handmade holiday: sea salt honey caramels

Posted on Dec 7, 2012 in Food

I have to be honest, I’m getting a little misty about the fact that today is the last day of the Handmade Holiday series. I have had so much fun handing over my ideas for handmade gifts! If you missed any of the posts (here or at The Broken Plow), I’ll be doing a round-up post with links to all of the gift ideas on Monday.

Well, I may be sad that it’s over, but man, we’re going out with a bang.

Salted caramels are nothing new. And gifting them for the holidays is nothing new either. But I desperately wanted to throw my hat into the buttery ring this year. I’ve never been much into candymaking, and even though it took a few attempts to finally get perfect caramels—it was totally worth it. These things? Insanely delicious. Which is no surprise. Butter + sugar pretty much always equals good.

When I was researching recipes, I quickly discovered that almost all of them out there call for corn syrup. Corn syrup gives me the willies. I know it’s not the same thing as its evil cousin HFCS, but it is still a super processed sugar and something we try to keep out of our house. I’ve had good success using honey in place of corn syrup with other candymaking (like marshmallows) so I felt like that was a good spot to start. Next time, I might even try to replace all of the refined sugar in caramels, but that’s a gig for another day.

After some Googling, I landed on a pretty good starting spot from Two Tarts. I did some modifications to their recipe, but it made me feel really good that someone else had been successful totally cropping out the corn syrup.

Like I said above, I had to make these guys a few times not because of the taste (the taste was awesome) but because I had a really hard time getting the caramels to set. On the bright side—I had a lot of delicious caramel sauce to put on yogurt!

I think I struggled so much with timing because I was (a) relying on a candy thermometer that has never been super accurate and (b) I moved! I now live at a much higher elevation than I did last time I did any candymaking and elevation definitely matters.

Eventually, I ended up chucking the candy thermometer and relied on the tried-and-true cold water test. Basically, you drizzle a little bit of the caramel sauce in a cup of cold water, then gather it with your fingers. At first, it’ll be just goopy threads that are impossible to grab (this is called the, aptly named, thread stage). The next stage is that you’ll be able to roll the threads into a gelatinous soft ball (named the soft ball stage). And the next stage is the one we are looking for—the hard ball stage. When you scoop the caramel out of the water, you should be able to roll into a ball that keeps its shape. It should be just slightly softer than the texture you want in your final caramels. When you hit that stage, turn the heat off, you’re done. Who needs a stinking thermometer? Not me.

Go ahead and prepare yourself to eat no less than 400 of these things while you’re cutting and wrapping them. It’s like they grow legs and jump into your mouth. Unless you have ironclad willpower, you will make yourself sick on sugar. Just accept that fact. But the good thing? The recipe makes enough to eat your weight in them and still have enough to wrap up and give to your friends and family!

The caramels are smooth, buttery, chewy and just a teeny bit salty. Which makes them pretty much my favorite thing ever. It’s hard to beat the simplicity of these, but I already have fun ideas swirling around for the next batch. Bacon pieces? Chocolate drizzles? Potato chip crumbs? I even thought it’d be fun to make these into thin strips that can wrap around a fresh apple slice for a appetizer-sized caramel apple!

Sea Salt Honey Caramels

by Cassie Johnston

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Makes: about 3 dozen

Adapted from: Two Tarts

Ingredients

  • Wax or parchment paper
  • Cooking spray
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened and cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Instructions

  1. Line a 9 x 13 baking dish or 9 x 9 baking dish (which will make thicker, but fewer, caramels) with wax or parchment paper—leaving long overhangs on two sides. Spray paper with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine sugar and honey. Heat over medium heat until smooth and melted. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until sugar has darkened to a deep caramel color—about 5 minutes. Watch carefully, sugar burns fast!
  3. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the knobs off butter one at a time. Be prepared, the mixture will bubble and grow (hence the large pot). Once all the butter is mixed in, whisk in the cream.
  4. Bring the pot to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil until the mixture reaches the hard ball stage (about 244° on a thermometer or when you drop some of the caramel in cold water, you can form it into a hardish ball). Remove from heat and pour caramel into prepared pan.
  5. Place pan in fridge for about 10 minutes to set up slightly, then sprinkle top of caramels with sea salt. Let caramels set up at room temperature for about an hour—or until totally cooled.
  6. To remove, gently pull on the paper overhang and remove the caramel block from the baking sheet. Cut into squares with a sharp knife and wrap in small pieces of parchment or wax paper.
Powered by Recipage

Do you do any candymaking? What’s your favorite candy to make?

22 Comments

  1. I am loving the handmade series! I haven’t had much time to be crafty lately so I’m pinning them for later use. Quick question about the recipe: do you think full-fat coconut milk would work instead of cream? My initial reaction is it will so I guess I’m just looking for someone to second that opinion before I give it a go. I know I should just be a strong, independent woman, put on my big girl pants, and do it, but I fear a candy disaster.

    • Hmmm…I actually don’t know on the coconut milk. Like I said, I’m pretty much a newbie at candymaking, so I don’t know if those kind of subs will work or not. But, it’s worth a shot? Worst thing that will happen is you have some yummy caramel sauce to pour on yogurt or ice cream. :)

  2. I absolutely love this series you have done! Time and money are both in short supply this year, so I won’t get to try all of these.

    I will definitely be doing some jars of spice rub for the males in my family who like to cook and grill. It’s the perfect homemade gift I’ve been looking for!

  3. OH YUM! My brother has been begging me to make caramels for him again! I made some about 5 years ago and he wont stop talking about them and I love that there is no corn syrup in these :) We signed up for a CSA that has honey included so I might use some of that (we have tons!). Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Love this series. These caramels may be favorite thing you’ve posted yet!

  5. http://www.melskitchencafe.com/calibrating-a-candy-thermometer-candy-thermometer-recommendations

    This is a super post on calibrating your candy thermometer! I did this last year and discovered mine was off by a whopping 12 degrees. Candy making has gone a lot smoother this year with the knowledge!

  6. Hi. I’d like to try this to mail to friends this year. Do you think they’d be ok to mail? (I have no idea on the shelf life of caramel).

    Thanks!

    • Yup! Just as long as they aren’t going to sit in heat for a long while, I think they’ll be fine!

  7. Yummy! These caramels look Amazing. I agree about the corn syrup. I always omit corn syrup from recipes and have not had any major issues so far. I’ve recently been making a ton of caramels too – definitely addictive :)

  8. These are gorgeous! Love the honey in them–yum!

  9. These look/sound fantastic! I’m totally in live with caramel these days and the salted version is definitely really popular right now. I love that you eliminated the corn syrup though, because that’s an ingredient I also try to use as little as possible. Plus, by making them with honey, they become something different than your typical caramel. I bet they’re amazing!

  10. Oh, these caramels look delicious! I love when American recipes eliminate corn syrup, as we don’t have it in Sweden. Our syrup (and sugar) comes from beets, and has another viscosity (it’s thicker). I never know what that might do to a finished product. And I do love honey, so this recipe looks fantastic. And no thermometer! I’ve never used one, always gone with the good ol dollop in water trick (that’s what the traditional Swedish Christmas caramel recipes always call for anyway). Hopefully I’ll be able to make them a soft enough for my parents and grandparents to eat (without risking pulling their theeth fillings). If not, all the caramel will be miiiiine!

  11. These were great caramels. I work with teenagers, and they loved them. My co-worker was amazed by them, so I’m making him a batch for Christmas.

    I actually used smoked salt instead of just regular sea salt. Delicious!

  12. Thank you for writing such lucid directions for making caramels. I made these caramels according to your directions, but I did make a slight change in the ingredients. I substituted coconut sugar for white sugar. The coconut sugar made the substance naturally darker and I couldn’t go by color change as many recipes say to do, but since you gave a time frame of about five minutes for the first stage of cooking the sugar and honey I was able to know when to add the butter and the cream. The caramels turned out perfectly. I used them to make gluten-free sea salted caramel brownies for a multi-generational Mothers Day celebration at the coast a couple of weeks ago. I had to take the caramels left-over from the brownies to the coast as well. If I hadn’t, I would have eaten every one of them myself. They are dangerously delicious!

  13. This recipe is exactly what I was looking for ~ I’m Jewish, and during our Jewish New Year, it is traditional to eat honey with apples to signify our hope for a sweet new year. I saw a cute idea to melt caramels and pour into hollowed out apple halves, then after the caramel has reset, slice into wedges. Commercial caramels don’t have honey in them, so I will make this recipe to use instead. Thanks so much!!

  14. I’d love to introduce some Rum into this recipe, but am afraid of adding too much moisture. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks a lot!

    • Hmm, moisture is really tricky with candy-making. Are there rum-flavored extracts out there? That might be a way to add a lot of flavor without adding a lot of moisture.

      • I tried adding the rum! And it did turn out fine; the problem was, the rum had all cooked out by the time the caramels were done. I think you are right… using an extract is probably the best option. Thanks for your response!

  15. Whenever I try to make caramel, it always turn out liquid at room temperature. No matter what I do, what the temperature is or how long I cook it. Even when I almost burnt it (luckily it didn’t), it still is a liquid at room temperature. I use little to no water at all. Yesterday I tried making caramel using the oven and set it to 125 degree Celcius. It was thicker than my previous attempts but it’s still not solid (the top surface of it was solid when I put it into the fridge though). What am I doing wrong?

      • Nope. It’s relatively low. I’m guessing it’s because of me not having a candy thermometer, and maybe my oven’s temperature is a little off.

        I might also have slightly burnt my caramels because it tasted a little bitter, and I did not really pay attention to my sugar in the first few 10 seconds. But it might be the oven thing.

  16. Hey Cassie,

    I have used just honey instead of sugar and honey a few times now. Just honey balls around 275 F. Really tasty caramels. A little stickier than regular, but since I can’t eat processed sugar anymore, it’s a wonderful alternative.

    Thanks for posting this, I’m really enjoying this recipe. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>