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Homemade Caramels : Not so tricky for the treaty.

By • Oct 29th, 2005 • Category: DIY, Eats

I have always had a helluva sweet tooth. My taste in candy varies, but I am by no means a sugar snob. If it’s sweet that’s usually good enough. A love of cooking combined with my confectionery obsession eventally leads to me in the kitchen taking a crack at some sort of candymaking. Halloween and a cool snap always put me in the mood to whip something up. Last night, I put together a batch of caramels and a had the best luck to date. So I thought I’d share the recipe and a quick couple of key tips.

Ingredients
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 sticks unsalted butter (1/2 pound)
1 can (8 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
pinch salt
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions
Combine everything except vanilla in a very clean saucepan over about the lowest heat you can set. This will come to a boil even over a low flame once the butter melts. You can knock things around a bit with a wooden spoon to help the butter melt, but once that’s happening keep your spoon out of there. If you ever think you need to even out the boil you can swirl it in the pan if you like. If you stir with a spoon your caramel will likely get cloudly and crystalized. bummer.

You don’t need to have a candy thermometer, but they’re cheap and make the process so much simpler. You want to bring your concoction up to what’s called “firm ball stage” ( 245° F–250° F). (You don’t need to test it this way, but this just refers to the temperature at which your goo in the pan will form a firm ball when dropped into water that will not flatten when removed from the water, but remains malleable and will flatten when squeezed.) If you don’t use a thermometer, you will ruin a batch or two. But don’t let that discourage you. The caramel will begin to boil more slowly and have a bit more of a puffed up appearance with larger bubbles as it nears the proper stage and quickly begins to darken in color. Too dark and it’ll taste a bit burned. Stop cooking just when you can clearly see it begin to darken and all will be right in the caramel world.

I can’t emphasize enough that this should be done over a very low flame or you’ll scorch the sugar on the bottom of the pan which leads to flakes of dark sugar floating up into your caramel. Weak. Getting to the proper stage will probably take 30-40 minutes but will vary due to humidity, ambient temperature and such. Be patient and keep an eye out for too much heat. Other than that, it’s just a waiting game.

Once your thermomether approaches 245° – 246° get the pan off the heat and quickly but gently stir in the vanilla. You should have a jelly roll pan, cake pan or similar ready to go lined with buttered aluminum foil or a silicone baking liner if you’re a food gear geek like me. Waxed paper seems like a good idea, but it just ends up fusing with the caramel once cool and is a pain in the ass.

Now, just let the whole business cool off. If you’re impatient you can toss it in the freezer for a few minutes. (The fridge is usually a bit too moist, but would probably do the trick as well.) Once hardened up a bit you can slice them up into pieces and either wrap them in waxed paper (fine once cool) or stack them between sheets of parchment paper. They should be stored in the fridge in a tight container. I don’t bother, because they don’t last long.

is a post-hardcore rock'n'roller, graphic designer, amateur chef, typography nerd, coffee connoisseur, radio guy, motorcyclist, skateboard commuter, and a reluctant adult. He lives in Portland's Old Town area with the lovely Dr. Adrienne and Rocco the Dog.
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