For holiday treats or gift-giving, homemade caramels are a good choice. They’re naturally gluten-free and can be made with high-quality ingredients such as local honey and organic cream. Fancy ingredients can be used such as fleur de sel or other exotic salt and ground vanilla bean. Unlike many caramels recipes, this one is free of corn syrup. In addition, if you send food gifts to family and friends, caramels ship well.
Caramel-making can be rewarding, but a number of things can go wrong. You can cook the mixture too fast or get it too hot, or you can take it off-heat too soon. (If it isn’t burnt, you might be able to rescue it by cooking it again.) This recipe incorporates some tips that might help you succeed.
Fancy salt for the recipe, such as fleur de sel, is available at New Pioneer Food Co-Ops in Iowa City and Coralville and Bread Garden Market in Iowa City. Simple coarse sea salt is fine too.
Use caution when working with hot caramel. Children should have close supervision by an adult. Caramel stays very hot much longer than you think, and it can burn!
HONEY-VANILLA BEAN-SALT CARAMELS
Start to finish: 3 1/2 hours (active time: 1 hour)
Yield: 64 caramels
- Special equipment: candy thermometer
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon fleur de sel or coarse sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 vanilla bean, finely ground, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon additional salt for sprinkling
If using vanilla bean, finely grind it in a clean coffee grinder.
Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, and butter it or lightly spray with oil.
Place some water and an ice cube in a small bowl and keep next to the stove for checking the consistency of the caramel and in case of burns.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring cream, butter, salt and ground vanilla bean to a boil. (If using vanilla extract, you will add it later.) After mixture boils, remove pan from heat.
In a tall pot over medium low heat, bring sugar, honey and water to a boil, stirring until sugar is mostly dissolved. Boil, but do not stir, until mixture reaches a light golden “caramel” color.
Slowly add cream mixture to pot, stirring. The mixture will bubble up. Carefully clip candy thermometer to side of pot, making sure tip is not touching the metal of the pot. Continue cooking over medium low heat.
You can check the consistency of the caramel any time during cooking by dropping a teaspoonful or two into the ice water. This will show you what the caramel would be like if you took it off heat at that point. When you can form the test caramel into a firm ball with your fingers rather than it being soft, stringy or diffuse, you know it’s ready. Begin checking it at about 250°F.
Continue cooking, stirring very infrequently. The temperature creeps up slowly, and it can take 30 to 40 minutes or more to cook, but watch it carefully. The temperature will drop down for a few minutes after stirring.
When caramel reaches 260°to 265°F and/or tests at desired consistency, remove pot from heat, and if using vanilla extract, stir it in now. The vanilla will make the mixture bubble up again. Pour the hot caramel into the prepared foil-lined pan. Allow it to run into the pan; don’t scrape the pot.
Cool for about 15 minutes, then sprinkle on the salt. Allow to cool at least a couple of hours.
Turn onto a cutting surface, peel off foil, turn salt-side-up and cut into 1-inch squares.
Tear or cut 12-inch wide waxed paper into sixteen 4-1/2 inch strips, then cut each strip into four 3-inch pieces. (This can be done while caramel is cooking.) Wrap caramels in papers and gently twist ends.
Nutrition information per 1-inch caramel: 37 calories; 14 calories from fat; 2 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber; 183 mg sodium.
(Recipe adapted from happytummy.com.)