3 hrs

Yield: A TON of caramels. We’re talking a 13″x9″ that’s over an inch deep block of deliciousness.


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
In a deep, heavy saucepan melt your butter on medium heat. Once melted, add all of the rest of the ingredients, taking care to make sure that they are all incorporated. Normally, you add the vanilla extract once the sugar is done cooking, but hey, I didn’t see this info until I already combined them, and they still turned out stunningly delicious. Use a silicone spatula to mix this gently to ensure an even texture.
Clip on your candy thermometer.
Now you’re going to cook it. Grab a paint/pastry brush and a cup of water and babysit this mixture by making swishing strokes on any sugar syrup that travels up and sticks to the sides (above the level of the cooking sugar). You’re going to keep cooking this undisturbed (on medium heat) until it reaches 240-244F, which is just above the “soft ball” stage. If you hit over 244F you’re in danger of making the same mistake I made in my first batch. Trust me, you don’t want a tooth-destroyer, so keep an eye on that thermometer. This should take about 30 minutes.
In the mean time, get out your dish. I’m using a glass pyrex dish lined with generously-greased parchment paper. Wax paper isn’t strong enough, and foil is a disaster (see photo), so I suggest parchment.

Don't use foil...

Once your temperature is reached (240F-244F), pour your mixture into the greased parchment-lined dish and DON’T scrape the pan. You want to leave anything that sticks in there. (Eat it later while you’re cleaning dishes…)
Allow to cool to room temperature (overnight is ideal, but 2 hrs is okay).

Make sure you try a few (or twenty)...

Flip it out, peeling the parchment off. Slice into strips and wrap in wax paper, twisting the ends in the direction of your wrapping.
Enjoy being the most loved person at work/school. :)
**process photos to come. (still editing)**

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