homemade caramels in a tin

When I ask my dad if he wants to do something—it doesn’t matter if it’s running to Sam’s Club on a Saturday, sitting to talk one day I’m upset or going for a walk with me and my brother Father’s Day evening—his answer is, always, yes.

And while I could tell you a lot of other things I love about him—the fact that I sometimes catch him watching kids’ movies by himself, or that he taught me to invest money when I was only 17, or that he has the kind of natural passion to sell you on any idea, anytime—it is this first thing that I love most.

My dad doesn’t read blogs, but he tells everyone he knows I have one. He doesn’t use Twitter, but he asks me to explain it. He has this natural ability—and it’s not just with me—to know what you’re interested in and talk with you about it. He knows how to care about people, unselfishly.

So for Father’s Day, after we took him out for lunch, which he thanked us for at least five times, and after we gave him a card, which he said was perfect, I wanted to give him something else, something that would match his interests, you know? And if there’s one thing I know Dad loves, it’s caramels.

heating caramel

On a recent trip to Minocqua, Wisconsin, my parents came back with, among other things, a white paper bag filled with soft, chewy caramels—the kind you chomp like taffy. And Dad said, more than once, it’d be nice if I could make some like that.

A quick Google search yielded me this: a recipe from Allrecipes.com that had 63 reviews and four-and-a-half stars.

Here is what happened, all while I was on the phone with a friend, who responded “Good luck” when I mentioned candy thermometer: I combined ingredients in my Le Creuset pot, latched the thermometer on the side and waited, watching the mixture gradually melt the butter and begin to bubble, then froth, then come very close to overflowing the pot. First lesson: when making caramels, use a very, very large pot.

Still on the phone, I used a glass measuring cup to transfer a third of the mixture to a separate pan, figuring the chances of huge, sticky caramelized mess to be less that way. Within a few minutes, the mixture was again overwhelming my first pan, so, though it was at more like 235 degrees F than 242, I took it out and poured it into the buttered 9 X 13 glass dish.

caramels chilling

Hours later, I cut the first piece of caramel, and it was delicious— buttery, sweet and chewy. But it was also slippery and sticky, enough that it barely retained its shape when I sliced away a piece and enough that it would adhere to the wax paper I tried wrapping bits in.

The next day, Father’s Day afternoon, I reached a new decision: I would scoop up the gooey mixture in the pan, reheat it in a larger pan and not remove it until it hit the right temperature.

remaking caramels

What resulted this time was a different kind of caramel entirely: glassy and hard, like toffee, the kind you can break with your hands and want to hold on your tongue, letting it dissolve, slowly.

It was this second kind I gave to Dad later that night, in a round, red tin filled with wax paper. And, true to form, he said they were delicious, just like the softer sample I’d saved—and he loved them, but, to be honest, I know that’s mostly because he loves me.

homemade caramels

Homemade Caramels
Adapted from AllRecipes.com

So the moral of above story is this: making candy is ALL about temperature. If you want chewier caramels, you’ll want to remove the mixture from the heat at 242 degrees F, no later. If you want harder caramels, 245/250 degrees F will work. Both were interesting, but next time, I’m going for a happy medium.

2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Begin by buttering a 9 X 13 dish, which you’ll set aside.

In a heavy (and very large!) pan, combine sugar, corn syrup, a cup of the heavy cream and the butter. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring it often. Next, add a cup of cream, and continue heating, without stirring, until it reaches 242 degrees F (116 degrees C). To test it, you can drop a small bit of syrup into a glass of cold water—if the syrup turns into a firm but pliable ball, it’s ready.

Remove the mixture from heat, add vanilla and pour it into the buttered 9 X 13 dish. Put this in the refrigerator.

When cool, return the candies to room temperature and cut into one-inch pieces. If you do things just right, you’ll be able to wrap them in wax paper. If not, you’ll have fun caramels reminiscent of Werther’s originals, just not in those neat little circles, and those will be good, too.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Lan

    goodness! your first go sounds just like how mine went! i did a few transferring of pots too. but it all worked out in the end. what a loving tribute to your father. :) when i made my caramels, i also added nuts. i can’t eat the stuff but they sure do make lovely gifts for any occasion.

  2. rachel

    i love toffee :)

    its actually a candy i find easy and make pretty often…. it even packages and sends well….

  3. Michele

    What a beautiful post! My dad is very much the same way. He forwards my blog to everyone and always emails me (he doesn’t know how to leave a comment) to tell me how great the dish looked. It’s so nice to have that support, isn’t it?

  4. kickpleat

    Looks like you made your dad very happy! But the secret to making great caramel is keeping a glass of ice cold water close by. I can never trust my candy thermometer (maybe because it’s in celsius & all my recipes use fahrenheit), so I always drop some of the caramel into the glass of icy water and it’s really quite easy to decide if its time to stop the heat by tasting the now cold ball of caramel. Perfect every time!

  5. Becky

    This is inspiring…I love caramel and toffee but its one of those types of foods that I’ve been terrified to make. I too have experience with sugar going crazy and outgrowing its cooking pot, for me it was jam and it nearly ruined my cooktop! Glad to know I’m not the only one with poor estimation of the volume of cooked sugar!

    One question, how is it to clean your Le Creuset afterwards? I’d think its impossible so I’m very curious to know how that worked out!

  6. Sue

    My, you are adventurous, and I’m sure it meant so much to your Dad! I’m a sucker for caramels, so maybe I’ll give it a shot one of these days…?

  7. Jessica

    Oh my gosh that caramel looks amazing. Homemade? I would not be able to put it down.

  8. kelly

    so cute and sweet (and delicious too)!

  9. Marie

    Sounds like you have an amazing dad!

  10. Jess

    Candy making while talking on the phone? My, you’re living on the edge! It was a pleasure “meeting” your sweet dad in this beautiful post.

  11. Dani

    what a nice little story! dads are great, arent they? just like candies :)

  12. ingrid

    Aw, I love my Dad too. I’m lucky and actually have two that are both amazing. I’m probably one of the few people that are happy that their parents (amicably) divorced.

  13. TJ

    Awww… That’s so sweet (literally and figuratively) :)

  14. Shannalee

    Lan – It’s actually very comforting to know the pan situation didn’t only happen to me. Lesson learned, right!? And btw, so sad you can’t have caramels. How much longer for the braces?

    Rae – That’s a good idea! Candies would be a lot easier to mail than cookies!

    Michele – Adorable that he forwards it to people! And yes, there’s nothing like knowing someone supports you!

    Kickpleat – OK, so, I knew about the dropping into water, but it did not occur to me to taste it (I only watched the texture). Duh! What a great idea!

    Becky – Believe it or not, my Le Creuset is a breeze to clean. Once it had cooled a little, I ran some water into the bottom and swirled it around a little to help loosen whatever was in there. But then I just washed it out like any other pot in a couple minutes!

    Sue – You should! As long as you watch the thermometer, it’s easy. I will definitely try this again, hopefully with my full attention.

    Jessica – Thank you!

    You’re sweet, too, Kelly. Thanks!

    Marie – I adore him.

    Jess – I laughed when I read your comment. Yes, candy and phone is EXACTLY my idea of living on the edge. There was a minute or two when things were touch and go—I genuinely thought we’d have a disaster on our hands, but thankfully it was avoided! (and thank you for your kind words)

    Dani – Yes, indeed!

    Ingrid – That’s such a nice comment, and you sound very blessed.

    TJ – Thank you!

  15. maris

    Aww, your dad sounds so sweet! And it also sounds like you’re very lucky to have him (just as he is lucky to have you…and those caramels!)

  16. Lan

    projected time of being braceface-less: June 2nd, 2010. i’m crossing my fingers that my ortho will be able to get them out sooner.

  17. Shannalee

    That’s nice of you to say, Maris. Trust me, the blessing is all mine!

    Lan – Crossing my fingers with you! I only had mine for two years, a long time ago, but I still don’t eat corn while it’s on the cob – some habits die hard.

  18. E.P.

    What a sweet story! It’s lovely that you made those for your father. That’s a fantastic gift idea.

    My dad isn’t a caramel fan, but he’s all about some taffy. I have NO idea how to make that, but the thought would be nice…

  19. SDG

    What a wonderful gift for your dad and so thoughtful. Sigh. I love caramel and can’t bring myself to make it because I’ll be 8000 pounds.

  20. Shannalee

    Thanks, E.P.! And you should give taffy a try!

    SDG – HA! Just take my tip and give most of it away!

  21. mallory elise

    that’s so funny, i did the same thing with a fudge candy i tried to make–it came out like a goo that was too hard to pour over anything, but impossible to cut. so i put it in a tupperware and put it in the freezer and grumbled. then i took it to my parents house a month later thinking i could make a cake topping with it, and put it in the microwave, and then it came out a chalky fudge. it was so bizzare!! but its IS all about the thermometer and temp….which i didnt have. woops!

    anyways. i like your blog. i like to talk about food to talk about everything else too :)

  22. Shannalee

    Mallory, How nice to know I’m not alone! Lesson learned: we need thermometers, right?! Thanks so much for the compliment, btw. I love meeting like-minded folks!

  23. Barb

    Your father sounds very much like mine. Its great that you appreciate him.

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