Adventures in Candy Making, Part One

February 5, 2010

I’ve got a few savory recipes up my sleeve, and now and then I like to share them.  However, one thing I have never done (until this week) is made candy.  I’ve made brownies and fudge.  I’ve even made a ganash.  But never ever in my life had I ever dipped my toe into the pool that is candy making, whether it be truffles or caramels.

Several months ago, I stumbled across this recipe for salted caramels at Smitten Kitchen, and ever since I’ve had caramels with sea salt on the brain.  Some of you may be thinking, how do sweet caramel and salt even go together ?  But I assure you, there’s something about the competing flavors of sweetness and saltiness, and when blended together, it forms the perfect medley.

Making caramels requires a tool that I previously did not possess: a candy thermometer.  Since Valentine’s Day is approaching, I thought I’d try my hand at actually making some caramels and chocolate candies for friends.  So I bought a candy thermometer for $15 dollars at Michaels and thus began this little adventure into making caramels and other chocolate candies.

centsational girl candy box

Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking.  What a darling little carton of candy !  Do not be fooled.  Yes, it’s true, all’s well that ends well, but I must confess it was a somewhat rough journey to get to this blissful box.

Originally, when I glanced at the simple ingredients for caramel candy, I was emboldened.   Butter, sugar, cream and corn syrup.  What could go wrong ?

Little did I know that complexities and complications lurked around the bend.

french grey sea salt

All caramel recipes include sugar and water.  Many liquid caramel recipes also include butter, heavy cream and/or light corn syrup.  The addition of sprinkled sea salt kicks your caramels up an entire foodie notch.

And as I write I’m just now realizing that the sugar in the bowl has a rather, shall we say, feminine shape to it.   Note to self: double check staging when photographing  ingredients.

I printed out the Smitten Kitchen recipe, yet decided to skip the chocolate on the inside since I planned on coating my morsels in dark chocolate instead.  Then I decided to get really clever by doubling the recipe so I could make that much more gooey goodness.  I measured out my cream and sugar, and carefully sliced by butter into perfect tablespoon size pats.  Then I added it all to my very tall pot.

Oh I thought I was so cool.  How hard can this really be?

Then a strange thing happened.  Unbeknownst to me, there is this intense bubbling up that occurs when the cream mixes with the dissolved sugar.  Just after I inserted my new candy thermometer, the mixture started to rise  . . .

boil up 1

. . . and rise . . .

boil up 3

. . . till it boiled up to the top.  PANIC!

I started blowing on the bubbles hoping it would help, then frantically turned the heat off.  Breaking out in a sweat, I was convinced I was doing something drastically wrong.  I started pacing back and forth, what to do?  What to do ?  Nowhere in these caramel recipes that I read do they ever explain that this chemical reaction would occur.

Like Charlie Brown, I convinced myself that I was a total failure.

This looks more like the surface of Mars than candy.

brave enough for thermometer

But then something magical happened.  On medium heat, the mixture started to get kind of, sort of, well, like caramel.  As the caramel bubbled, the temperature on the thermometer began to rise.

There is no truth to the idiom that a watched pot never boils.  Oh yes it does.  Especially when it’s becoming the wonder that is caramel candy.  As the caramel boils, you must sit and wait.  And you wait and watch and wait and watch.  Until it hits that magical temperature of 246°.

This is so much like high school chemistry class, only without the pimple faced chem partner.  And tastier in the end.

Did you know there’s a huge controversy over the exact temperature to cook caramel?  Oh yes, it’s true.  I did not know this until I dangerously dipped my toe into this candy makers world.  I found it quite amusing to sit back and read the arguments about why 252° is far superior to 242°.  But I was convinced somewhere in some commentary that 246° is the perfect temperature, and I remain convinced.

246° is perfect  because your caramel will be not so hard that you chip a tooth and not so soft that it’s a gooey mess.  It will be just the perfect amount of chewiness to stick to the back molars while you continue to salivate, and then have to excuse yourself to go find a toothpick.

So then my mixture arrived at the perfect temperature: 246 degrees !

I was so excited about this chemical accomplishment that I quickly moved to the next step: pouring the caramel into the parchment lined pan.

spoon into pan

I was so proud of its color.  Its shine.  Its caramely goodness.

As I admired myself in the reflection I realized I’d made a critical mistake.

OMG.

I forgot the butter.

I FORGOT TO ADD THE BUTTER !!!

What is caramel without butter ?  What is life without butter ?  There is no life if there is no butter.  It’s a universal truth.

Then I took a deep breath and calmed down.  I tasted the remnants in the pot and came to this conclusion.  No one will even guess with all that cream that you forgot the butter.   Especially when you add the salt and coat with dark chocolate.  So let’s just keep that little ‘forgot the butter’ tidbit to ourselves, shall we ?

After about ten minutes, when your caramel starts to harden, sprinkle your caramel with sea salt.

sprinkle sea salt

Consider doing this right away.

clean pot

Allow your caramels to cool about two hours, then cut them into bite size pieces.

cut into squares

In good company these are ‘two to three nibble’ pieces, but at home in your pajamas, these are ‘one big bite’ pieces.  About an inch or so works pretty well.

Then you melt your chocolate.  I chose to go with a mixture of unsweetened Baker’s chocolate and semi sweet chips.

unsweetened semi sweet combo

Combine in a microwave safe bowl.

combine in micro safe bowl

Inhale deeply.

closer shot

Build strange little robot like buildings.

build strange robot

Then melt in the microwave.  On high for the first minute, then stir every 30 seconds for a total of 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove when almost melted and stir baby stir.  Do not overcook.

augustus gloop

Does anyone else feel like Augustus Gloop right now, or is it just me ?

Then you dip your sea salt caramels into the melted chocolaty goodness.

dip caramel in chocolate

And align on parchment paper to cool.

chocolates on parchment

Keep pesky but cute critters away from your little masterpieces.

keep critters away

Allow to cool for an hour.

Then take a big bite.

caramel up close

And forget all the troubles in the world.

_________________________________________________________

 

Sea Salt Caramels dipped in Dark Chocolate

(modified recipe from Smitten Kitchen)   Makes 40-50 caramels (depending on size cut)

4 cups heavy cream

3 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

3 tbsp unsalted butter

1 1/2 tbsp sea salt

1 bag semi sweet chocolate chips (12 oz)

6 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate (6 oz)

Line cookie sheet or lasagna pan with parchment paper, spray with cooking spray. 

Add cream to a tall pot and bring to just a boil, reduce heat to medium low then add sugar and corn syrup.   Watch for the bubbling up, it will happen.  Reduce temperature, then add candy thermometer to pot, and boil on medium low approximately 20 minutes (or maybe more) stirring gently and occasionally.  At around 240 degrees add butter and gently stir to blend into caramel.  When candy reaches 246 degrees, pour into parchment lined pan.  Do not scrape sides or bottom of pot after you pour as it will result in some browned or burned bits in your caramel.  Let stand 10 minutes, then lightly sprinkle with sea salt.  Cool completely, about two hours. 

Melt chocolate in microwave safe bowl on high in microwave for 1 minute.  Continue melting every 30 seconds until most of chocolate is melted about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from microwave and stir until all chocolate is melted.  Do not overcook.

Cut caramels into 1 or 1.5 inch squares, then dip into melted chocolate, and allow to cool on parchment paper.  Caramels keep up to two weeks in airtight container at room temperature. 

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87 Responses to “Adventures in Candy Making, Part One”

  1. Kathryn says:

    Those look so perfectly tasty that I do believe I can taste them! I think your thermometer is reading 236*, and look at those perfect caramels!

  2. Kate says:

    Really lovely! Do we get a box tutorial too :) xxx

  3. maura says:

    wow those look delicious. I have never attempted caramel. I can’t wait to try it. Your little critter is so cute- did she end up trying one or two?

  4. Rosa says:

    Thank you, thank you very much for the idea!! My daughter due to several allergy is not allowed to eat candies… It hadn’t cross my mind that I could make her some. Yours seem delicious!!!

  5. Phunk says:

    Now I seriously want a candy thermometer! Yum!

  6. LisaR says:

    How funny! They look delicious though. I have done that – left out the ABSOLUTE main ingredient! But usually it turns out alright. One time I made pralines, only to have it turn into praline ice cream crumbles that I put in pretty jars with a nice ribbon! ;-) I may just have to try these!

  7. Melynda says:

    So happy that I recently found your blog. What a great start to me day- I loved reading about your ‘Adventures in Candy Making’. I’m sure the recipients will *love* their caramels (butter or not!)

  8. Robin says:

    So not fair that I can’t taste one of these. They seriously look like something out of a specialty chocolate store! Yummay!

  9. Amy Lynne says:

    Sound and look delicious! I always eat sweet and then salty, so these look like my kind of treat rolled in one. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Bird says:

    They look positively yummy!!

    I would gladly jump into a river of chocolate anyday…

    Not sure I am brave enough to attempt caramel candy yet…I’ll just drool over yours :)

  11. Maddy says:

    Wow! Who makes their own candy?! Seriously CG, you rock!

  12. Heather says:

    i have a deep love for salted caramel. I made some for cupcakes back in October and it was rough! My recipe said to take it to 350 degrees – and I trusted it because it was Martha – but of course it burned into a black mess. I walked away from the second batch at a critical moment and that burned too, but my third batch came out perfect! Making caramel is hard! Your candies look sooo delish.

  13. Brie says:

    Those look so good! I’ll definitely have to make them some time. Or, you can just send me one of those beautiful boxes all ready to go! Ha! Hope you have a great time at Blissdom.

  14. Carol from Indian Springs Village says:

    Ooooh, I love caramel and to have it with salt and dipped in chocolate? Bliss!

    Just curious, did you cut these with a knife and did you have to dip it in hot water to keep the caramel from sticking?

  15. O Mom says:

    Yum Yum Yum! and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much reading a recipe.

  16. Ellen says:

    sweet!….happy Friday!
    smiles.

  17. Kate, I once forgot butter (for Toffee) and thought I’d have to throw the pot away. I love making candy, but usually only do it at Christmas. Need to get some going for Vday.
    Hey, aren’t you on the coast? Humidity can do funny things to candy, I found this rainy season. Glad yours turned out beautifully!

  18. It’s only 9am but I MUST have carmels with sea salt. Luckily I already own a candy thermometer. :)

  19. Karena says:

    Kate, you get an A + for even attempting this! I know that temperatures, humidly can make a big difference in candy making
    Karen

  20. LOL! That is a great narrative of a task that I’ve always been scared of too! Candy making has always been my nemesis. I know NOTHING about candy making…and i’m a pretty good cook! In fact…embarassing as it is to admit…last year I tried to make Fudge that called for confectioners sugar and I used granulated sugar instead thinking it wouldn’t make a difference. It tasted like I had mixed a bucket of sand in with the chocolate. It was nasty! I will be purchasing a candy thermometer too and trying those caramels out…you did a great job and I hope I don’t forget the butter too…although that would be just like me! :)

  21. Andrea T says:

    I get the way you did about the boiling quite often when I’m making something new. I always mess up the recipe somehow– add the wrong ingredient, add the wrong amount of the right ingredient, forget it all together…. ahh, the joys of learning to cook!

  22. Looking so yummy! And your box looks awesome.

  23. Chelsey says:

    You are so funny. That looks like a delish recipe! I wonder if the texture would be different with the butter…you’ll have to try it some other time and tell us the difference…because no butter cuts the fat quite a bit. Interesting! Great storytelling, too! :)

  24. Kathryn says:

    Okay, I made them, and did remember the butter. H e a v e n! These are so good!

  25. What a sweet girl, patiently waiting for the candy to cool and be ready to eat. I’m not sure I could have done as well. I love that you tried this! Makes me want to consider quilting, something I’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the courage to try.

  26. Torey says:

    So can you write your modified recipe? I was looking at Smitten Kittens but I’m confused about whether you need to boil the cream if you aren’t adding chocolate? And did you just throw the cream, sugar and corn syrup all in the pot at the same time? Or did you boil the sugar, corn syrup and water first and then add the cream? Sorry for all the questions. . . but I’d love to try these. I’ve made toffee tons of times, but it is kind of a different process (at least the way I make it). Your candy looks absolutely delicious. . . I’m drooling over here.

  27. Annie says:

    I was all set on cookies for Valentine’s Day prezzies, but this post may have changed my mind. Darn you!

  28. Pam Fitz says:

    Yum- that looks heavenly! They look a lot like the chocolate covered toffees that lands end sells- which, BTW are insanely delicious!
    Hope you’re having a great time at blissdom!

  29. They look gorgeous and I bet they taste even better. Maybe I should dig out my candy thermometer!

  30. Pam says:

    I’m totally salivating right now!

  31. Aimee says:

    Oh my, I LOVE salt & caramel together – you are pure evil for sharing this!! ;)

  32. Sue says:

    I’d be happy to send you my address, I’d love one of those little cute boxes. I actually love sea salt and caramel or chocolate. I’m surprised that you salted the caramel before the chocolate dip. The ones I’ve had all have the sea salt sprinkled on top of the chocolate. I have a wonderful recipe from a cooking class for flourless chocolate cake with salted caramel. I haven’t tried to make it myself, I know I’ll eat it all. These look amazing!

    Sue

  33. CentsationalGirl says:

    Torey – Hi, yes, yes recipe will be posted. Kathryn – sorry, posted wrong photo, oops, will correct. Sue, email me – glad to send you some yummies !

  34. TidyMom says:

    Oh Kate they turned out WONDERFUL! I can only imagine how they taste ♥…..like I tweeted to you…I think you need to send me a box of those! LOL…..my hubbys FAVORITE is caramels, he would think he died and went to heaven!!…..your much braver than I am. and Raspberry Chocolate Squares……those would be for ME! Ü

    Can’t wait to see how to make the adorable boxes too!!

    Thanks for sharing your creativity!

  35. The trials and tribulations of caramels. Love the step by step pictures. They tell a story in and of themselves. :)

  36. Nathan says:

    Sweet and salty is one of the best combinations to put together. It sounds weird, but definitely try it!

  37. Andrea T says:

    Sue, you can get those candy boxes at craft stores that also have candy making supplies like Michaels or A.C Moore. I’m sure you could also get them at a cake decorating supply shot or some such.

  38. ButterYum says:

    “What’s life without butter?”… hahahahahahah!!!

    :)
    ButterYum

  39. Erin says:

    You should know that as I was reading this, I came to your statement about the form of the sugar and immediately stopped reading to scroll down for the picture! Lol!! Hilarious!! These look amazing, well done! I will be blaming you when I use this week’s Michaels coupon for a candy thermometer.

  40. Amy B says:

    I am really craving caramels right now!

  41. Jamie says:

    Holy Moly! Those look so yummy! And the boxes are way cute!

  42. Krystal says:

    Those look so yummy! Great Job! Oh and I never would have noticed the “feminine shape” of the sugar if you hadn’t pointed it out… but it sure made me laugh!

  43. If I ate refined sugar this would be it!!! Love caramels. Oh well, a girl can look right?

    xo,
    cristin

  44. Megan says:

    You have inspired me to make some V-day treats too. I love the cute box, it’s all in the presentation, right?!

  45. Tiffany says:

    Wow, yummy. I’m not a caramel fan, but I would eat those.

  46. Lacie says:

    crap i need to get a new candy thermometer now so i can make this…thanks alot jj. This looks amazing

  47. Val says:

    I had no idea what was missing in my life – until now. These sound incredible & I will definitely be making them ASAP. thanks for sharing!

  48. Melanie says:

    I bake and cook but I have never made candy. I love Elise at Simply Recipes. I cook a lot of her things. You did a great job.

  49. forcryeye says:

    WOW! those really look divine! :)

  50. ann says:

    Hey how do I get on your list of people to receive one of these boxes? Haha! They are gorgeous can’t wait to see the rest!

  51. Donna says:

    Whhhhhhhh haha – “feminine” I nearly spit my coffee on the computer screen!

  52. Tracy says:

    Classic post! Had me laughing from the beginning, but the comment about the sugar sent me over the top! Forgetting the butter sooooo sounds like something I would do. Glad they turned out deliciously in spite of it all. The look incredible and your packaging couldn’t be cuter! Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to the next installment! = )

  53. Brenda Moore says:

    Wonderful!! Loblaws here in Canada had Caramels in dark chocolate with sea salt sprinkled on top, at Christmas, luckily I bought a box when they were on sale just after. WOW! What a super taste combination and one I would never have come up with on my own.
    VERY ADDICTIVE!
    Congrats on making your own.

  54. marysmom says:

    This is the funniest, most enjoyable piece I’ve ever read about candy making or cooking in general. Besides talented…your hilarious.

  55. Shea Lynn says:

    I am so inspired to make caramel now. I’m on my way to Michaels to buy the candy thermometer!

  56. Lindsay says:

    Oh man. This is not helping my diet. Those boxes turned out fabulous! I am totally inspired.

  57. Raru says:

    Haha. Im on a dies too :))))
    But I want to make caramel too :)))
    Thanks for sharing and have a great day :)

  58. ElleX says:

    As always, so inspiring!

  59. Leslie says:

    chocolate dipped caramels — oh, they look sooooooo delicious!

  60. Hi, sweet friend! Hope you are making your way back home to CA! I’m just amazed that you make your own candy too. Is there anything you DON’T do, girlfriend? Thank you SO much for sharing your candy with me, it is just delish. My hubby and I enjoyed some when I got home last night at 9:30 & oh my gosh, YUM. Had a great time meeting you and hanging out together & so glad you came to Blissdom!! xoxo

  61. Ummm, I had one and it was not missing anything!!! :)

  62. Sarah says:

    Oh, yummy! Yummy, yum, yum!

  63. Ralu says:

    so much fun reading your posts- they make incredible little adventures in homeland :))

  64. Shea Lynn says:

    Kate, I did it, I made caramel! People were SO impressed and my pants are a little tighter all thanks to you! You were right about 246 also. I overcooked the first batch at 250 but 246 made the most unbelievable caramel I have ever tasted. I followed your lead and dipped them in chocolate. I am so excited to have this new skill. Thank you!!!

  65. kim says:

    These look amazing, esp. for a first time. I dipped caramels in chocolate for Christmas, and then topped with a bit of sea salt at the end. I felt it had two purposes – to hide how ugly my dipping job was and to add some salt to the sweet caramels. They were a huge success. One thing I learned while dipping my chocolates and searching the web was to place the caramels on the wax paper and then slowly move them just a bit using a fork to help reduce the “foot print” of the chocolate.

  66. [...] Inside there are plenty of great articles and idea notebooks, with features on closet makeovers, vintage luggage, antiques, and even sea salt (my latest fixation).  [...]

  67. Elizabeth says:

    Hi, I just tried your recipe today and it was my first time ever making caramels and they turned out great! I was giddy they were so good! I am packaging some up to give to friends for Valentine’s day. Thank you so much for the delicious inspiration! Looking forward to your next installments!

  68. Kimba says:

    Oh my glory! I just ate (both) of the caramels from your box of chocolate delights! I’m convinced that you’re a genius. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

  69. [...] I started with Sea Salt Caramels dipped in Dark Chocolate.  You can read that harrowing journey right [...]

  70. Bunny Jean says:

    I so want candy right now. NOW! I don’t have time to make any, can’t wait…. must have some stashed somewhere……

  71. Marissa says:

    BEAUTIFUL caramels!!!! I laughed out loud about the pesky but cute critters… we’ve got a bunch of those at our house.

  72. These look fabulous! I tend to be the pesky critter I have to keep from eating before finishing so it’s hard since I’m the one making them too. hehe :)

  73. Ann says:

    This is a great recipe–and I had the same experience the first time I made caramels, so I had to laugh. In fact, each time I make them, they come out slightly differently, but they’re one of my most popular items. I dip them in Callebaut or Valrhona dark chocolate, and they are seriously scrumptious.

  74. I have a burning question for any candy makers out there: I make a toffee recipe that uses 1 pound of butter and 2 cups of sugar. You boil them while stirring to 240 Deg, then add chopped almonds and cook till 300 deg. What happens is that the butter starts to separate out of the recipe and when you pour the candy onto the cookie sheet a lot of the butter just runs off. It affects the final texture of the candy.

    Has anyone else had this experience? If so do you have a cure? Thanks, Barb

  75. Esther says:

    You are hilarious. Also, I am trying this recipe when I have someone to take care of my baby over the holidays.

  76. Erica T. says:

    OK, I tried this for the first time tonight. I had to half recipe because I only had a pot that was about 1/2 the height of yours. I was afraid it would boil over. It seemed to be doing OK..that is until it started smelling like it was burning.is that normal? Why is this project so frightening? …LOL it’s almost like panic attack mode sets in. The bottom of my pan was burned sugar, but I did not scrape. I was left with this very pretty marbled effect. I did cheat and taste it before it had cooled 2 hours. The flavor is yummy. I plan to see if it sets up. If not, then I will attempt to dip in chocolate and see what happens.

  77. Erica T. says:

    They turned out fabulous! Drizzled melted semi-sweet chocolate chips on them… and yum! Thanks for the recipe!

  78. CentsationalGirl says:

    I know Erica, it is a little scary! You’ve reminded me I have to try it out again!
    xo
    Kate

  79. candy maker says:

    I know exactly what your talking about when the candy starts to rise in the pot. I have made peanut brittle for years and I still panic when adding the soda at the end and the candy starts to rise. Stir faster, faster, faster.

  80. Michelle L says:

    For all the blogs that I follow, I’m not one to typically leave a comment. Yet after reading your hilarious commentary I felt that I HAD to, as it was completely relatable! I too have been in almost that exact same situation (albeit with caramel syrup), of pacing back and forth, breaking into a sweat, squinting at the thermometer, turning the stove off in a panic, and yes, occasionally forgetting a key ingredient. I had to giggle outloud and it’s nice to know I’m not as crazy as my partner seems to think I am!

  81. CentsationalGirl says:

    Ha, glad you could relate Michelle, it was a *frightening* moment with a delicious ending!
    Kate

  82. Linda says:

    I tried making these caramels today. I used a 3 qt saucepan and it kept bubbling up to the rim and would not get above 225 degrees. I finally (after about an hour of boiling) dumped it into a 5 quart pan and was able to let it boil without it getting up to the rim. It still took quite a while to get up to 240 to put the butter in. They are now cooling in the 9×13 pan and look like they will turn out ok, but it was a LONG process trying to get them up to temperature…

  83. Alyssa says:

    I have tried this recipe twice and both times I struggle to get the temperature above 200 degrees. The bubbling happens but the temperature does not seem to rise. Both times it has taken over an hour of boiling on medium. What am I doing wrong??

  84. CentsationalGirl says:

    Oh no how frustrating Alyssa! I wonder if you’re using the same equipment? I have repeated the recipe and it has worked for me, you do need to wait some time, I’m so sorry your version isn’t working!
    Kate

  85. Inky says:

    Okay, so my sisters both made this and it was so good. They are awesome bakers. I, on the other hand, am more of a tester than a baker. I loved theirs so much that I had to try. It took a lot of patience, something I am short on. I wanted to pull it off the stove eye thinking I would never get to the magic 246 but it finally did and …….I DID IT!!! They turned out perfectly. I even brought some to work and everyone loved them!! Thank you for spreading the love.

  86. CentsationalGirl says:

    Wow Inky that is fantastic! You’ve reminded me I really need to make these again!
    Kate

  87. Linda says:

    I loved the humor you put on this page – thanks!

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