Thursday, December 8, 2011

Vanilla Caramels with Sea Salt

One of the many perennial images on Pinterest is that of a tiny gorgeous slab of caramel topped with fleur de sel. Well, every time I see that image I salivate, and I've been dying to try my hand at a recipe of sea salt-topped caramels ever since.
When I started looking around, I realized there was a catch. Every recipe I stumbled upon involved corn syrup. Corn syrup just gives me the heebie-jeebies. Caramel didn't involve corn syrup when it first arrived on the scene, so why is so prevalent now? I guess it makes the caramelizing process a little bit easier and faster. After searching high and low, I found a recipe at Chez Pim which did not use any corn syrup. Hurrah!

We modified Chez Pim's recipe a bit, most notably adding vanilla because, well, we love vanilla, but also because we wanted to use our homemade vanilla extract prominently in a recipe. We'll post a bit more about the vanilla soon.


These caramels were so good that Sarah and I both ate way too many of them as soon as they were salted and sliced. They are just ridiculously delicious. The richness of butter, the warmth of honey and vanilla, the hints of sea salt. I recommend wrapping a good portion up for friends just so that you don't overindulge. You don't think you will, but you will. Oh, yes, you will.
Vanilla Caramels with Sea Salt

  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tb vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 4oz salted butter, room temperature
  • coarse sea salt (we used La Baleine Coarse Sea Salt)
  • special equipment: candy thermometer 
1. Combine sugar, honey, and vanilla extract in a large non-reactive pot. Turn on the heat and let the sugar and honey melt and cook until caramelized (it will slowly become a deep, dark brown color.)
2. While the sugar is cooking, bring the cream to a simmer.
3. When the sugar reaches the color you like, whisk in the butter in small knobs, until well mixed, then add the warmed cream, whisk until smooth.
4. We let this mixture cook until the temperature reached 260F.  However, we live at high altitude (5,000 ft) and if you do not you may want to try cooking these caramels to a slightly lower temperature.  A couple of pros (via the comments section) let us know that typically 244 is the appropriate temperature to cook caramels to in order to achieve the perfect consistency.  Also, check out the comments for tips on how to rescue caramels that have become too hard!
4. Pour the hot caramel onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Let cool about ten minutes, and then sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Continue to let it come to room temperature, and then cut into small squares, roll, and wrap in packets of parchment or waxed paper. 



65 comments:

  1. Again with the gorgeous photos. As soon as I get a candy thermometer, I'll be making this. It's simple and delicious. Vanilla and caramel, what's not to love! Great job!

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    1. you dont realy need a candy thermometer

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  2. Kudos for choosing sugar versus corn syrup. Do you recommend cane sugar specifically? Again, fabulous photography. I'm standing in a puddle of drool.

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  3. Beautiful pictures. I love that you didn't use corn syrup! Can't wait to try making them!

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  4. Looks delicious. Would love for you to come and share this with us over at foodepix.com.

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  5. ohhh my Goooooodness ................... droooooool.......




    www.thecreativemuslimah.blogspot.com

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  6. @Grandpapa DEE - you need to use the regular, white, processed sugar that you buy in a bag in the baking aisle. Not the "all natural" stuff that's a little brownish. You need the white granulated stuff because it lacks impurities; this makes it possible to caramelize the sugar without burning it.

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  7. thank you SO much for sharing this recipe. I've been wanting to try my hand at salted caramel, but couldn't find a corn syrup free recipe.

    I might make these for the holiday. :)

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  8. Hello! I was looking for a recipe of caramel without corn syrup for a long time. And I find! Thanks =))) But a little problem. I cannot understand measuring in cups. Can you transfer recipe in gr or oz, please=)))

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  9. Hello! I was looking for a recipe of caramel without corn syrup for a long time. And I find! Thanks =))) But a little problem. I cannot understand measuring in cups. Can you transfer recipe in gr or oz, please=)))

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  10. Hi Anonymous - I like this conversion chart for cups to oz & gr:
    http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/cup-to-gram-conversions/detail.aspx

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  11. ok so this is my first attempt EVER at any type of candy or caremel. Your recipe is great! my 9 year old and i just made them. they are currently cooling, but i just couldnt resist getting just a tiny tast by dipping my finger. OMG!!! yum!!! as long as they set up, which they seem to be doing just perfectly....i should need to make a second batch in about an hour!! why??? cause i'm going to eat the whole first batch lol. Thanks for sharing this great, easy recipe.

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  12. Mmm, nothing's better than some good, homemade salted caramel. I love putting smoked sea salt on top, gives the caramels a smoky, delectable flavor.

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  13. Sarah, thanks very much for converter!!!

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  14. i made these and they taste great but they are super hard almost "brittle like" - any idea where i could have went wrong?

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  15. Brittany - I think I know what may have happened with your caramel. For candy making, it is all about the temperature you heat it to - there's "soft crack" which is approx what we are going for here, and "hard crack" which produces a more brittle final product, more like a toffee. I think yours may have gotten too hot and reached the "hard crack" stage. At least that's my best guess ;) here's a link with more info: http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/candy/sugar-stages.html

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  16. Just made this yesterday, Loved it! Thank you for sharing the recipe. :-)

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  17. Lovely recipe, but cooking to 260 degrees F will make for very hard candies. Are you sure about the temp?

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    1. When I made these I just used a bowl of ice water and ever few minutes dropped in a little of the caramel until it came out the consistency I wanted, they turned out firm enough to wrap and soft enough to chew. I have never used a thermometer or a probe.

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  18. If you have one of those handy timers with a probe, that also will work instead of a candy thermometer. You just have to make enough caramel (or use a smaller pot) so the caramel comes up high enough to cover about 2 inches of the probe. In culinary school, we often used these thermometers instead of the candy ones because we each had one in our kits but there were only 3 candy thermometers in the classroom.

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  19. I just made these and they are the most creamy and addicting caramels I have ever tried! Thank you for the recipe, and the beautiful pictures that make it so much easier to follow.

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  20. Do you think I could use agave instead of honey?

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  21. I made these last night (using agave instead of honey) and they turned out AMAZINGLY! The only issue I'm having is I can't easily peel them off the parchment paper to wrap them up!! Kind of bummed because I wanted to give them away to people and now I might end up just eating them all myself with a spoon after I scrape them off :) Anyone else have this problem or have any suggestions as to how I can salvage them? Maybe next time I should grease down the parchment paper?

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  22. So excited for no corn syrup and am trying these today! Your photography is gorgeous as well. So glad to have found your blog. I am a new fan!

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  23. mine refuse to set :( guess i'll turn it into a sauce? any ideas on how to make them set please let me know - what went wrong? xx

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    1. My best guess would be that the caramel didn't reach a high enough temperature during cooking - that's why it didn't set up firmly.

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  24. I'm so excited to have found your recipe and is cooking as I write, smells great! thank you!
    no corn syrup was the deciding factor, and now...delicious!

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  25. I just made these, and they're delicious!

    But, like previous reviewers, I didn't have optimal results with cooking them to 260 degrees. I'm a chef, and have made lots of caramel by the standard 244-degree rule. But I've never made caramels using honey before, so I went for 260 this time, thinking the honey might account for the temperature difference. My caramels have a VERY hard chew (and I don't mind a good hard, chew - these are a bit much for me). Next time I'll shoot for 244 degrees. The flavor is great, though! And just a tip for those who find the caramel too hard for their liking: re-melt it slowly over medium/low heat, and stir in 2-3 tablespoons of additional cream. Stir until fully incorporated, then allow to set up again - the chew will be much softer.

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    1. Thank you for the informative comment! I'll update the recipe with this information so people are well informed in their temperature decision making. We live at high altitude (5,000 ft) - I wonder if that has something to do with our results?

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    2. YES! That actually solves the mystery. :) At or around sea level, caramel-makers will need to keep their temp around 244. The general rule is to add one degree to your final temperature for every 500 feet above sea level. Pesky altitude issues, haha.

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    3. How interesting. You are obviously a pro - thanks for the great info! :)

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    4. You're very welcome - thank YOU for the wonderful recipe! After adding a little extra cream, I used the caramel to fill shortbread thumbprint cookies. I have eaten four, and am now cursing their presence in my kitchen. :-)

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    5. HA - I know the feeling exactly

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    6. I thought the general rule was to SUBTRACT 1 degree for every 500ft above sea level -?

      The article linked from another comment mentions this as well - http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/candy/sugar-stages.html

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  26. Hi I am allergic to honey ,can I make this without the honey ?

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    1. Another commentor said they used agave and it worked beautifully.

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  27. Have you tried this recipe for caramel apples? I'm thinking this recipe would work beautifully.

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    1. I have not, but if you try it let us know how it works. Yum!

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    2. I did try it on the apples and they look great, however I think if anyone else does do this, cook to a slightly higher temperature. I cooked to 245 as I live on the coast, but they are rather soft and sticky. I think going maybe 10 degrees higher might be better for caramel apples, they would set better. Will try this next time. The caramel has a wonderful flavour though, thank you for the recipe.

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  28. These look and sound amazing (your photos rock!)! When you're melting the sugar do you mix the whole time or just let it go? I wonder how they would be coated in dark chocolate..... Hmm.

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  29. This recipe is a GEM! This is my first attempt at caramel and it is simply divine. I'll be making this for years to come. I used this to make caramel apples and it coated so evenly and set to a perfect glossly finish. And it has so much depth from the honey, and so much naturally occurring warm color. I'm never going back to the store bought stuff, this is heaven! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  30. I subbed the honey with invert sugar, and my caramels turned out excellent! I also used a smaller recipe. Yum, yum, yum! Thanks for sharing!

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  31. This recipe is fantastic! I used it for a Dessert class I'm teaching at our homeschool co-op and the kids made 2 delicious batches of caramel (1 of which went into caramel-filled apples, yum!)
    Not only is the recipe yucky ingredient free, it is simple, and adaptable.
    Yesterday I made a batch at home and added almond extract, soooo good!
    I think I'll play around with coffee in the next batch. Easy homemade holiday gifts? I think so!

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  32. I didn't get the carmel hot enough, but it still makes a delicious sauce! Currently dipping some granny smith apples :)

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  33. It is also possible to substitute Succanat for the white granulated sugar to make a more nutritious stronger flavored Carmel

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  34. How long do these keep? Should they be stored in the fridge? Thinking of making them as gifts for Christmas since they look so lovely!

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    1. sugar is a great preservative; our friend that makes & sells caramels says hers are "best within" 3 months but can be safely eaten for an even longer time period.

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  35. Good consistency, just 2 notes: First, I'd suggest an 8" or 9" square cake pan instead of a cookie sheet, depending on how thick you want the caramels to be. The cookie sheet caramels are approx 1/4" thick. Second, if you're not crazy about honey (which I am not), be aware that the flavor is more predominant in the caramels than you might expect. When I try these again, I'll go with agave nectar.

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  36. I made this recipe with evaporated cane sugar; the results were FABULOUS! I had been looking for an alternative to HF corn syrup. Thanks so much!

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  37. I'm going to make these for my darling sis-in-law and daughter. My question is what's the best way to test my burners? I have a flat-top electric stove, and the little numbers on the knobs aren't dependable. For instance, if I'm boiling something and turn the dial down to simmer, it takes FOREVER; the temp drops then takes a terrible long time to come back up. If I turn it partway between boil and simmer, it drops okay, then I can drop it down the rest of the way. But I don't want to waste any of this luscious caramel, but I'm not sure if just using water (maybe a half a potful) is dependable to test the temps on?

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  38. I just made this and I am addicted. This is so good
    and it works even if i detected the portion to half of its orginal

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  39. Just made this and it is delicious!!! I used cane sugar, raw honey, and local, organic cream. Cooked to 250 degrees. Just perfect. This is the third time making this recipe and the first 2 times it didn't turn out right, so I am beyond excited this one did! I have a batch of homemade vanilla extract in the pantry right now, but it won't be ready for quite some time yet. Will be trying it with that when it is ready! Thank you for this recipe!

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    1. Kudos to you for trying it 3 times! I am so glad it worked out for you. :)

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  40. DELISH!!.....just made these today. 244-250 degrees F cooking temperatures always work great for me.

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  41. These are so good & addicting. I'm topping them with crumbled maple bacon next time instead of sea salt :)

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  42. For the best caramel, you'll want to use cane sugar (not beet sugar). Pro bakers and chefs insist on it. C&H still makes cane sugar, which has a cleaner flavor (and doesn't have a bacteria inserted through genetic modification so it can be sprayed with tons of glyphosate).

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  43. hello,

    this looks delicious!! unfortunately i do not have a candy thermometer. Is there any way to make without? Thanks!!

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  44. Approximately how many caramels does this recipe make?

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  45. Mine taste... weird. Is it because I used unrefined organic sugar? I followed everything else exactly. I cannot describe the taste, but it's not a good one : / I was really hoping to find a healthier recipe. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

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    1. Hm, I can't say for sure where things may have gone wrong but unrefined sugar is definitely very difficult to make caramels with. The impurities in the unrefined sugar tend to burn, is the problem. Here's an article with more info on that if you're interested (See Tip #7) http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/01/ten-tips-for-ma-1/

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  46. I'm on a candy making tear...I made caramel sauce on Tuesday. Made corn syrup free marshmallows this morning..and now I think I'm gonna have to try these. I've made caramel before, but with corn syrup. Looking forward to trying this version. I'm out of heavy cream, so need to go to the store. Thanks for sharing this!

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  47. I used coconut sugar and these turned out amazing! I want to try adding chocolate next time. Any suggestions on how much to add and if I should use cocoa powder or bittersweet squares?

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  48. Does the type of pan I use make a difference? Ive read somewhere not to use nonstick. .. any tips?

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