8 Tips For Making Successful Caramels

Man do I love me some caramels. They are an awesome holiday food gift and easy to make, and they are also easy to not do well.

People often say to me that they can cook but not bake. Their reasoning is that baking is specific and scientific, whereas cooking is more forgiving. To certain degrees this statement is true, but when it comes to candy making it is hard fact.

Variations in degrees, humidity, ratios or handling can make or break a candy. Some you can get away with, but honestly, not really.

Here are a few best practices and tips for making candies in general and specifically caramels.

1. Thermometer– Pre-test your thermometer for accuracy. A degree or two off can make the difference to how your sugar hardens. To test take a pot of boiling water and completely submerge the thermometer into the water without touching the bottom of the pot. Boiling water is 212˚- no higher or lower. Make a note of where your thermometer lands. If it’s a degree or two off, make a note and adjust your recipe accordingly.

2. Cleanliness– Some recipes call for an absolute grease free environment. Before making candy I rewash all utensils- bowl, pot, spatula, thermometer, measuring instruments, etc.- in hot soapy water and dry with paper towels or air dry. I do NOT use a used kitchen rag.

3. Pure Ingredients– make sure that the sugars you are using are contaminant free. If you used a wet spoon and dipped into the sugar bin, or used a measuring cup that was previously used for flour, this can contaminate the sugar. You can get away with this with baking, but not with candy making.

4. Prepare– Making candy is about timing and readiness. Have all ingredients and utensils prepared and laid out before you begin. Sugar temperatures can change quickly sometimes and you don’t want to be caught unawares.

5. Patience– Don’t rush the sugar boiling stage. A better caramelization happens with a slow development over time. It will also serve you by inadvertently overshooting the temperature when your head was turned for just a moment.

6. Eyes on the Prize– Boiling sugar is it’s own animal. It can turn quickly, and it can also hurt you. Boiling sugar is about the most dangerous thing in the kitchen- boiling oil being second.  If you get splashed with molten sugar it sticks to the skin and can cause nasty burns. So especially with inexperienced kitchen helpers, you MUST stay vigilant.

7. Don’t Stir– This is a very common mistake for first time candy making. Stirring boiling sugar causes the crystals to become unstable and start to bind. The result is grainy, cloudy or lumpy candy. When it comes to making pralines this happens to be the effect you want, but with caramels, absolutely not.  You can stir in the very beginning to incorporate the ingredients, but once it gets boiling, hands off! It will be tempting, even if sugar crawls up the sides, just let it go. Promise me-  you’ll be glad you did.

8. Don’t Touch– It’s also very common to want to poke your fingers into the just finished candy. After all it looks SO beautiful- but it will hurt you. Admire your work- from afar, and give it twice as much time as you think to cool. Sugar is dense and holds its temperature very well, so please err on the side of caution.

I’ve used several different recipes over the years. Martha Stewart printed a recipe in the latest Living issue {December 2012, pg 99} that was a bit different. Typically the heavy cream is added into the hot syrup once it has reached temperature. This recipe added the cream at the start. I was skeptical but I tried it and it was great. Pouring cream into hot sugar is a bubbling, steaming, terrifying and dangerous thing, not to mention often messy with cream boiling over onto the stove (the WORST to clean up). Adding the cream at the start avoided all that. This will now be my method of choice.

Martha Stewart’s Salted Caramels
modified from the December 2012 Martha Stewart Living Magazine
makes approx 120 pieces
vegetable oil, for greasing baking sheet
2c heavy cream
2.25c sugar
6T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1.25c light corn syrup
.5t coarse salt- I used Maldon flaked salt
.5t pure vanilla extract
wax paper or cellophane wrappers
Lightly brush bottom ans sides of a 9×13″ rimmed baking sheet with oil. Line with parchment, leaving an overhang, and oil that as well.
In a heavy 5qt saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and continue to boil without stirring, until the thermometer reads 248˚. It took me about 25 mins.
The cream will be bubbly and high at first. It will calm down as it reaches temperature and turn a beautiful caramel color.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt and vanilla. Immediately pour into the prepared pan and do not scrape the bottom. Just let whatever pours out fall into the pan.
After 3 minutes, sprinkle the top with more salt to your taste.
Allow the caramel to rest, uncovered, overnight or at least 8 hrs.
Remove the caramel from the pan and peel away the paper. With a sharp knife cut the caramels to the shape you want. .75″x 1.25″ is the size she made.
Immediately wrap in cellophane or wax paper. 

Enjoy, be safe and have fun. Your friends will love you for making these.


  1. Gorgeous caramels! And gorgeous blog! I’m so happy we exchanged blogs before our Nutrition Ecology class was over. Lot’s of hidden talent among our peers. Dang, I’m totally jealous of the light you catch…stunning. Your bio is great, I’d love to hear more about your family’s restaurant sometime. Hopefully I’ll see you around/have another class with you.


  2. Hi Stephanie- I checked out your blog too- awesome! Yeah, I really wish we all had better ideas of what each of us was up to. There is a lot of smart and talented people. It would be good to network too.

    I am graduating in May and done with all my coursework, so doubtful we’ll run into each other. I will definitely stay in touch. Happy Holidays!

  3. This looks great. I love caramels. Nice prep tips too.


  4. Ugh – the caramel stuck to the paper and I couldn’t get it all off! Fiber rich caramels, I guess!