These buttery, salty, deliciously chewy confections taste rich and extravagant. Even though they require attention to detail, they are easy to make and fun to give away -- that is, if you can stand to part with them. Here is your step-by-step guide to the essentials of caramel making.
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The corn syrup is a stabilizer.
Adding light corn syrup (which is not the same as high-fructose corn syrup) to the cream, butter, and sugar prevents the sugar from crystallizing and making the candies grainy.
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A large pan is important.
Cream causes caramel to dramatically foam up when boiling, so choose a larger saucepan than you think you need. As the sugar caramelizes, the bubbles will get smaller.
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Watch it come to temperature.
The hotter the syrup, the harder the finished candy will be, so precision is key. For chewy (not hard) caramels, a candy thermometer must register exactly 248 degrees.
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Then work very quickly.
The instant your syrup reaches temperature, immediately remove it from the stovetop and stir in the vanilla and salt. These ingredients will round out the caramel flavor.
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Let the molten caramel set.
It takes at least eight hours for the caramel to set, so be patient. Avoid making it on a humid day, since it will absorb moisture from the air. Wait for cool, dry weather.
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Cut the Caramel
Lifting by parchment overhang, transfer caramel to a large cutting board. Cut into 3/4-by-1 1/4-inch pieces; wrap each piece in waxed paper or cellophane.
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Keep It Simple
Package homemade caramel candies in plain cardboard cartons. Tie up the boxes with kitchen twine, and maybe even adorn each with a sweet little pinecone. Done.
Get the recipes for Classic Caramel Candies and five variations: Sesame Ginger Caramel Candies, Orange Espresso Caramel Candies, Chocolate Coconut Caramel Candies, Maple Walnut Spice Caramel Candies, and Mixed Nut and Thyme Caramel Candies.