One of my favourite things to make in the kitchen is candy. I grew up in a family of sweet-tooths, and some of my earliest cooking memories are of helping my mother, sister or grandmother to make a batch of chocolate fudge or coconut ice. Candy making is kitchen alchemy, turning a few simple ingredients into a huge variety of treats with the careful application of heat.
One type of candy I absolutely love making is Soft Honey Vanilla Caramels or toffees as we call them in New Zealand. Lusciously soft, chewy and gently flavoured with a hint of honey, these simple treats are a pleasure to make and make a brilliant gift for the sweet tooth in your life.
Caramels don’t need corn syrup!
Over the years I have seen loads of recipes online calling for various ingredients in the making of caramels / toffees, and the most common is corn syrup, which a lot of people try to avoid. Toffee and caramel making was around long before the advent of corn syrup, so it is 100% possible to make caramels without it! Other recipes call for sweetened condensed milk – in New Zealand we call this type of sweet Russian Fudge, and to me it is has much more of a fudge consistency than a classic caramel.
Why do some caramel recipes include corn syrup?
In basic terms adding an invert sugar such as corn syrup to caramel helps it to stay soft and improves the texture. The good news is that honey is a natural invert sugar and adds a beautiful, gentle flavour to the finished caramels. If you like you can switch it out for golden syrup or corn syrup though and the recipe will work exactly the same way.
Candy making is science, not witchcraft.
The biggest problem that beginner candy makers have with making sweets is achieving the correct set. The best advice I can give you is to use a candy or digital thermometer and to test that it is accurate by checking the temperature for boiling water. Water boils at 100°C / 212°F, so if your thermometer is registering another temperature you’ll need to adjust accordingly. It is important to realise that the ambient temperature, humidity and even altitude can all have an effect on candy making, so you may find it takes a little trial and error to get the results you want.
Don’t be scared!
Don’t let any of that put you off though! I have tried and tested my Honey Vanilla Caramels recipe over years to make it as easy and fool-proof as possible, so strap on your apron, and get cooking. xJ
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Can I make caramels without a candy thermometer?
Yes, you can, though I always recommend using a candy or digital thermometer for accuracy. 121°C / 250°F is at the top end of what is called the ‘firm ball stage’. If you drop a teaspoon of the hot caramel into a glass of cold water, then pick it out with your fingers it will form a firm, slightly sticky ball that holds its shape briefly. This method can be a little trial and error as it involves a bit of guesswork, but is the way that I was taught to make candy as a kid!
My caramel is still runny or very soft after a few hours even though I tested the temperature! What happened?
This simply means that the syrup did not reach the required temperature. The problem is likely to lie with an inaccurate thermometer. The best way to check this is to use your thermometer to test the temperature of boiling water. If it does not read 100°C / 212°F then you will need to adjust your cooking accordingly. Don’t worry though, you can still use your caramels or toffees, they will just need to be kept chilled. Put the loaf pan in the fridge for half an hour, then cut and wrap the caramels and store in the fridge.
My Honey Vanilla Caramels / toffees are too hard! What happened?
Much like the point above, the caramel syrup has been cooked to the wrong temperature, this time a little too much. Check to make sure your thermometer is accurate and adjust your cooking accordingly.
How do I clean the sticky pan after making caramels / toffees?
Even though it may look like the caramel is stuck to your pan forever, all you need to do is fill the pan with hot water and leave it to soak. The sugar will dissolve all by itself.
Can I use reduced-fat cream or sugar substitutes making caramels / toffees?
Candy, caramel and toffee making is a science. Any adjustment to the recipe may have unexpected results as the sugar molecules interact in a particular way with the other ingredients and the heat. Short answer, no you can’t! Rather use all the real ingredients and be sure of success.
Can I fix caramel that hasn’t set?
Yes! Refrigerate the caramel for half an hour so that it can be peeled away from the paper. Cut it into large chunks and put it into a heavy based saucepan with two tablespoons of water. Heat VERY gently, stirring until the caramel is liquid again, then turn the heat to medium and boil until the caramel is at 121°C / 250°F, I sometimes go as far as 122°C / 252°F to ensure a firmer set. Remember to test your thermometer first! The caramel will heat up much, much faster than the first time as the water has mostly evaporated, so keep an eye on it. Pour back into a lined loaf tin and allow to set at room temperature.
It’s important to be careful around hot sugar as it can cause serious burns. Keep a clear kitchen space and animals and children out of the kitchen
If you’ve been bitten by the candy making bug, why not try my Homemade MArshmallow or CRANBERRY ALMOND NOUGAT RecipeS?
- 200g sugar
- 125g unsalted butter, cubed
- 125ml cream
- 50ml runny honey
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of sea salt
- PREPARE: Lightly oil a loaf pan, then line with baking paper.
- COMBINE THE INGREDIENTS: In a deep, heavy-based saucepan combine all ingredients with 50ml of water. Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Try not to splash the sugar up the sides of the pan, as this can cause crystallisation in the finished caramel.
- BRING TO THE BOIL: When the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up and boil the mixture until it reaches 121°C / 250°F on a sugar or digital thermometer. This takes roughly 8 minutes on my stove. Don’t walk away or leave the caramel at this stage, the mixture can increase in temperature very quickly.
- POUR THE CARAMEL: Carefully pour the hot caramel into the prepared loaf pan, then allow to set in a cool place for 2-3 hours. When the caramel is firm enough to handle, lift it out of the loaf pan using the baking paper, then use a sharp knife to cut into the desired size. If the knife is sticking to the caramels / toffees, oil it with a little neutral oil like sunflower.
- WRAP: Wrap the caramels in cellophane or baking paper and store in an airtight container.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 30 Serving Size: 1 caramel
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 78Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 6mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 0gSugar: 9gProtein: 0g
Nutrition information is calculated automatically and isn’t always accurate.