One of my favorite candies as a kid were caramels — soft or hard, but really, the soft ones were my favorite. Those super buttery, golden colored squares were never safe in my house. For years, I’ve wondered about making soft caramels from scratch, but somehow I kept putting it off and putting it off, because I had convinced myself it would be a pain in the butt to do. Fact: it’s not. It is dangerously easy. I should know, because I’ve made seven batches of them in the past two days. (No, I’m not kidding, and yes, that is a LOT of caramels.)
I’ve done a lot of growing up since the last time I had soft caramels (I’m pretty sure I was wearing a Sonic the Hedgehog costume, then) so I thought I’d make this version a little more grown-up, too. They’re dark, and rich, with just a kiss of rum. They’re also softer, which your teeth will thank you for. The only thing that hasn’t changed is how addictive they are.
I know this post is coming to you just the day before Halloween, but I promise you, you have time to make these. You probably already have all the ingredients you need sitting in your cupboard, and it only takes about twenty minutes to throw together the caramel base. Let it set up overnight, and in the morning you’ll have gooey soft caramels to share with your friends. I’ve already started handing these out to some of my neighbors (I call it reverse trick-or-treating) and trusted sources tell me, they’ve been a huge hit.
Making candies is fast becoming one of my favorite things. It all started with homemade peanut brittle last year, which basically turned my kitchen into a small batch brittle factory. Now, these caramels. I’ve made batch after batch of these, playing with the recipe until it’s just right — soft, gooey, and delicious. Boiling sugar is all about temperature control (your candy thermometer is your best friend, here), but in the case of soft caramels, there’s another factor that plays into how soft or hard the final candies will be, and that’s the liquid. The more liquid, the softer the caramel. Too little and the candies will be hard, too much and you’ll have a sauce. Both are delicious, which means playing with the recipe was a lot of fun. The recipe I finally settled on uses only two TBSP of rum, which adds a lovely depth of flavor to the otherwise all-sweet caramels, while allowing them to still firm up enough to cut into squares and twist in cute little wax paper wrappers. If you’re looking for a stronger rum flavor, I suggest using a bit of rum extract or flavoring (in place of the vanilla), rather than add more rum, as too much liquid will cause these to not set up, and you’ll be left with an ooey, gooey, delicious mess. Of course, if you add enough more rum, that sticky mess will turn into a sauce, which would be perfect over ice cream, or cake, or pie, or… everything.
I may have gone a little caramel crazy. Just a little.
Making caramels doesn’t have to be difficult, but it can cause problems if you aren’t prepared. Be sure to read through the recipe a couple of times first, and have everything you need at the ready. There’s nothing worse than scrambling to measure your next ingredient when your sugar is rapidly going from nicely-caramelized to burnt. Make sure you have a good candy thermometer (you can always check the accuracy of your thermometer by placing it in a pot of boiling water — since water boils at 212 degrees F., you can know your thermometer is spot on if that’s what it reads) and be sure you have a pot big enough before you begin (for this recipe you’ll need a 4-quart saucepan, or bigger. Remember that caramel bubbles up and can double or even triple in volume, so having a pot that can contain it is crucial). Also, a long-handled wooden spoon helps. The more distance between you and boiling sugar, the better.
Don’t let all that intimidate you, though. Once you’ve made one batch, you’ll be able to make the next twelve with your eyes closed. But… don’t.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 TBSP unsalted butter
- ¼ tsp. fine grain sea salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- ¼ cup water
- 2 TBSP dark spiced rum
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- Optional: fleur de sel, for sprinkling on top
- Line the bottom and sides of an 8x8 inch baking dish with parchment paper, so that the paper overhangs the edges of the pan slightly, and set aside.
- In a small pot, heat the cream, butter, and salt until the butter has melted. Remove from heat, and set aside.
- In a large saucepan (at least 4 quarts), stir together both of the sugars, water, and corn syrup. Place over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring gently, until the mixture starts to boil.
- Cover, and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Then remove the lid, and clip on your candy thermometer. Let the mixture boil, without stirring, swirling, or otherwise moving the pan, until the caramel reaches 360-365 degrees F.
- When the caramel reaches temp, turn off the heat, and give the pot a gentle swirl to break up any hot spots. Let the caramel cool for a minute or two, then carefully pour in the cream and butter -- stand back, here, as the mixture will bubble up violently -- and gently stir with a long-handled wooden spoon until the bubbling settles down and everything is well mixed.
- Place the pot back over medium heat, and let cook until it reaches 250-255 degrees F. Once it does, turn off the heat, remove the candy thermometer, and (carefully, once again) pour in the rum and vanilla. Stir well, then pour into the prepared pan.
- Let the caramel set for at least 4 hours, or overnight (or, to speed up the process, place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or until set.) Optionally, sprinkle with a little extra fleur de sel.
- Lift the block of caramel from the pan by the overhanging parchment, and set on a cutting board. Using a pizza cutter, slice into strips, and then into squares or rectangles. (If the mixture is too soft or sticky to work with, place in the fridge or freezer for ten minutes before continuing. It helps to separate the pieces as you cut them so they don't stick to their neighbors, and keep them on the parchment so they're easy to pick up.) Wrap each piece in a square of cellophane or wax paper, and twist both ends to seal. And remember, it is totally okay to eat one for every one you wrap. I won't tell.