These homemade caramels are soft, chewy, sweet, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious! They’re a classic simple candy that can easily be made at home and perfect for gift giving any time of year.
You know those candy shops with huge buckets filled to the rim with taffy and caramels? Those places are like Mecca to my kids – they love candy like no other. One day I made homemade caramels and it literally blew their minds. Yep, you can make caramel candy at home and it’s easier than you might think!
Ingredients for Homemade Caramels
- Butter: butter is a critical, non-negotiable ingredient in caramels. I use unsalted and then add in salt separately, so I can control the amount.
- Granulated sugar: gotta have white sugar to make this candy. It breaks down into that gorgeous amber color that we know and love. Don’t try to substitute with all brown sugar – it will mess with the science of the other ingredients and not turn out.
- Light Corn Syrup: this helps the sugar molecules from crystallizing. In a nutshell, it prevents the candy from being grainy. We’re after smooth and creamy caramels!
- Evaporated Milk: this is what makes a soft caramel candy instead of a hard one. Make sure you use evaporated milk and not sweetened condensed milk for this recipe.
- Kosher Salt: this gets incorporated into the mixture and balances out the sweetness. You can also sprinkle a little sea salt on top of the mixture at the end before it sets, but that is purely optional.
- Vanilla: this is optional, but it really does elevate the flavor.
How to Make Homemade Caramels
Similar to my easy caramel sauce in color and taste, but with a few tweaks, additional steps, and patience to make them into a soft candy. Super easy! The perfection is all in the details, though.
- Maintain a steady temperature: the most important part of making homemade caramels is achieving the right temperature. The perfect temperature for soft caramels is a “soft ball” stage, which is 238 degrees F.
- Slowly add in the evaporated milk: it’s critical that you add in and stir the evaporated milk a little at a time, so the mixture maintains a constant, steady temperature (as mentioned above^) It’s such a simple step, but it can take up to 15 minutes and if you get impatient and rush it, your mixture will be ruined.
- Candy Thermometer and Ice Water Method: you’ll need a candy thermometer to determine when you’ve reached “soft ball” stage (238 degrees F.) But since they can sometimes be unreliable depending on how they’re calibrated or the altitude and humidity levels of where you’re located, check for perfect consistency the old fashioned way – the ice water test. Simply drizzle a small amount of hot caramel into a cup filled with ice cold water, then mold the caramel into a ball with your fingers. It should be firm, but soft and pliable and still slightly sticky. (You can see the video in this post for a visual example.) I actually recommend using BOTH a thermometer and the cold water method to know exactly when it’s done.
Tips to Cut Homemade Caramels
- Line and grease your pan: this helps immensely with getting the caramels out of the pan. Line the pan with parchment paper (with a slight overhang) and butter the paper, as well.
- Chill: caramels don’t have to be chilled in order to set, but it does make it easier to cut them. Let them chill in the fridge, then let them warm slightly at room temperature, so they’re chilled but not cold.
- Use a bench scraper: you can absolutely use a knife, but if you’ve got a bench/dough scraper, use that.
- Dip the blade in cold water: if your blade is sticking, dip the knife or bench scraper in cold water before cutting.
- Cut into pieces: you can cut them into any sized pieces you like – some prefer squares, while others like them long and thin. I like to cut 10 rows and then individually cut each row into 8 pieces. You’ll end up with 80 caramels.
How to Wrap Caramels
Years ago, we used to have to cut individual 4×5-inch pieces of wax paper (and you can certainly still do that), but there are now pre-cut candy wrappers available that make the packaging process so much easier.
Either way, you’ll place a caramel in the middle of the paper, roll up, and then twist the ends to seal, like a tootsie roll. (You can watch the video in this post for a visual example, if needed.)
How to Store Homemade Caramels
How long do homemade caramels last? Wrapped caramels will stay fresh at room temperature, stored in an airtight container for about 2 weeks. You can also store them in the refrigerator, but I would allow them to come to room temperature before enjoying.
Can you freeze caramel candy? Yep. Store wrapped caramels in a freezer-safe, airtight container for up to 2 months. Thaw completely before eating.
Other Caramel Recipes
Watch the Video
Easy Homemade Caramels
- ½ cup unsalted butter , plus butter for the pan/parchment paper
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 12 ounce can evaporated milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Line an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper, with a slight overhang (for easy removal later.) Butter the parchment paper well. (If you don't have parchment paper you can generously butter the pan.)
- Add the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and salt to a medium heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Stir over medium heat until mixture begins to boil, about 5-10 minutes.
- Very gradually drizzle in the evaporated milk, taking about 12-15 minutes to slowly add it, while stirring constantly. (Remain over medium heat, maintaining a constant boil. It takes patience and time – don't rush this step.)
- Stir the mixture constantly, scraping the sides occasionally until it reaches a "soft ball" stage (238 degrees F on a candy thermometer). For certainty, drop a spoonful of hot caramel sauce into a cup of ice water and mold it with your fingers into a ball. When ready it will feel pretty firm and pliable, but still slightly sticky.
- Once you reach 238 degrees F / or the soft ball stage, remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. (Be careful, it will bubble up.)
- Pour mixture into prepared pan. Cool completely, usually about 4 hours. (You can also cool and chill in the fridge overnight, then set out on counter to warm slightly at room temperature, so they're chilled but not cold. This makes them easier to cut.)
- Remove the caramels from the pan by lifting out the parchment paper.
- Using a sharp knife or dough/bench scraper, cut caramel into 10 rows and then individually cut each row into 8 pieces, so you end up with 80 equal sized pieces.
- Place a caramel in the middle of wax paper, roll up, and then twist the ends to seal, like a tootsie roll. Then eat a bunch of them or give as gifts!