Sea Salt Vanilla Caramels

sea salt vanilla caramels cut into small rectangles with some wrapped in candy wrappers

This weekend, let’s satisfy our candy addictions and make homemade caramels completely from scratch. Before you run away at the thought of making caramel, let me assure you that making chewy creamy soft caramels on the stovetop is SO easy.

A 15 minute ordeal where all you have to do is… stir.

I’m being serious. If you know how to stir, you know how to make caramels from scratch. They’re truly that simple.

knife slicing sea salt vanilla caramel into small rectangles

And, let me tell ya, homemade caramel candies taste even better than anything you can buy at the store. Especially when you flavor them with vanilla bean and extra sea salt on top. Friends, just check out all those vanilla bean specks!! ↑ ↑

2 images of ingredients for sea salt vanilla caramels and tools for caramels including a saucepan, wood spoon, and pastry brush

Here’s exactly what you’ll need to make these sea salt vanilla caramels and why. When making candy, it’s important to know what each ingredient does in the recipe. Because it really is chemistry! Delicious chemistry. There are very little ingredients (just 7!) required and each one plays an equally imperative role.

Heavy cream. Or heavy whipping cream. Cream is the base of these caramels and what makes them, well, CREAMY!

Sugar. Duh! Caramel is sugar and sugar is caramel. 🙂

Brown sugar. I looooove adding brown sugar to caramels because it keeps them incredibly soft and chewy. This is because brown sugar has a lot of moisture.

Corn syrup. It’s a controversial ingredient, for sure, but an imperative one for making candy as it prevents crystallization and keeps the caramels smooth as silk. What I like to keep in mind is that there are far worse processed ingredients in store-bought candies and only 1/3 cup of corn syrup divided over 65 candies is like .00000001 teaspoon per caramel. Or something like that.

These are the 4 main ingredients. After the caramel is made, remove it from heat and immediately stir these ingredients in for flavor:

A smidgen of butter… yum! Makes them even softer and creamier, too.

Vanilla extract and vanilla bean. Vanilla bean can be a little hard to come by, but I usually find it in the baking aisle of most major grocery stores. And there’s always online. Amazon has them for a steal!

Salt because we always need a little salty with our sweet.

2 images of boiling caramel mixture in a saucepan on the stove and smooth caramel liquid in a saucepan on the stove with some on a wood spoon

Here are 3 tools you’ll need and why each is important.

Sturdy pan. A thick-bottomed and sturdy pan which is KEY to even heat distribution. Thinner, cheaper pans can scorch the cooking candy and cook it unevenly. Here are some great choices: Anolon Nouvelle Copper and Crestware. I own a couple pricier copper pots because of the amount of candy I make. In all honesty, you can’t beat their quality.

Candy thermometer. Don’t get nervous! Candy thermometers make your job even easier, not harder! It literally tells you when your candy is ready, ensuring consistency and success. I prefer using digital candy thermometers. Here is an excellent choice right here. If calibrated, a candy thermometer is 1000x more accurate than using your eyes to detect candy’s doneness. See My Favorite Candy Making Tools for how/why to calibrate.

Pastry brush. A pastry brush is imperative when making candy– its purpose is to help rid the saucepan of any sugar syrup or cooking candy that may have splashed up on the sides. The candy on the sides of the pan can burn and crystallize, ruining your batch of candy. Running a water-moistened pastry brush around the sides of the pan helps prevent this from happening.

More on my favorite candy making tools right here!

pouring sea salt vanilla caramel liquid into a baking dish lined with aluminum foil

Pour the hot caramel into a lined pan. I always line it with aluminum foil because it’s very easy to get that foil lined nice and snug in the pan. Lightly butter the foil so the caramels peel off easily. Then let the caramels cool for about 4 hours (or overnight) at room temperature. Then cut into rectangles or little squares.

I usually give caramels out or bring them with me to events, so I individually wrap them. And I’m sure you’ll give some away as well– I know I can’t be trusted with 65 caramels in my kitchen TAUNTING me! But maybe you’re stronger than I am- lol. I’ve tested out many different types of wrappers and these twisting candy wrappers are the easiest to use and the perfect size. They’re great for homemade truffles or other candies too! I went through a ton while writing Sally’s Candy Addiction.

sea salt vanilla caramels cut into small rectangles with some wrapped in candy wrappers

sea salt vanilla caramels cut into pieces

This is my go-to base for homemade caramels. Sometimes I even dip them into dark chocolate after I cut them. My piece of advice? Place one in your mouth and let it melt on your tongue. Truly an indulgence!

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sea salt vanilla caramels cut into small rectangles with some wrapped in candy wrappers

Sea Salt Vanilla Caramels

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes
  • Yield: 65 caramels
  • Category: Candy
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

These sea salt vanilla caramels are unbelievably soft and chewy; the ultimate sweet and salty candy treat. The recipe makes a big batch to share!


Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (355ml) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean
  • 1 Tablespoon (14g) unsalted butter, softened (plus more for lightly buttering the pan)
  • coarse sea salt for topping

Instructions

  1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough overhang on the sides to easily remove the caramel once it has set. Lightly grease the foil with butter.
  2. Combine the cream, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup in a 3-quart heavy duty saucepan over medium heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly as the sugars dissolve. The mixture will be thick and cloudy looking.
  3. Once boiling, brush down the sides of the pan with a water-moistened pastry brush. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan, making sure not to let it touch the bottom.
  4. Without stirring, cook until the temperature reaches 245°F (118°C). Immediately remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, the vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds, and butter. The mixture may burst and bubble, so be careful stirring.
  5. Pour the hot caramel into the prepared baking pan and top with coarse sea salt, if desired. Allow to cool at room temperature, uncovered, for 4 hours or overnight (no need to cover).
  6. Once set, remove the caramel from the pan by lifting out the aluminum foil. Peel the foil off and, using a very sharp knife, cut into rectangles or squares. Wrap with candy wrappers, if desired.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: Wrapped caramels keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
  2. Special Tools: Vanilla Beans | Wooden Spoon | Pastry BrushDigital Candy Thermometer | Heavy Duty Saucepan Option 1 | Heavy Duty Saucepan Option 2 | 8″ Square Cake PanTwisting Candy Wrappers

Keywords: vanilla caramels, homemade caramels, sea salt caramels

85 Comments

  1. I haven’t made these yet, but was wondering if buttered parchment would be ok to use instead of foil? You mentioned to substitutions so I wanted to check before I made. Thank you!

    1. Hi Julie! Yes, buttered parchment would work just fine.

  2. I have to watch how often I make these. I make a batch then eat one, as I go to walk away I turn around and grab one more and this repeats itself until I use what little will I have to walk away and try to get them out of my mind as I savour the one I just had and have three more in my hand (don’t worry I wrap them in wax paper so I do not get sugary, sticky hands). I just love ’em. Thanks for the recipe.

  3. Will this recipe still work if I substitute milk for heavy cream?

    1. No, the caramels won’t set up.

  4. Made these around Christmas time and the flavour was great! I followed the directions exactly but like others, I also had issues with the caramel sticking to the buttered foil. I saw a review mentioning moulds and that is something I would consider trying in the future. I decided to scrape the caramel into a container and keep it for other deserts or to top on ice cream!

  5. Can this caramel be used to drizzle cookies?
    If yes, how do I soften it to make the drizzle and would the drizzle “harden” a bit?

    1. Hi Claudia, I recommend this Salted Caramel Recipe to drizzle on top of cookies. Enjoy!

  6. Amazing. The end result was aa bit sticky, but overall, very simple recipe that was easy to follow, and great results!

  7. I have made these caramels many times. Sometimes they turn out perfectly and sometimes they are grainy. I follow the recipe exactly, even weighing everything. Sometimes they are grainy immediately and sometimes after they set for a day or two they turn grainy. Any suggestions what I might be doing wrong?

    1. Hi Julie! Candy is pretty temperamental. I find my batches of caramel (or other candy recipes) often vary depending on the weather, pan, season, brand of ingredients, day, etc. My general tips are: avoid cooking candy on a humid day (the most important tip!), use a sturdy & thick pan, brush down the sides of the pan with water, and don’t make any substitutions.

  8. These are so delicious! I omitted the vanilla bean because I didn’t have any, but they still turned out amazing. I wrapped in wax paper squares and mailed to my family across the country. Everyone loved them.

    Question: do you think I could add chocolate to the recipe? And if so, at what point?
    Thank you!!!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Liza, We are thrilled these were a hit! We actually haven’t tried this recipe as a chocolate version. How about instead you cover the caramels in chocolate? Or let us know if you find a chocolate caramel recipe you love!

  9. Hi there…have made these several times and they have been to die for…unfortunately, today’s batch is not setting up. is there anything I can do to salvage it (made a double batch of course)? Turn it into sauce? Re-cook? thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lisa, Unfortunately, it’s not ideal to double candy recipes like this. The added volume will negatively change how the candy cooks. Next time we recommend making two batches (and if you wish you can combine them for a 9×13 inch pan). If yours is still pretty liquidy you can try using it as a sauce or even try making something like dipped pretzels.

  10. I have made these several times now and they are fantastic! If you are feeling fancy you can dip the caramels into melted dark chocolate. (And if you *ahem* overcook them it will set hard. Crunch up the hard toffee into crumbs and mix with cookie dough.)

  11. This is a great recipe! I’ve never made candy before, and cooking sugar on the stove always makes me nervous, but I tried these for the first time and they came out great. The texture is spot on. Mine do seem slightly greasy, but I sort of think that’s just the nature of caramel candies. Either way, I would definitely make them again.

  12. Do you have a recommendation to make this more of a salted caramel (rather than caramel with salt sprinkled on top)? I hope that makes sense. I’m trying to find a way to stuff your dark chocolate cookies with salted caramel!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Pamela, You can slightly increase the added salt to these caramels if you wish. They are great in the Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cookies!

  13. I’ve made these (not omitting anything) but they didn’t turn out right. They were the wrong color (more grayish-brownish) and had a lot of syrup at the bottom after I refrigerated them (after letting them sit for 5 hours at room temp). They also somewhat have the taste of caramels…but not really. Do I reheat them and try again? Was the temperature too low when I took them off the stove?

  14. I made this caramel candy and it tasted awesome! However I noticed that as I was cutting strips of caramel and pulling it away from the parchment paper, the caramel started to become buttery and oily. Is it supposed to be like this or should I cut back on the amount of butter I use?

    Is it okay if I use only brown sugar and not use white sugar in my recipe? What will happen to the caramel?

    Another thing I noticed is that you did not use any water. Why is that so?

    1. Hi Julie! These are all great questions and I’m glad to help. The caramels are indeed quite soft, but they shouldn’t be greasy or oily. I wonder if you cooked the caramel a little longer next time, they will set up a little better OR simply use less butter, such as 1/2 Tablespoon. I don’t recommend substituting in more brown sugar for the white sugar. It’s too moist and the candy will not cook properly. Water is a common ingredient in harder caramel recipes. To maintain a softer (and thick) caramel, I don’t use water– instead just heavy cream.

  15. Hi Sally,
    I use so many of your wonderful recipes and now my youngest daughter is doing the same. You’ve brought a lot of homemade joy to our family 🙂
    I’m looking for a soft caramel to put on top of my homemade marshmallows, this recipe looks perfect but I was wondering your opinion. The caramel really needs to be SOFT but
    not runny.
    Do you think this will work?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Joelle, That sounds delicious! Yes, this will stay soft as long as it’s cooked to the correct temperature (when it’s overcooked, that’s when it gets harder). If you wish to be extra sure it will stay soft, try cooking to only 240. Let us know if you give it a try!

  16. Francesca Rand says:

    I’m in denver, so what temp should i do to account for altitude?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Francesca, I wish we could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  17. Hi, I’m having a HUGE Bake Sale and I think this is the perfect, simple recipe! I need a lot of these though, maybe around 200 so should I maybe double this recipe and put in a 9×13 pan then repeat, 100 in each? If not I’m hoping you know what to do, Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Bella, Unfortunately, it’s not ideal to double candy recipes like this. The added volume will negatively change how the candy cooks. If you wish you can make two batches and combine them in one 9×13 inch pan.

  18. I just bought a candy thermometer and I really want to use it, but I don’t have a vanilla bean, and as a younger baker (teenager LOL) my mom buys my ingredients and vanilla is expensive enough but vanilla beans are CRAZY EXPENSIVE that is if you can find them. So can I replace the vanilla bean with more vanilla or just leave it out all together?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Emma! Feel free to simply leave out the vanilla bean. These soft caramel candies will still cook properly and will still have plenty of flavor without the beans.

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