Friday, December 26, 2014

Perfect Vanilla Cream Caramels

Creation of a Holiday Tradition

For me this story began at Jerry's corner market near High Street in Oakland California. Jerry's closed decades ago, but when I was a kid that is where my best friend Paul and I went to buy candy. We went there because they had shelves of penny candy in big jars. There were jars filled with rock candy, jolly ranchers and candy pills on white paper. 

On my trips there, after much careful deliberation, I'd usually wind up with a little white bag filled with wax bottles filled with colored liquid, something chocolate and (always) a sugar daddy, small box of milk duds or a slo-poke. 

On a trip to Canada in my teen years I found Mackintosh's Creamy Toffee bars. Those are the splendid hard toffee bars that without patience will quickly adhere to your teeth and deliver you directly to a dentist's chair.  

As an adult my next true caramel revelation was delivered in a cafe in Palo Alto. The dessert there was a poached pear drizzled with a light homemade caramel sauce. Along with Banana's Foster I realized it was simply the most wonderfully balanced dessert I'd ever eaten.

All of this led me to want to start making caramels myself. And, for the past seventeen years, my daughter and I have made caramels for the holidays. We present them to friends as expression of love. 

In the past few years Ms. M. has taken over the ritual and has experimented with new caramel recipes in a quest for perfection. Although we started with this basic vanilla cream caramel, she now makes caramel sauces, chocolate chip caramels, mocha caramels and cinnamon caramels.

Vanilla Cream Caramels

Every year our little bags of caramels get mailed to friends pretty much all over the world. And, every year we get asked for the recipe. Usually people that ask for it confess that making candy scares them a bit. 

It shouldn't       

Here is the basic recipe we have been adapting from one originally published in Food and Wine magazine back in 1997.

Since each batch takes about 35 minutes of constant stirring we typically double the recipe and make double batches.

Before you get started you will need:

• A heavy 3 quart sauce pan with tall sides
• A quality candy thermometer (we use a Taylor candy thermometer from Grandma)
• A pastry brush and bowl filled with water
• Aluminum foil
• Wax paper

The Tools

For a single batch (64 caramels):

• 1 tablespoon canola oil (or some other flavorless oil)
• 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
• 1 cup light corn syrup
• ¾ cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

The Ingredients

Step 1
Line an 8” square baking pan with foil extending the foil over the sides of the pan.  Then thoroughly coat the foil with the canola oil

Step 2
In the saucepan combine the cream, corn syrup and sugar.  

Stir continuously with a long handled wooden spoon over moderate heat for about 5 minutes (until sugar is dissolved). 

Using the pastry brush dipped in warm water, brush down the sides of the pan twice to prevent crystallization.
Step 3
Raise the temperature to Medium High and attach the candy thermometer to the side of the pan. 

Continue cooking the syrup, stirring constantly, until the temperature rises to 250°, about 30 minutes.

250° is “Hard Ball” and makes the classic hard glassy finished toffee type of caramel that 4 out of 5 dentists adore. 

We prefer softer, more elegant, caramels and stop at 243°.

Step 4
Add the vanilla and the butter stirring till the butter is all melted. 

Pour the caramel into the foil lined pans.  Let cool on rack for at least 2 hours.

Mocha and Cinnamon Caramels
Cooling Down

Step 5
Use the ends of the foil to lift the caramel from the pan. 

Coat the blade of a large chef knife with canola oil. 

Cut the caramel into 8 strips and cut each strip into 8 pieces. 

Wrap each in wax paper.

Wax Paper for Wrapping

Pick a pan with a heavy bottom and high sides. Although professional candy makers swear by stupendously expensive copper kettles, our Calphalon kettles work just fine,

Eliminate sugar crystals using the water and pastry brush.

Be patient and resist the temptation to raise the temp above medium high.  It takes longer, but delivers the best flavor and proper color.

Stir constantly with the wood spoon.

Remove from heat as soon as temp is reached (to stir in vanilla and butter) and pour it into the pan as quick as possible.  

Overstirring at the end makes the caramels grainy.

Make them on days with low humidity.  Perfect for Arizona!

Store in airtight containers at room temperature.

Put in Gift Bags Ready To Go!


I believe that any recipe that emphasizes sugar, heavy cream, vanilla and butter makes life better. These are, after all, the ingredients we reserve for holidays and special occasions. 

Roadboy's Travels  2014

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