The Temperamental Caramel

My brother-in-law’s birthday was a few weeks ago and one of his favorites things are those Brach’s caramel squares.  I thought it would be fun to make my own caramel and surprise him with something I was sure would impress.  I did my research on caramel and found that it was just a few simple ingredients.  What I also learned is that caramel is subject to mood swings at various temperatures.  A candy thermometer is a must have for this.

Caramel Ingredients

I decided to make a single batch first to see how they’d turn out.  I followed this “Salted Caramels” recipe from Inspired Taste.  The steps looked simple and the guided instruction was helpful.

Tangent:  You might know by now I have an aversion to box mixes.  The other aversion I have is when recipes call for a microwave.  Microwaves were invented to save time (like a box mix), I understand that. You may be familiar with a box meal we call a “TV dinner” and how it goes nicely with a microwave.  Well,  why don’t we all just slow down a bit and throw out those so called “dinners” in a box and use the oven or stove top..

Anyway… the first step is to bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil.  The sugar water needs to be heated to a hefty 320F and that’s why a candy thermometer is handy.

Sugar Water

Tangent #2:  I’m not a big fan of corn syrup in recipes but sometimes I just bite my tongue and use it for the good of the recipe.  However, I am absolutely against  High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is what you’ll find in the store bought versions. In the end, I consider myself better off.

While that’s coming to a boil, heat (in a stove top pan) butter and heavy whipping cream until the butter has melted.

Butter and Cream

Melted Butter and Cream

Once the sugar  water has reached 320F we slowly add in the butter/cream mixture, stirring as it’s added.  It will froth and foam as if it were alive but don’t worry, it’s not alive… or is it?

Hot Sugar Water

Sugar and Cream

More Sugar and Cream

Here’s the tricky part, now that all the ingredients for caramel are in one pan it needs to heat to a very specific temperature and then removed from the heat.   Combining the butter/cream with the sugar water is supposed to bring it from 320F down to something like 220F but I had different results.   Here’s a chart for how caramel will turn out as it’s heated to various temperatures.  Just 5 degrees can make a difference in the outcome.

Heating Caramel

I let ours cook to ~240F as the recipe indicates, which I found out later was not high enough and it turned out way too soft.  In the refrigerator or freezer it was the right consistency but at room temperature it was a thick caramel sauce.

Nonetheless, you then pour the heated sauce into an dish, lined with wax paper and a little oil to make removal easier.


That’s me pouring, so exciting…

Pouring Caramel

Now it rests for 30 minutes at room temperature and then into the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to set.

It's resting

Right out of the refrigerator, I pulled them out of the dish and cut them into squares. Looks pretty good right? Right?!

Finished Caramel

I humbly admit that the resulting thick caramel sauce was amazing!  Way better than any store bought caramel sauce.  I got compliments from all my closest family members and I didn’t listen to what the others said so I couldn’t tell you their response.

While some of you may consider this a failure, I do too.  I had high aspirations of cutting squares of firm caramel and wrapping them in a blanket of chocolate and sprinkling sea salt on top.  Instead, I had to settle for dripping chocolate sauce on top of thick caramel sauce and sprinkling with sea salt.

Chocolate Caramel

These, I also humbly admit, were also very tasty but not worth the mess they caused.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Use an official candy thermometer (not a standard meat thermometer).
  2. Don’t blindly follow a recipe that says 240F when clearly it should have been between to 250 – 260F for the “firm ball” state.
  3. Don’t make two batches using the same recipe… oops.  I wasn’t patient enough to see how the first one turned out so I threw a second one together.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Don’t be afraid of heated sugar.  You can do this and so can I!  I will try again and I will triumph and you will read that blog as well.


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