This weekend, let’s satisfy our candy cravings 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.
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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!
And if you can’t get enough of salted caramel, try my salted caramel cupcakes with salted caramel frosting next!Print
Soft Caramel Candies
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes
- Yield: 65 caramels
- Category: Candy
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
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!
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Make Ahead Instructions: Wrapped caramels keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
- Special Tools: Vanilla Beans | Wooden Spoon | Pastry Brush | Digital Candy Thermometer | Heavy Duty Saucepan Option 1 | Heavy Duty Saucepan Option 2 | 8″ Square Cake Pan | Twisting Candy Wrappers
Keywords: vanilla caramels, homemade caramels, sea salt caramels
Reader Comments & Reviews
Hi, Sally! I love your recipes, and love wowing my fam with my (decent) cooking skills, and your recipes make it a lot easier. However, my family isn’t really into baking, so we don’t really have corn syrup ready for whenever. Is there a replacement, or should I just hit up Whole Foods?
Hi Laila, Corn syrup is a must in this caramel recipe.
Sally you are making me look like a good cook everything I try comes out perfect my family loves this thank you very much
Mahalo for this AMAZING caramel recipe! Was wondering, how would you (could you) alter the recipe to include whiskey? For adult caramels?
Hi Lisa! I’m so glad to read that you enjoy these caramels. I’ve never tried adding whiskey to the cooking candy. You could try stirring in 1-2 Tablespoons after removing the cooked candy from heat and before pouring into the pan. (Again, I haven’t tested it to be certain!)
Followed the recipe exactly and the caramels came out perfectly! I wrapped them with the candy wrappers Sally linked and they were sized just right. This is my third holiday season gifting these candies to our loved ones, and they have become a crowd favorite. Thank you, Sally!!
This recipe was fantastic – easy and delicious. So good, I made it twice because I wanted to give extra to everyone.
I used parchment paper instead of foil and had no sticking issues.
It took me 3 tries to get this right. The first batch I burned – my fault entirely. I got impatient and turned up the heat. The second batch I pulled off at exactly 245 (and yes, I tested my candy thermometer beforehand for accuracy), and it turned quite hard. Edible, but not the lovely soft texture from the video. For the third batch, I kept a small bowl of ice water nearby, dipped a spoon into the caramel at 230 and cooled it quickly in the water – still too soft. I tried again at 235 – perfection. I completed the recipe as written and ended up with the most delicious caramels ever! I don’t blame the recipe – caramel is notoriously fussy. Maybe it was too humid, or too dry, or too cold, or caramel doesn’t like Mondays…who knows. 235 was the sweet spot for me today. Listen to your gut, adjust as needed, and be patient – you won’t regret it!
I’ve loved every recipe I’ve made from this website, and I’ve always found the directions very thorough. But I’m struggling with this one. Can you tell me approximately how long it will take to get to 245 degrees F once it starts boiling? I assumed it would be rather quick based on the timing of the recipe, but after 10 minutes of boiling, the mixture would not exceed 220 degrees F. I think my candy thermometer is accurate. I calibrated it before starting this recipe. Thanks.
Hi Liz! The exact time will depend on your stove and pot – you can always turn up the heat just a bit if it seems to be taking too long. All stoves are different. Thank you for giving this recipe a try!
I love the texture of these caramels. Mine turned out very pale. Any recommendations to make them darker and more caramel-y? I’m at 5,000’ so I lowered the temperature by 10 degrees.
Hi Sarah, without changing the texture of the caramels, I would suggest using dark brown sugar instead of light for a slightly darker color. I’m glad you enjoyed them!
This recipe worked great! I’m at 5,000’ feet, so I lowered the temperature 10 degrees. My only issue is that they turned out very pale. They set beautifully, and I love the texture, they’re just a very light brown. How can I make them darker next time?
I love this recipe!! I am trying to make an oatmeal bar with caramel, can I add the caramel to the bar without letting it cool??? Can I use it like a melted soft caramel?? Or should I melt it after it cooled?
Thank you so much
Hi Marisa, If you are looking for more of a caramel sauce you can use the recipe for homemade salted caramel instead.
This is amazing and so good! If I want them to last longer than 2 weeks on counter how would i store in the fridge
Hi Dianna, these candies would stay well in the refrigerator for about two weeks as well. (Although no need to store in the refrigerator, though you certainly could. The cream is cooked up to a high heat, so it’s safe at room temp.)
I’m wondering if these can be frozen for a period of time before you eat them or give them away?
For best taste and texture, I don’t recommend freezing these before enjoying. They don’t thaw quite nicely and lose a lot of their chewiness/softness.
Thank you. getting ready to make these again. My caramels do set up. I will try calibrating my thermometer. I have found that I need to let it stay at the stated temperature for best results. It gets to temp but drops a little and if I don’t let it stat at temp for half a minute or so, they have been a little soft. They have always been very enjoyable. Love the recipe.
The buttered parchment paper was perfect. And rather caramels were too. Thanks again.
Love these and all your recipes. I keep having some of the caramel stick to the foil. It is usually in the middle of the dish. I wondered if I could use buttered plastic wrap or buttered wax paper or parchment. It has happened every time I have made these. Maybe I am doing something else wrong. Thanks in advance.
Hi Lisa, buttered parchment paper would work well. A few other tips for you: follow the recipe closely (no substitutions) and make sure you are using a calibrated candy thermometer that reads the correct temperature. (See above about calibrating.) If cooking to a lower temperature (or if your thermometer isn’t calibrated and reads the wrong temperature), the caramels will not set and get stuck to the foil.
Can I use honey insted of corn syrup?
Hi Saffiyah, Unfortunately, honey doesn’t have the same chemical makeup as corn syrup. We recommend sticking with the recipe.
Hi Sally! I’ve made these before and they were AMAZING and so easy but I was wondering if I could stir in some chocolate chips with the butter or something to make these chocolate caramels?
Hi Ayla, We are thrilled that you love these! 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!
Can these caramels be re-melted and poured into candy molds to get a different shape, or would they not set right that way?
Hi Lily, We don’t recommend melting them back down but you can try to make them and set them in molds. We have never tried it that way but that’s how we would start. Let us know if you give it a try.
Hi Sally! I love your website and recipes. I am planning to make the salted vanilla caramels but do not have vanilla beans. Can I use vanilla paste instead? If so, how much? Thank you!
Hi Michele! You can add 1/2 tsp vanilla paste instead. Enjoy!
hi! can these be melted when i wish to use?
Hi CC, absolutely. You can always melt them down over low heat, stir in a couple Tbsp of room temperature heavy cream, and use as a caramel dip or sauce.
These are delicious! I’m thinking of cutting them up small and freezing them so I can mix them into cookie dough. Do you think this could theoretically work?
That shouldn’t be a problem!
I wonder how the refit would turn out with coconut milk/cream or lactose free cream. I’m intolerant but would love to make these.
Hi Maureen, I’ve had readers make that switch and they’ve reported back with good results. I have not personally tried it though. Let us know how it turns out.
I love your recipes and your detailed explanations. I want to make chocolate almond turtle candy and I am wondering if I should use this recipe or your recipe for caramel sauce. They both sound delicious.
Hi Elaine, The salted caramel sauce won’t set up for candies, but this one should work well. Enjoy!
The caramel recipe is perfect for turtles…I’m using it this week in a candy making class for high schoolers
Hi! I don’t have a candy thermometer I was wondering how else I could tell if it is done
Hi Aria, We really do recommend waiting until you can get a candy thermometer before making this recipe (if you need a suggestion, we linked to the one we use in the post above). It will make all the difference in a successful batch of caramels!
Hi, I didn’t have a candy thermometer when I first made this but I learned from a relative that you can take a bit of the caramel (just around enough that it can make a small ball that you can pinch if it sets a bit) and drop it into a glass of cold cold cold water. If it sets enough to be a ball, you can take it out and squish it with your fingers to test how hard or soft it is. This is very very close what your caramel will be like once it cools and sets in the pan. Once you get a ball of caramel that is the level of hardness you’re satisfied with, turn off the heat and do the rest of the steps. Hope this helps!
I wanted to make caramels so much. I was sure I’d have to fail and fail and fail before I could do it. I bought a special sauce pan from Calphalon (sp?) to make caramel candy in. I finally found some corn syrup. I made this last night.
PERFECT. The very first time. (However, it is very dangerous to have a lovely slab of caramel waiting for you on the kitchen counter when you get up in the morning. OTOH, you can melt a chunk in your coffee. oh-em-gee.
I’d like to sort of pay you back by leaving a link about reg corn syrup vs High Fructose for the bakers in hope of making people feel safe about using corn syrup – the real thing. https://www.finecooking.com/article/corn-syrup-vs-high-fructose-corn-syrup
I’m so thrilled. Thanks for taking the mystery out of this.
I’ve made this recipe a bunch of times and it has come out perfect. Not today. It’s really hard and I can barely cut it with a knife. It just sort of sticks to your teeth instead of being soft and chewy. My questions are what might I have done wrong and is there a way to save this batch? Thanks for any input!
Hi Kimberley, We are sorry the caramel turned out too hard. Did you cook to the right temperature and follow the recipe closely? If you ever want to try it again, try cooking to only 240. That should help. You can melt down your caramel that turned out too hard over low heat, stir in a couple Tbsp of room temperature heavy cream, and use as a caramel dip or sauce.
I made this for the 1st time this afternoon. They seem way too soft. Maybe I needed to cook the batch longer? I’m pretty sure I let the temp reach 245. What else might cause the caramel to be too soft? Otherwise, great taste. Thanks,
Hi Bleu, If you cook another batch, make sure your candy thermometer is calibrated. (It could be giving false readings– some do!) and you can definitely try cooking to an extra 3-5 degrees F to make them a bit harder.
Why do I often see a wide variation in temperatures for this type of caramels? I’ve seen anywhere between 245-253. I understand there are different types of caramel, like sauces or chews. But I’m referring to the temp for chews. Thank you for your input.
Have you ever made jalapeño carmels? My husband has some at at a store and wants me to make a batch. I love you recipes for every thing!!
I cannot recommend this recipe enough! I made it last week following the recipe exactly (including weighing my ingredients) and it was amazing! Thank you so much!
Made my third batch just now. So good! My whole family loves these! Thanks so much for a go to recipe for future holiday gifting!
Also, I overcooked my first batch and it set too hard. I melted it down the next day after breaking it into bits, added some more vanilla and butter, and it was perfect consistency! Set up beautifully. Note that I’m at high altitude so backed down two degrees from the temp for every 1000 ft. of altitude (131 degrees for me) and additional batches have turned out perfectly.
Hi! Can we double the ingredients to make a bigger batch?
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.
Hi Sally, your recipes are my go-to. You have made me look like a baking rockstar more times than I can count! I am excited to try these for Christmas gifts. I was thinking of adding some bourbon. Would this work? If so, how much should I add and at what stage? Thanks!
Hi Kim, thank you so much for the kind comment! I’ve never tried adding bourbon to these caramel candies. You could try stirring in 1-2 Tablespoons of bourbon after removing the cooked candy from heat and before pouring into the pan. (Again, I haven’t tested it to be certain!)
How did it go with adding bourbon? I’d like to try that!
I love this recipe and have made batches and batches of it. Today I had a weird thing happen…I decided to add a cup of walnuts instead of salt to make nut caramels and as the candy cooled I noticed it was kind of cloudy looking. When I cut it, it was more praline like instead of chewy…any idea what caused this?
Hi Dawn– I wonder if it was the fat/oils cooking off from the walnuts? That’s happened to me before when adding nuts to a different caramel recipe. How did the caramels set and taste?
they taste pretty good but not what what I wanted to wrap up and gift and they set up very quickly