Christmas Caramels

First off, let me say that these are really, seriously good.

That said, I’m not really sure I executed this recipe the right way. I have an excellent idea of what various kinds of batters and doughs are supposed to look like, but I really have no frame of reference for candy making. The one thing I know when it comes to candy is that you have to be vigilant about what “stage” your candy is supposed to be at when it’s finished, whether it’s soft ball or firm ball or hard ball or whatever other vaguely sports-related stages there are. Some people have a high level of candy knowledge that allows them to visually identify when they’ve achieved the appropriate stage. Bully for them. Most people use a candy thermometer. I struck a balance between using a candy thermometer and just winging it by holding a cheap meat thermometer (which I actually use for bread making) in the pan with one hand while I stirred with the other, even though I’m pretty sure the thermometer is at least 5 degrees off. Still, I think I did well pulling the caramel off the burner when it got to the firm ball stage given that the finished candy is pleasantly soft and creamy while still holding its shape at room temp.


The tricky part came with the first step of the recipe, in which you boil a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, and water until it is a “deep golden” color, at which point you add the cream and butter mixture. Except there’s no indication in terms of time as to when this otherwise translucent mixture will suddenly achieve deep golden-ness. My decision to incorporate the cream mixture was dictated largely by my anxiety about burning the sugar, which peaked after stirring the sugar mixture for the length of several Christmas songs, at which point I would have described it as “kinda” golden. (Maybe 10 minutes? Probably not more than 15?) It still bugs me to think that there might have been a better level of golden that I didn’t hold out for, which is probably why my caramels are lighter in color than some of the others I’ve seen. But like I said before: they are delicious. But really–we’re talking about sugar, cream, and butter. Short of burning, it seems pretty hard to screw up.

Caramels 2

Unlike Ina Garten, I do not have any fancy-pants flaked French sea salt, nor did I have any desire to purchase some just to make this recipe. I don’t have that kind of cash laying around. Instead, I used some humbler Morton’s sea salt in the caramel recipe and decided not to sprinkle any salt on the finished candy. All in all, I thought these were pretty easy–the trick is just to prepare everything in advanced and keep everything you need in reach so you can move from one step to the next without the risk of burning or overcooking the caramel.

Ultimately, these caramels made it on a goodie tray I made up with some leftover oatmeal cookies and some dark chocolate brownies that I took over to a delightful Christmas Eve dinner my office mate hosted at her house. Despite all the leftover sweet stuff I’ve got hanging around here, I just pulled some mini-cheesecakes out of the oven for Aidan and I to enjoy after our Christmas dinner this evening. I hope you’re all having a tasty holiday. Merry Christmas!

goodie tray

Fleur De Sel Caramels (from Ina Garten)

Note: I’ve linked to the recipe as its posted on the Food Network website, but the recipe posted there is wrong as many have noted in the comments. What I’ve posted here is based on the ingredient list given on her show. Also, I cut the caramels into 1 1/2″ rectangles and ended up with about 25 pieces.

  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 c light corn syrup
  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel (or, for those of us who are broke, any kind of sea salt you can get your hands on)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  1. Line the bottom of an 8×8 pan with parchment paper, letting the parchment hang over the edge of the pan, and grease the parchment. Set aside.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/2 c of water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat, and continue to boil until the caramel is golden in color. While boiling, gently swirl the pan to keep the caramel circulating in the pan. Watch it carefully because it can burn quickly.
  3. At the same time, bring the cream, butter, and salt to a simmer in a small sauce pan. Keep the cream mixture warm until you’re ready to add it to the sugar.
  4. When the sugar mixture is golden, slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Cook and stir for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat until the mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm ball stage). Pour the caramel in the pan and then refrigerate until its firm.
  5. When the caramel is cool, use the parchment to remove it from the pan and transfer the caramel to a cutting board. Cut the caramel into small pieces and, if desired, sprinkle additional salt over the top of the caramels. Wrap the caramel pieces in small squares of parchment, twisting the ends of the parchment to close. Store in the refrigerator or keep at room temperature.

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