Of all the candies I make, probably the top favorite of all among recipients is a tender, soft, golden brown caramel. It is one of my favorites, too.
Caramels are simple to make, requiring only two things for constant success: a calibrated candy thermometer and a nice, dry day. Today I made a short ton with the humidity in Dallas around 41%.
While there are a myriad of recipes out there, it is very important for you to understand that caramels must be cooked slowly to allow the sugars and milk solids to caramelize. The longer and slower they cook, the darker the color and richer the flavor. And there is nothing I can think of that is worse in taste than a caramel that has been cooked too fast and is scorched with a resulting resonant flavor of burnt sugar. Yuk!
The recipe I offer here I have made countless times and for many different applications, such as pecan logs, Turtles and caramel apples. Unlike some caramel recipes, this one will produce a soft caramel that will not stick to your teeth. Also, this recipe brings the sugar solution to its proper temp and then adds the preheated milk, which prevents curdling, prevents the mixture from boiling over, and develops a much smoother texture. The caramels are rich and absolutely delicious, and an easy delight to share among friends and family.
Caramels (Makes about 180 pieces)
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 cups light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
Tempered chocolate for dipping, if desired
Line a 12×17 inch jelly roll pan with heavy duty aluminum foil, fitting the foil well into the corners and sides. Butter the foil very well, coating the entire bottom and sides. Set aside.
In a 1-quart saucepan over low heat, combine the cream and the condensed milk, whisking very well to blend. Allow the cream mixture to become hot, stirring often, but do NOT allow the mixture to boil.
Meanwhile, in a tall 4-quart saucepan, combine the corn syrup, water and sugar. Stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. If sugar crystals appear around the edge of the boiling surface, wipe the pan sides with a damp (not wet!) pastry brush.
Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer and reduce heat to medium. Continue to boil gently until the syrup-sugar solution reaches 250 degrees (F). Add the butter and pour in the warm cream mixture. The temperature of the solution will immediately decrease. Stir constantly to blend the mixture, then occasionally until the mixture reaches 244 degrees (F).
Remove from heat and carefully pour the hot caramel into your prepared jelly roll pan, tilting the pan to even the mixture. Do not scrape the pan — even though scraping will not cause crystallization the stuff on the bottom of the pan has cooked longer, is tougher and will leave hard spots in the batch.
Leave the caramel completely alone for 24 hours at room temperature. This waiting period not only reduces the stickiness, but makes the candy much easier to cut. (Once the caramel has cooled and the pan is no longer warm, cover the pan with plastic wrap.)
Lift the hardened caramel from the pan using the edges of the foil. Using a clean, sharp knife, cut the caramel into approximate 1-inch pieces. (If the caramel begins to stick to the knife, rinse the knife well under hot water, dry and butter the knife, then resume cutting.)
At this point, you may dip each piece into tempered chocolate and allow them to rest on a wire rack for 4-6 hours until the chocolate has hardened. Store these dipped caramels on sheets of waxed paper in an air-tight container, at room temperature, for up to one month.
For plain caramels, wrap each cut piece in a 4-inch square of plastic wrap, twisting the ends tightly. Store the wrapped caramels in an air-tight container, at room temperature, for up to one month…if they last that long.
If you like nuts in your caramels, pour a layer of chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc. into your prepared jelly roll pan before pouring in the caramel.
Want to make caramel apples? Merely twirl apples on a stick into the mixture, instead of pouring it into a pan. Place the coated apples on a waxed paper lined sheet and place into the refrigerator for one hour to harden, then wrap each apple well in plastic wrap, tied with a bow to seal. Be certain to consume these as quickly as possible (no more than 3 days) to enjoy the best flavor of the apples.
This same recipe can be poured into a buttered 9-13 inch dish, allowed to cool for 24 hours, cut into 1×4-inch logs, then rolled in minced pecans to make pecan logs. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to one month. The logs may also be cut into 1/2-inch slices, wrapped in plastic, etc.
This caramel be poured by hot spoonfuls onto a grouping of whole pecans (place in a triangle or “X” configuration), allowed to harden, then cover the caramel with a dollop of tempered chocolate to make Turtles. Store on waxed paper sheets in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to one month.