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Soft Caramels: Fantastic, Simple, and Homemade

Homemade Soft Caramels are luxuriously rich and chewy.  They are easy to make and great for gifting. 

Soft Caramels Made Using Sweetened Condensed Milk

Types of Soft Caramels

There are three general types of soft caramel recipes.  Ones made with sweetened condensed milk, ones with evaporated milk, and ones made with fresh dairy (e.g., heavy cream).  This recipe is made with sweetened condensed milk.  One of the benefits of using sweetened condensed milk is the reduced cooking time due to the low water content.  In other words, the caramel needs to boil for less time to reduce and darken.  This ingredient also makes it less likely the sugar mixture will curdle, which can sometimes happen if adding evaporated milk or fresh cream.

Is Corn Syrup Necessary?

Corn syrup or glucose syrup (this can be used instead of corn syrup) is important for making caramels and toffee for three reasons.  First, it helps prevent the crystallization of the sugar mixture while cooking and it also prevents the sugar from re-crystalizing after it’s cooked.  Second, corn syrup provides the type of sugar necessary to get a deep brown, caramel color.  Third, corn syrup contributes to the chewy texture of the caramels. 

Soft Caramels Made Using Sweetened Condensed Milk

Importance of Fat in Caramels

Fat is essential in caramels to get a good mouthfeel, flavor, and texture.  Use high quality fats, like butter, to add a delicious flavor to the caramels.  Butter also melts below body temperature, so you won’t get a waxy film leftover in your mouth when you eat the caramels.  Using a less expensive fat (e.g., hydrogenated vegetable oil) will add no additional flavor and will sometimes feel waxy in the mouth.  An excess of fat can result in an oily or greasy mouthfeel. 

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Ingredients:

Equipment:

Preparation Steps

Place parchment paper on the bottom and sides of your baking dish.  Leave a small amount of parchment paper overhang so you can pull the caramel from the dish.  Spread a small amount of oil (e.g., butter) on the parchment paper to ensure the caramels can be easily removed from the pan.

Make sure you have all ingredients measured and ready before starting this recipe.  Each step needs to happen at the correct moment to make the soft caramels.  If you have to stop to measure an ingredient, you might overcook or burn the caramel.

Making the Soft Caramels

Making Soft Caramels

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and water using a silicone spatula.  Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring constantly over medium heat. 

Adding Corn Syrup to Soft Caramel Mixture

Add the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan and then pour the corn syrup into the pan.  Continue cooking while stirring constantly.

Making Soft Caramels

When the mixture reaches 230°F/110°C, add the butter and continue cooking while stirring. 

Adding vanilla paste and salt to Soft Caramels

When the mixture reaches 243°F/117°C, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the salt and vanilla. 

Soft Caramels in an 8x8" Baking Dish

Pour the caramel mixture into the prepared baking dish, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool to room temperature.  Do not be tempted to try the caramel before it cools.  It is VERY hot and will burn you. 

Why wait until the end to add the vanilla?

Vanilla extract evaporates and loses some (and sometimes all) of its flavor when heated.  By adding it at the end of cooking, you will have a stronger vanilla flavor in the caramel.

Cutting Soft Caramel Squares

Soft Caramels

Remove the caramel from the baking dish by gently pulling up on the extra parchment paper handle (i.e., the overhanging parchment paper). 

Using a well-oiled chef knife (use melted butter, vegetable oil, or non-stick cooking spray), cut 12 columns and 8 rows to get 96, ½-inch soft caramel rectangles.  The soft caramels will be bite-size pieces at 12×8, but you can adjust the number of rows and columns to make your caramels bigger if desired. 

When cutting the caramels, you can use a ruler, or you can just eyeball it.  To get roughly equal pieces, make a vertical cut down the middle of the caramel square.  Then, make a vertical cut down the middle of each half.  You should now have 4 columns of caramel.  Cut each of the 4 columns in thirds to make 12 columns of caramel. 

Cutting Soft Caramels

Rotate the square and cut down the middle of all the columns. Then cut a vertical line down the middle of each half for a total of 4 columns. Lastly, cut each column in half again to make 8 columns.

Any time your knife begins to stick to the caramel, oil it again so you can get clean cuts.  Sticking happens when there isn’t enough oil on the blade.  If a lot of caramel is stuck to the knife, wash the knife under hot water (this melts the caramel quickly).  Then, run the knife under cold water so it won’t melt the caramel when you return to cutting.  Cover the blade in oil and then continue cutting.

Soft Caramels Made Using Sweetened Condensed Milk

If your pan has straight sides, all the caramel pieces should have straight sides.  If your baking dish has rounded edges (like mine), the side pieces will have 1 (or maybe 2) rounded sides.  Feel free to cut a very thin strip of caramel off every side before cutting the rows and columns if the rounded edges really bother you. 

Wrapping the Soft Caramels

Cut parchment paper or waxed paper to 3”x4” rectangles.  Place the caramel on top of the rectangle (long side of caramel parallel to long side of parchment paper), fold the bottom third of the waxed paper up over the long side of the caramel.  Then, fold the top third down over the caramel.  Twist the ends of the paper a couple times to seal the candy inside. 

Storing Soft Caramels

Soft Caramels Made Using Sweetened Condensed Milk

Store wrapped caramels in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.  You can also store them in a freezer safe bag in the freezer for up to 6 months.  Allow the caramels to thaw completely before eating them. 

Avoid storing the caramels without wrappers because the caramel will start to spread and after a few minutes of touching something other than waxed/parchment paper, will start to stick.  This includes plates, cutting boards, and storage containers.  They will also stick to each other. 

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Homemade Soft Caramels

Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Cooling Time30 mins
Total Time1 hr 15 mins
Course: Dessert

Equipment

  • 8×8 inch baking dish
  • Parchment paper
  • Digital scale (or dry measuring cups, liquid measuring cup, “sticky liquids” measuring cup, and measuring spoons)
  • Silicone spatula
  • Medium saucepan with a heavy bottom
  • Candy Thermometer
  • Wire rack
  • Wax paper squares

Ingredients

  • 1⅓ cup (250g) granulated sugar
  • cup (180g) sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup + 3 Tbsp (100g) water
  • tsp (10.5g) vanilla paste (or an equal amount of vanilla extract)
  • cup (215g) corn syrup
  • 7 tbsp (100g) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ tsp (2.5g) salt

Instructions

Preparation Steps

  • Place parchment paper on the bottom and sides of your baking dish and leave a small overhang. Spread a small amount of oil (e.g., butter) on the parchment paper to ensure the caramels can be easily removed from the pan.
  • Make sure you have all ingredients measured and ready before starting this recipe. Each step needs to happen at the correct moment to make the soft caramels. If you have to stop to measure an ingredient, you might overcook or burn the caramel.

Making the Soft Caramels

  • In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and water using a silicone spatula. Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring constantly over medium heat.
  • Add the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan and then pour the corn syrup into the pan. Continue cooking while stirring constantly.
  • When the mixture reaches 230°F/110°C, add the butter and continue cooking while stirring.
  • When the mixture reaches 243°F/117°C, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the salt and vanilla.
  • Pour the caramel mixture into the prepared baking dish, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool to room temperature. Do not be tempted to try the caramel before it cools. It is VERY hot and will burn you.

Why wait until the end to add the vanilla?

  • Vanilla extract evaporates and loses some (and sometimes all) of its flavor when heated. By adding it at the end of cooking, you will have a stronger vanilla flavor in the caramel.

Cutting Caramel Squares

  • Remove the caramel from the baking dish by gently pulling up on the extra parchment paper handle (i.e., the overhanging parchment paper).
  • Using a well-oiled chef knife (use melted butter, vegetable oil, or non-stick cooking spray), cut 12 columns and 8 rows to get 96, ½-inch soft caramel rectangles. The soft caramels will be bite-size pieces at 12×8, but you can adjust the number of rows and columns to make your caramels bigger if desired.
  • When cutting the caramels, you can use a ruler, or you can just eyeball it. To get roughly equal pieces, make a vertical cut down the middle of the caramel square. Then, make a vertical cut down the middle of each half. You should now have 4 columns of caramel. Cut each of the 4 columns in thirds to make 12 columns of caramel.
  • Rotate the square and cut down the middle of all the columns. Then cut a vertical line down the middle of each half for a total of 4 columns. Lastly, cut each column in half again (i.e., 8 columns).
  • Any time your knife begins to stick to the caramel, oil it again so you can get clean cuts. Sticking happens when there isn’t enough oil on the blade. If a lot of caramel is stuck to the knife, wash the knife under hot water (this melts the caramel quickly). Then, run the knife under cold water so it won’t melt the caramel when you return to cutting. Cover the blade in oil and then continue cutting.
  • If your pan has straight sides, all the caramel pieces should have straight sides. If your baking dish has rounded edges (like mine), the side pieces will have 1 (or maybe 2) rounded sides. If the rounded edges really bother you, feel free to cut a very thin strip of caramel off every side before cutting the rows and columns.

Wrapping the Soft Caramels

  • Cut parchment paper or waxed paper to 3”x4” rectangles. Place the caramel on top of the rectangle (long side of caramel parallel to long side of parchment paper), fold the bottom third of the waxed paper up over the long side of the caramel. Then, fold the top third down over the caramel. Twist the ends of the paper a couple times to seal the candy inside.

Storing Soft Caramels

  • Store wrapped caramels in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. You can also store them in a freezer safe bag in the freezer for up to 6 months. Allow the caramels to thaw completely before eating them.
  • Avoid storing the caramels without wrappers because the caramel will start to spread and after a few minutes of touching something other than waxed/parchment paper, will start to stick. This includes plates, cutting boards, and storage containers. They will also stick to each other.

Notes

This recipe was adapted from Chocolates and Confections by Peter P. Greweling.

Notes:

This recipe was adapted from the “Soft Caramels (using sweetened condensed milk)” recipe in Chocolates and Confections by Peter P. Greweling. 

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