These delicious homemade caramels are soft and chewy and the perfect holiday gift. Our tried and true recipe has been in the family for over 30 years and results in buttery caramels every time!
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Why Make Your Own Homemade Caramels
We’ve been making homemade caramel since we found this recipe in a BHG magazine back in 1989.
I love the buttery flavor and perfect soft, chewy texture you get from this simple candy recipe.
- Easy and perfect for holidays.
- This recipe only takes about an hour but tastes like you spent all day bubbling sugar over the stove and using fancy candy-maker techniques.
- Straightforward ingredients, chances are you might have everything you need to make homemade caramels in your kitchen right now.
While you do need to plan ahead since you’re going to be stirring for an hour, grab a barstool and pull it up to the stovetop!
Whether you keep the candy plain, or dip these candies in melted chocolate, everyone is going to beg you for the recipe! And don’t forget to save some of the warm caramel to make a batch of homemade turtles too!
- Heavy Whipping Cream – By using heavy whipping cream in this recipe, the result is a chewable caramel candy. If you were to substitute whole milk, you’d end up with a pourable caramel sauce.
- Sweetened Condensed Milk – Sweetened condensed milk combines dairy and sugar in an ultra-smooth package. This adds extra richness to the recipe and ensures your caramels are soft and smooth.
- Corn Syrup – Corn syrup is the stabilizer in this recipe and prevents the sugars of the caramel from crystallizing. Some people also refer to it as Karo syrup since that’s a popular brand of corn syrup. It’s an essential part of this candy-making process.
- Vanilla Extract – The vanilla extract in this recipe takes these caramels to the next level by adding complexity and aroma. Always reach for real vanilla extract rather than artificial flavoring, or better yet, make your own homemade vanilla extract!
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Double Boil Cream and Condensed Milk – Heat the heavy whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk in a double boiler over low heat until warm. You’ll want to keep this at a low simmer as you move on to the next step. Don’t forget to stir it occasionally to prevent scorching around the edges.
Heat The Sugar, Syrup, & Salt – Next, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan with a candy thermometer. Heat this mixture over medium heat until it reaches a boil, and maintain that temperature through the next step.
Combine A Little At A Time – While stirring continuously, add ¼ cup of the warm cream mixture to the boiling sugar at a time. Wait 3 minutes between each addition, and plan for this process to take about 45 minutes total. Don’t rush this step, or the sugar and cream won’t seamlessly combine.
Bring To Temperature – After incorporating the final addition of cream, monitor the candy thermometer until your caramel reaches 242°F, then remove it from the heat. This temperature is crucial to getting a perfect chewy consistency. Too hot and your caramels may be hard and brittle; too cold and the caramel could be soft and runny.
Add Additional Flavors – Once your caramel is removed from the heat, mix in whatever additions you want. This recipe calls for vanilla extract, but toasted walnuts are another tasty option. Do this immediately and quickly because you need to move on to the next step before the caramel cools.
Pour & Store – Use a rubber spatula coated with cooking spray to help get every bit of the caramel into a greased and foiled 9-inch square baking dish. Let the caramel set at room temperature for several hours or overnight, then store it in an airtight container at room temperature. Or, slice and individually wrap them in squares of parchment paper.
PRO TIP: Test that your caramel is at the correct temp by drizzling some into a glass of ice water. You know the caramel is perfect if you can roll it into a soft, smooth ball that holds its shape.
Tips and Tricks
- If you’re making candy at a high altitude, the temperature that your sugar boils might be slightly different. Use the ice water test to ensure your caramels are perfect every time.
- If you’d like to take this recipe to the next level, add 1 cup of toasted nuts into the mixture when you add the vanilla. Or, you can sprinkle flaky sea salt on top once the caramel has been poured into the pan to cool.
- Don’t skimp on how long you let the caramels set before cutting them. The more time they have to rest, the easier they will be to slice and separate.
- Be sure to generously grease (or butter) the foil pan!
- If you’re making these as a gift, try individually wrapping them in pieces of parchment paper for an extra nice touch.
- Use the caramel in our delicious Twix Cookies. Or try it on our twix bars!
An accurate candy thermometer is ideal to ensure the right soft and chewy texture for your homemade caramels. You can utilize an instant thermometer to double-check your temperature, but I don’t recommend using it exclusively.
In simple terms, corn syrup will help keep your caramel smooth rather than grainy. On a molecular level, corn syrup contains long chains of glucose, inhibiting the sugar’s shorter sucrose chains and preventing the sugar from crystallizing.
Traditionally, you make caramel with sugar and water, whereas dulce de leche comes from sugar and milk. These candies are referred to as caramels because most of us still refer to a smooth and chewy caramelized sugar candy as such.
More Easy Candy Recipes
- Chocolate Fudge Recipe
- Christmas Crack
- Pecan Pralines
- Peanut Brittle Recipe
- Cream Cheese Mints
- 1 Tablespoon butter softened
- 3 cups heavy whipping cream
- ⅔ cup sweetened condensed milk about 1/2 of a 14-ounce can
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups light corn syrup
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Line a 9-inch square baking dish with foil. Butter the foil. Set aside.
- In the top of a double boiler, combine the heavy cream wi th the sweetened condensed milk. Heat pan over low heat until milk and cream are warm. Keep on a low simmer, stirring occasionally.
- In a large 3-4 quart saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Heat over medium heat until boiling, stirring with a wooden spoon. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.
- Very slowly, over medium heat, add 1/4 cup of the warmed cream mxture to the boiling sugar mixture, while stirring with a wooden spoon. Wait about 3 minutes between each addition of cream (this process will take about 45 minutes). Be sure to continuously stir the mixture.
- Once all the additions of the warm cream have been added, monitor the candy thermometer until it reaches 242 degrees F.
- Remove from heat and immediately stir in the vanilla extract. Quickly pour the caramel into the buttered foil-lined baking dish.
- Allow caramel to set at room temperature for several hours, or overnight.
- To cut the caramels, lift out of the pan and place onto a cutting board. Remove the foil. With a large, sharp knife cut the candy into long strips (about 1-inch wide). Turn pan and cut the candy in the opposite direction in about 1 1/2-inch pieces (they will be the size of a small tootsie roll).
- Wrap candy in small pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Cut 5-inch squares of plastic wrap or parchment paper, place the caramel on top, roll the caramels, then twist both ends.
- Do not adjust the heat of the large saucepan. Keep it boiling over medium heat, while stirring constantly.
- If you like nuts in your homemade caramel, stir in about 1 cup of chopped (toasted) walnuts at the same time as the vanilla.
- Chocolate- for a decadent treat, dip cooled and set caramels in melted chocolate. Allow chocolate to set, then wrap each caramel in plastic wrap or parchment paper.
- Store caramels in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Candy Thermometer- this is our favorite candy thermometer on Amazon!
- Recipe from the December 1989 Better Homes and Garden Magazine.