Oh, caramels–how I adore thee. And yet, you aggravate me to no end. So sweet and chewy. But such a pain to make. What’s a caramel loving girl to do?
Girl up and make them, I guess.
I adore homemade caramels; they are so unbelievably good. But they deeply scare me. Candy making always seems more like a science than an art. And science was never my best subject. There seems to be so many opportunities for things to go wrong, including my irrational fear that my candy thermometer might go boom.
It took me a long time, but I mostly conquered my fears of making caramels. I looked at a lot of recipes and finally chose this one from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe because every recipe I’ve tried from her has been a keeper. And it was an old family recipe. I’ve got nothing against new recipes, but there is a reason why we treasure family recipes.
The caramels turned out quite delicious, and it’s rather shocking that I haven’t made myself ill from my constant nibbling. They are rich, sweet, chewy and 100% addictive. The only bummer is I scorched the bottom of my pan, which has been a pain to clean, but I stop complaining about it every time I bite into a luscious caramel.
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Recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups light corn syrup
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk (add only ½ to begin with)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 ½ cups chopped toasted pecans (optional)
- Butter the sides and bottom of a 9X13-inch pan. Set aside.
- In a medium heavy saucepan, add sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 can sweetened condensed milk, salt and butter. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to ensure the sugar is completely melted,
- When the mixture begins to boil, add the rest of the sweetened condensed milk and continue stirring until the mixture comes back to a boil again. Stop stirring at this point to prevent sugar crystallization, which gives the caramels a grainy texture.
- Clip your candy thermometer to your pan, making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan.
- Boil the mixture at medium-low heat, without stirring until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer (234 degrees F). If you like your caramels a bit firmer, you can cook them up to 248 degrees F, which is the firm ball stage. I probably cooked mine until they reached about 240 degrees F.
- When the caramel reaches the right temperature, immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and toasted pecans (if using).
- Carefully pour the hot mixture into the prepared pan. Do NOT scrape the bottom and sides of the pan. Let the caramel cool completely. Use a pizza cutter to cut into squares and wrap in waxed paper.
Be careful when you add the vanilla that you don’t stir too vigorously and stir up some of the burnt bits on the bottom of the pan. As I mentioned, the bottom of my pan was scorched, but my caramels did not burn and tasted phenomenal.
I think cooking at a low temp is critical. I may have actually cooked mine at a slightly higher temperature than I should have, which may have contributed to my scorched pan. Also, the caramels do take some time to reach the soft ball stage. You need to keep an eye on the thermometer, but don’t expect them to be finished in ten minutes.