The sole reason for me even attempting to make homemade caramel has to do with making Turtles, which I will also be sharing with you later this week.
Caramel is surprisingly easy to make, requires only 5 ingredients, and really doesn’t even need the candy thermometer. (though it is quite helpful!) See below for tactics without a thermometer
But note: this is an instance where you really should use butter and not the chemical laden margarine. Caramel really does need the fat from the butter, where margarine is pretty limp when boiling occurs. But this is personal preference from observation.
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2-1/4 cups light brown sugar (or one full 16oz bag)
2 cup half and half
1 cup light corn syrup (yes, light)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Because you will be boiling this recipe for 45 minutes, you will want to use your most sturdy, heavy duty sauce pan. I would also recommend that your first time, choose a very deep sided one because it takes a few batches to learn the right temp to control the boiling process. I don’t think I have to tell you how hard it is to get boiled brown sugar off the stove top 😉
You will also be stirring this boiling concoction periodically, so be careful!! I don’t have to tell you how painful boiling sugar is on the skin!
Put your heavy pan on the stove top, place your 1 cup butter in there over low heat and melt it down. Once it has melted, toss your brown sugar, half-and-half, and light corn syrup in. Do not add the vanilla yet!
Stir them with a wooden spoon while you adjust the heat to medium. This mixture is going to boil for about 45 minutes. At first, the caramel is going to look very thin.
At this point if you have a thermometer, go ahead and clip it to the side of your pan. You will be looking for 248*, which is firm ball stage. (more on this later)
You are going to need to keep an eye on this at first. The mixture will boil and come up in the pan quite a bit. Stirring will keep it in the pan, but if it is trying to climb out of your sauce pan, the heat needs to be reduced a bit. Boiling, but not over 😉 This is what it should look like:
As it gets closer to being done it will both darken and thicken.
If you don’t happen to own a candy thermometer, you can always check for the done-ness of your boiled candy by dropping a spoonful into a cool bowl/glass of water. The way the boiled candy reacts will tell you what type of consistency you have. You are looking for 248* on the candy thermometer or the firm ball stage with the cold water test.
Once you have the consistency you are desiring with your caramel, cut off the heat and quickly stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Depending on what you want to do with this caramel, there are a few options at the finished point:
To keep your caramel more fluid for ice cream topping or latte topping you will need to remove it from heat between 230-240*, stir in your vanilla and then funnel it into a squeeze container once it is cool enough.
For dipping fruit, like apples, you will want to pull it from the heat at 244*, quickly stir in the vanilla, and once it is cooled transfer it to a storage container. When you wish to dip something, you will bring it out of the fridge for a bit to return the caramel to gooey room temperature.
If you are looking to coat apples like fair food, you will remove the caramel from the heat at 248*, stir in the vanilla, and immediately begin to roll apples in the caramel. Apples need to be washed, dried, stem removed, and skewered by this point. You may end up doing several coatings of the caramel. For extra yum, you can roll the caramel apple in nuts or sprinkles!!
For a traditional caramel chew, remove the caramel from the heat 248*, stir in the vanilla, and pour the caramel into a prepared baking sheet to cool and cut. The baking sheet should be lining with foil that covers the sides and is sprayed or buttered. Once the caramel is fully cooled, you can cut into whatever shapes you wish and wrap them for enjoying later.
For turtle desserts, you will probably want a more firm caramel. Take the caramel off the heat 250*, stir in the vanilla, and stir for a couple minutes till cooler. You will then spoon the caramel over your pecans carefully. You will probably need to do several layers of caramel before it looks the way you want it, but you don’t want the caramel to wander away from the dessert you are trying to make 😉
Easy, peasy, nice and cheesey!! Homemade caramel for your autumn delight!