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!
I love all things caramel. From our caramel brownies to our salted caramel bark, the gooey, buttery treat is irresistible. It’s one of our favorite homemade Christmas candy recipes!
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.
- It’s difficult to find a scalable holiday or host gift that’s this simple with such delectable and impressive pay-off.
- 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.
- With 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!
- 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!
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.
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.