Soft chewy caramels are one of the very best holiday treats! I LOVE them and make a batch every single year. They are great to give as gifts, to share with friends and bring to all the parties and get togethers. They are extremely delicious and addicting! Once you eat one you cannot stop!!
Making caramels is really easy- only a few ingredients and a few steps HOWEVER it can be tricky if you don't do it right and don't read all the tips below. So I'm making this post a step by step soft homemade caramels tutorial so you won't mess up a thing!
How to make soft homemade caramels
Ingredients you need for caramels
- corn syrup
- sweetened condensed milk
In a heavy bottom pan combine all your ingredients on low and stir. When butter and all ingredients are combined and melted turn heat up to med. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly.
Here are the most important tips.
1:What pan do I use for cooking caramels?
When making homemade caramels you want to use a heavy bottomed pan. A good quality heavy pan. DO NOT USE a cast iron pan. While cast iron pans are amazing for so many other dishes they retain heat which will over cook your caramels and basically make them rock hard. A too thin of pan will also cause easy burning and uneven cooking- causing the caramels to be rock hard.
2: What do I stir my caramels with?
You will stir THE ENTIRE TIME your caramels are boiling. Do not scrape the sides of the pans (bringing the sauce to the middle this can disrupt the sugaring process). If you remove your utensil out of the pan wash it off before re-inserting it back into the pan.
Your caramels are going to boil to a very high temperature (244 degrees F) You do not want to use a stirring utensil that will over heat and melt, or burn your hand. (I've totally done both before ha!)
These are some of my favorite utensils.
- ALL time favorite! SILICONE. I love one piece silicone spatulas like the red one of the left.
- My second favorite string utensil is the silicone/metal spatula on the far right. It's perfectly shaped and heavy duty, you can find it at Sur La Table.
- Third, any wooden utensil!
3. How long do I cook my caramels for?
Starting on medium to medium high heat bring your caramels to a slow boil. Stirring the entire time until your caramels come to a golden caramel color. It's almost impossible to guess when to take the caramels off the stove so it is IMPORTANT to use an accurate thermometer. The slightest degree can make a difference between soft chewy to hard candy caramels. You can use any of these three thermometers, however I don't really recommend a candy thermometer unless you are desperate. Invest in a thermoworks.
- Candy thermometer- these are glass and pretty unstable. I've gone through so many of these that i could have bought two thermoworks thermometers. On top of that they are not the most accurate, so if you are using a candy thermometer as pictured far left, double check your caramels by using the cold water test. (Cold water test: in a small glass add ice and water, drop a large drop of caramel into the cup. When the caramel is cold that will be it's consistency when it is cooled to eat. If it is too soft you know to continue cooking)
- Thermoworks Chef Alarm. THIS IS THE BEST. Why? because it is the most accurate and the probe can attach to the side of the pan so you don't have to keep checking back and forth.
3. Thermoworks thermopen or thermopop. Either of these are amazing, and incredibly accurate. You do have to consistently check the temperature, and every time you remove the thermometer make sure to clean it off before re-inserting it, or you may cause the sugar to crystalize.
Why am I seeing darn brown flecks in my caramel?
If you are stirring and start to see dark brown flecks in your caramel then you are burning the bottom of your caramels. Immediately remove from heat, stir vigorously until the caramels have cooled down for a few seconds. Return caramels to stove top, with your heat turned down, but still boiling.
Cinnamon Caramels or Licorice Caramels.
Every year I grew up with a friend who would bring us regular, red, and black caramels... cinnamon,and licorice caramels. I loved EVERY ONE of them...even though I don't even love black licorice the mix of the anise flavor with the creamy buttery caramel is like no other! You have to try these! Here is what you need:
- black food coloring + anise extract (black licorice caramels)
- red food coloring + cinnamon oil (cinnamon caramels)
Follow all the exact same steps and ingredients as above, but at the end when you remove from stove and add in your flavoring.
Pour caramels into a 9x13 pan lined with parchment paper (I love these precut parchment paper sheets).
Let the caramels cool over night, or for several hours. When completely cooled cut into small squares.
Now it's time to wrap these bad boys.
How to Wrap Caramels
- For caramels cut to the size about 1" x 1" I like to use pre-cut 6"x6" wax paper sheets. They are really affordable and cut down your wrapping time by hours! If you make your caramels long and skinny you can get away with cutting the papers in half and doing 6"x3".
- place caramels at one end of the sheet, in the middle and roll to the opposite end of the paper.
- Carefully and tightly twist one end 3 times.
- Carefully and tightly twist the opposing side 3 times, I like to twist it the opposite direction of the other side.
How long do homemade caramels last?
Caramels wrapped in wrappers and stored in an air tight container or zip-lock bag can stay fresh up to about 3 weeks. You just want to keep them protected from humidity and moisture. Store in pantry or even in your refrigerator!
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Soft Caramels Recipe (regular, cinnamon and licorice recipe)
- Candy Thermometer
- Wax or Parchment Paper 6x6 inches for 1 inch squares
- 1 14 oz can Sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cup Sugar
- 1 cup Butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cup White Karo Syrup
for Cinnamon Caramels
- 1-2 teaspoon cinnamon oil (for Cinnamon Caramel)
- ¾ teaspoon red food coloring make sure it has no taste
for Black Licorice Caramels
- ¾ teaspoon black food coloring (for Licorice Caramel)
- 4 teaspoon anise extract
- Combine all ingredients in heavy pan.
- Cook on medium heat and stir constantly. (CONSTANTLY) until it reaches 244 degrees
- Take off stove and if desired add the oil and food coloring
- For Licorice Caramel: 1 teaspoon anise oil or licorice oil and black food coloring
- For Cinnamon Caramel: cinnamon oil and red food coloring (but make sure it has no taste)
- Pour into a 9x13 pan lined with parchment paper. Cool completely before cutting
- Make sure you stir caramels with either a wooden spoon or a spatula that can stand hit temps (silicone).
- Try not to splash on the sides when you are stirring. DON'T SCRAPE the sides back into the caramel. Scrape only the bottom of the pan. If you bring the sugar crystals from the sides of the pan back into your candy it will 'sugar' and become crunchy and hardened in areas instead of smooth when it is all done.
- Put your candy thermometer into the candy after it has boiled for a bit and started to change colors don't drag it around because scraping the metal to metal together can also sugar your candy. Once you put the thermometer in you have to keep it in until it is done, don't take it out and put it back in unless you clean it.
- As an added measure double check your caramels by using the ice water method. Drop a bit of caramel in ice water, dump water out and test the texture of your caramel. If it doesn't form a soft ball the caramel needs to cook longer. If it is firm remove immediately from heat. If it is rock hard it is overcooked for the soft caramel method.
- Keep the heat on a medium heat and if you start seeing little brown specks in your candy take it off the heat immediately and turn it down. That is the candy scorching. Otherwise cook until the candy has reached desired temperature or texture.