Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Caramels are a particular weakness of mine. I would try to make them as an adolescent when my mother wasn't around because it seemed like a relatively simple mixture of cream, sugar, butter and vanilla. Now that I am a parent the idea of any tween of mine playing around with molten sugar is truly frightening...

Anyway. I was awful at it. I never made a decent caramel as a kid. I tried taffy too, but I always got the same result; something hard and scary that tasted like butterscotch. At that age I really didn't understand how important controlling the temperature or preventing crystallization was for candy making.

Since then, I've gotten slightly better and have purchased the prerequisite candy thermometer. I suggest that anyone attempting these caramels own one too, as it takes a lot of the guess work out of making them.

These are my favorite caramels, mostly because they are deliciously soft and chewy, yet firm enough to cut into clean, uniform pieces that wrap easily. Best of all, they are nothing like the 'caramels' I made when I was a kid.

Not So Humble's Fleur de Sel Caramels:
Makes 60-70 large caramels*

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream (I use 40% minimum milk fat)
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon fleur de sel (Or gray/smoked sea salt if that is your preference)

Line a 9 x 9 cake pan with lightly buttered parchment and set aside.

In a heavy sauce pan (I use nonstick for this) over medium heat combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and one cup of the heavy cream. Stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon, bring the mixture to a boil. This will take some time. Don't be tempted to turn up the heat, this recipe requires patience.

Once the mixture boils add the remaining cup of cream in a slow trickle so that you do not cool your caramel mixture and it continues to boil uninterrupted.

Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to boil for 5-6 minutes without stirring.

Add butter one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each melts. Clip on your candy thermometer and allow to boil over medium-low heat until the mixture just hits 250°F (Firm Ball stage) stirring occasionally. This should take about 30-40 minutes, if your temperature is climbing too quickly you might need to reduce heat all the way to low. By the same token, if you're not hitting 250°F by 40 minutes you might want to increase the heat a bit.

Once you've hit the right temperature, quickly remove from heat. Stir in the teaspoon of vanilla and pour into your prepared pan. To prevent any crystallization, don't scrape the pan as you pour, just allow what clings to the pan to remain in it. Set your dish of molten caramel carefully on a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature.

Using the parchment, remove the cool caramel sheet from the pan and cut into pieces using a sharp buttered knife. Lightly press each piece onto a plate sprinkled with fleur de sel and wrap in cellophane, parchment or waxed paper.

These should keep for roughly a week or two, if wrapped and in an air tight container.

* Note: While one can double this recipe (I have done so several times myself) it requires small adjustments in heat and cooking times, so I don't recommend doubling until one has a comfortable feel for making single batches of this caramel.

(Also, there are additional tips for these caramels in the comments for this post, so check them out)


  1. Mmmmm...caramel is probably my favorite flavor in the world. Caramel candy, caramel lattes, caramel apples, caramel ice cream...you name it, I love it if it contains caramel. Your caramels looks so professional and pefect. I've also attempted making them in the past but they ended up being an inedible pan of burnt toffee that broke into shards. Sigh. I was so disappointed that I have not tried to make them since. I own a candy thermometer but I don't think it's properly calibrated. Yeah, that must be it.

  2. I've done that too. More times than I would like to admit.

    I probably should of mentioned my other reason for loving this particular caramel recipe: the low heat.

    It is pretty hard to scorch this mixture and get bad caramel at these temperatures, you'd have to walk away from the stove for a really long time. The down side is that it takes a bit longer than other caramels or condensed milk 'quick' caramels I've tried in the past. I spent a good part of my afternoon reading a book and tending my pot of hot sugar. However, with the sort of weather we've been having around Seattle lately, hovering over the stove most of the afternoon didn't seem so bad.

    I also like cooking my caramel low and slow because I have the time to check how the sugars are coming along with the ice water method (I don't trust my thermometer either, I think it reads several degrees hotter than it should). Once the ice water gives me the firm ball I am looking for I yank it off the stove regardless of what the thermometer might say.

    Apart from the time sink element this is a great, fairly error proof caramel--provided you don't fall asleep from boredom.

  3. Beautiful! Caramels are my "to do" list and yours look perfect.

  4. These look perfect. I'd be in so much trouble if I made these—I'm afraid they'd all be gone by evening.

  5. OK, so I have to ask... How much is a sugar thermometer Was it horribly costly? These would make great gifts for Christmas.

    Thanks for sharing, I'm going to bookmark this. I'll report back if I get them made. :)

  6. Oh candy/deep frying thermometers are not at all expensive.

    They can be, depending on where you buy them, but many can be found for less than $10. Sears has them, your local large grocery store probably has them too. I've even seen them at the hardware store around this time of the year for folks looking to deep fry their thanksgiving turkey. Just remember you're looking for a candy/frying thermometer, these are not the same as a roasting thermometer (to gauge the doneness of meats, etc).

    Unfortunately, accuracy can vary from brand to brand, even thermometer to thermometer and that isn't great for candy making as hitting fairly precise range of temperatures is very important.

    Good news though! There is a really easy way to check your thermometer, just boil a pan of tap water and measure the temperature! Since the boiling point of water is known, you can check your thermometer against this and gauge its accuracy.

    Here is a nifty site that explains what temprature water should boil at, given a few conditions, like your elevation etc (Link).

    So just go grab yourself a $6 candy/frying thermometer and double check the temperature. Even if it isn't accurate, just remember how it reads (+/- however many degrees) and keep that in mind when making the caramels.

    Though, if it is reading +/- 20 degrees you might want to return it...

  7. looks sooo delish...i am ttly gonna make these...once i actually finish my first goal...creme brulee...ugh thats would mean like...never...

  8. Thank you for this recipe - I made them today and the only disadvantage to having a long cooking time is me eating all the caramel off the spoon! I made a gluten free version (aka I didn't have gluten free vanilla extract, so I just omitted it) and it's still delicious.

    A tip for those who don't like wasting anything: as far as the caramel that can't be scraped into the pan, well, I scraped it into the cup I was using for cold-water tests (without the water) and ate it! Yummm

  9. You can also substitute the seeds of half a vanilla bean in this recipe, if you have that on hand.

    I'm glad you enjoyed them. Thank you.

  10. Got a question. I've got a thermometer that has a pan clip on it. It's digital...I thought it could be used for candy stuff too? If not, how come?

    Regardless, I'll still be making these! Hopefully they'll turn out just as beautiful!

  11. Rebecca, if it has a pan clip on it I would imagine that it is suitable for frying/candy making. Though, it is hard to be sure without knowing the actual model.

    Does the thermometer tell you its temperature range? Roasting thermometers tend to only go to about 200 degrees, which isn't suitable for candy making. If it it has a higher range than that and you think it is heat safe, well then it should work just fine.

  12. Thanks for getting back to me! Goes to 392. So I'm hoping this will work. I'm purchasing stuff tonight to give it a go! I'll be sure to let you know how it goes! Thanks again!

  13. I made them today. We can't get cream that's more than 35% here. I boiled the mixture to 250F and I think because my cream has a lower fat content, it turned out hard like Werther's Originals. But they're are still delicious! Gonna try to make them again but only boiling it to maybe 240F.

  14. Actually, the cream probably wasn't the culprit there. I would suspect the thermometer might not be giving you accurate temperature readings because it sounds like your caramel cooked a little hotter and reached the soft crack or hard crack stage. This is what would have turned the caramels into hard candies.

    This is a great site for explaining the basic science of candy making, the sugar stages:

    I would double check the accuracy of your thermometer by doing the boiling water test and check what temperature it reads. If it is off by even a couple degrees this is good to know, because that is all the difference between a chewy caramel and a hard candy :)

    Also, try dropping a little bit of caramel into a bowl of ice water, every minute or so while cooking, to check how it sets. If you get a firm ball before the thermometer says it is done, don't worry, it is done.

  15. I also just realize that there is an error in this post, the first temperature read 255 degrees the second 250. It is supposed to hit 250 not 255 (255 is what my thermometer needs to read, because it is off by -5 degrees and this is what I had recorded in my personal recipe note-book).

    I've updated the post to give the accurate temperature of 250 degrees both times, if you've printed out the recipe, please note the change.

  16. These are so yummy! Thanks for the thermometer-calibrating tip; I made the first batch before reading the comments and got toffee, which, tasty, but not what I wanted. Then I came back, looked at the comments, boiled some water and checked the thermometer, figured out it was 7 degrees off, and made a perfect batch the next time around!

  17. Thank you so much for this recipe! I can't wait to try it...caramel is my absolute most favorite taste in the entire world, anything with caramel is good!
    And thanks for the thermometer calibrating tip...I've been suspect of mine for a while now but didn't know how to check.
    Can't wait to try these!!!

  18. Thank you for the recipe... My son begged to make these, and although he left after 5 minutes of stirring, he certainly enjoyed eating some! My friends, the recipients of most, thank you as well...love the science theme! Former microbiologist...SAHM for 10 years..

  19. Just made these...and I'm pretty sure that my blood sugar will never be the same! I can't stop eating them, ahh! They are 'oh my god' good. Sinfully smooth and buttery rich and with the texture of cracked salt on top...my tongue is very, very happy indeed! Sweet and salty...I'm in love.
    I followed the recipe to the word and these turned out beautifully. I highly recommend calibrating your thermometer.
    These are wonderful little goodies to hand out to people that you think are special. It's fun just to watch the expression on their face change when they take a bite. Also, I find that eating them salt side down does something special for me in terms of flavor and texture...might just be me...but it's worth a try.
    Thanks for posting this recipe...I love your blog!

  20. New to your blog and love it. I will try your recipe, it looks great. I've done caramels before with lavender and sea salt. Oh so good.

  21. Homemade caramel - I must admit, it is one of my biggest kitchen fears. I tried making it once from a recipe that required caramelizing plain sugar - no liquid - as the first step. Let's just say it didn't work out very well for me, and leave it at that! ;) Your recipe and technique look much easier, so maybe I'll give caramel another go. Love that first photo!

  22. Just made these for the first time, and brought them to a bake sale with a little plate of samples. Almost sold out to the volunteers at the bake sale before it even started! Sooooo yummy.

  23. I make something similar to these every year for Christmas. ( I'm a college student-baked goods make great cheap/expensive looking presents.) You can add any extract you want to play with the flavors. I particularly like rum for my smooth caramels, cinnamon for my walnut caramels, and I use the vanilla for my choc.-dipped caramel fudge. What do you wrap yours in? I usually do wax paper- but my softer caramels still stick...

  24. What do I wrap them in?

    Well, if I am going to eat them quickly I use waxed paper or cellophane since it is inexpensive. If it is a sticky candy, or they will be wrapped for a few days then I use parchment paper. It doesn't twist as well as waxed paper but nothing sticks to it.

  25. Mine are cooling right now, but they taste delicious! I scraped my pan remnants into my ice water, retrieved the candy, and shared it out with husband and toddler. (They liked it too.)

    But the only thing that saved me from Werthers was an ice water test. How deep does the thermometer have to be to read accurately? And my laboratory instincts say don't let it touch the bottom of the pan. But it was barely reading 200 F when my candy was done! I've got to be using it wrong, it couldn't possibly be 50 degrees off...? Gah.

  26. Geeklady,

    How deep? Depends on the thermometer. Some really inexpensive models need to be submerged in up to 2" to read accurately.

    Generally, the older style glass thermometers are the ones that can't touch the bottom of the pan. However, most glass models that you can buy nowadays have a metal shield at the bottom to prevent this.

    Metal/digital probe thermometers can touch the bottom of the pan. This is also why they are pesky (they don't read from the tip). They read from some point up on the shaft. Where? They rarely tell you. You have to test your thermometer with boiling water to figure out what the minimum depth is for your individual model.

    I have an $8 metal probe candy thermometer that requires roughly 3/4" submersion and a $22 glass one that reads at 1/2".

    What I really want is one of those spiffy infrared models. No more doubly checking with cold water, no more washing syrup over the thermometer or tipping the pan to get better readings.

    Kudos on double checking with the cold water method. I do hope everything went well (in terms of temperature), even if your thermometer had other plans...

  27. Oh, they're perfectly delicious. Completely worth my burnt thumb.

    I was using up a pre-Lent heavy cream purchase and only had a cup and a half left, but the recipe reduced nicely and I just finished wrapping them all up.

  28. Your caramels are really very beautiful! I would like to try your recipe
    but there is't corn syrup in France! What a pity!!!

  29. Thanks for the recipe. The caramels turned out beautiful and delicious. The caramel was a little softer (and almost runny) than I had hoped (I was afraid to leave it on the heat too long and burn it like I did your peanut brittle earlier in the week). No one seemed to mind though. I'll just have to give it another few minutes on the heat (or a few degrees hotter) next time. Yum!

  30. Hi,

    I just made these. They haven't hardened yet, so I can't comment on the finished product, but I ate some after cooling it on a spoon.
    It was A-W-E-S-O-M-E in terms of taste, but the texture was a bit gritty and I think some of the butter hasn't fully integrated.
    But I'm going to wait until the caramel is cooled. :)

    You can make your own light corn syrup substitute from simle sugar and water. 1 part water, 2 parts sugar, boil until syrupy. We don't have corn sirup either in germany.

  31. Keenacat,

    Sounds like your mixture crystallized (grit and separated butter). At some point there was a seed crystal of undissolved sugar introduced and the syrup crystallized. This site here has a quick write up on sugar, crystallization and how to prevent it.

    Candy making is as much chemistry as a cooking (that's why I love it). The reason I call for corn syrup in the recipe is to prevent crystallization. Corn syrup (glucose) acts to prevent sugar (sucrose) from linking on the molecular level.

    This is also why simple syrup (1 part water + 2 parts sugar) will not play the roll of corn syrup in the recipe, as it is still made up only of sucrose.

    Liquid glucose is available at supermarkets in much of Europe and the best substitution for corn syrup in this recipe.

  32. Hi Ms. Humble,

    thanks for your Answer!!
    So Google lied to me again. :( I was googling for substitutes and pretty much every site I found suggested using simple syrup. Well, I guess I'll try doing simple syrup with plain glucose then. I've never come across liquid glucose, but every supermarket and drug store has the dry form.

    What about scratching the pot edges while cooking? Could this have been a problem as well? I didn't stir after adding the vanilla as suggested and didn't scrape the pot then, but I did during cooking. :(

    I hooope next time will be better. This tastes nice, but will crumble away at the lightest touch.

  33. Keenacat,

    Google was right, well sorta. The two are interchangeable in many instances, just not often for candy.

    You were right, you can and should run a spatula or a wooden spoon around the edges of the pan while stirring the caramel, absolutely.

    To help prevent crystallization, you can also wash down the sides of the pot with a damp pastry brush during cooking to make sure there is no sugar crystallizing on the sides. (using a non-stick pot makes the process easier too)

    Alternatively you can cover the pot for a couple minutes towards the end of the cooking, the steam created should dissolve any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan.

    Also, use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to stir. I don't recommend metal utensils as I've read that they can contribute to crystallization.

    And of course, using a glucose syrup will make everything much easier.

  34. Thank you so much for your help!
    I'll try again tonight or tomorrow, using glucose syrup and covering the pot. I already use a nonstick pot and a silicone spatula, so no problem there.
    Many thanks from germany.

  35. Tried again using glucose syrup and it worked!!!
    Thanks so much. :) I made this as a present. I'll give you feedback on what the birthday boy thinks - the boyfriend and me are already hooked!

  36. Went to brunch with the birthday boy and some other people. Even with the plethora of food presented he ate five caramels as a dessert (after the first round of dessert...). Everybody else loved them as well.

    Those things are full of win.

  37. I made these last night and followed your recipe exactly...they came out PERFECT and they are AMAZING! Thanks for sharing!

  38. I am contemplating making these tonight, and have two questions:

    1) Will brown rice syrup work in place of the corn syrup?

    2) If I only have salted butter, can I use it and omit the additional salt?

    Thanks :)

  39. Pullthestars,

    1) As I mentioned above the corn syrup (glucose) is used to prevent crystallization. Other sweeteners can be used as a substituion if they contain a molecule that acts in the same manner to prevent this. However, I'm afraid brown rice syrup isn't a sweetener I'm very familiar with.

    It might do the trick, it does contain maltotriose which consists of three glucose molecules. However, how they will act during the candy-making-chemistry-tango is a total mystery to me.

    The best answer I can give you is: Maybe.

    2) Yes you can, if you don't mind them being a bit saltier.

  40. I think that it worked OK for the recipe. I'm not entirely certain, as it ended up not being very solid. It would have been excellent caramel for caramel corn or something similar :)

    I am not certain that I cooked it long enough, however. More tests will have to be performed, I think.

    Taste-wise, however, the brown rice syrup was quite good!

  41. What should I do if I don't have heavy cream, but only whipping cream, which has only 30% fat. Is it still possible to have that texture yours have, or how should I adjust the recipe? Looks sooooooo goood!

  42. Pocak Panna,

    No need to adjust the recipe, it should work fine. Just use heaviest cream you have available.

    40%+ is pretty hard to find in your average grocery stores I know, but If you're in the U.S. you can usually find ultra heavy cream at bulk retailers, warehouse stores like Costco or restaurant supply outlets.

  43. These are gorgeous and I need to make them... just as soon as the weather cools down!!

  44. I just finished up a batch and I'm doling them out to friends. They are amazingly good, even when made with regular heavy cream, or omitting the fleur de sel.

    I highly recommend using a pizza cutter to cut the caramels.

    Next year I'm treating myself to a digital candy thermometer and some pre-cut candy wrappers.

  45. Wow, wow, wow, wow, WOW! I made these yesterday, they didn't take as long as I'd imagined, your recipe was simple to follow, they were easy to make and best of all, they taste AMAZING! Wrapped them in waxed paper, I gave them out to colleagues at work today and they were very impressed. Incredible!

  46. These were SPECTACULAR! Thanks so much for the recipe and the wonderful directions. Is this from a favorite book of yours? I'd love to do more candy after such great results.

  47. I'm glad you enjoyed them. They're addictive little things.

    The caramel recipe is my own. When I use or adapt another's recipe on the blog I will include a link, located before the list of ingredients to the original blog or cookbook.

  48. These are amazing!!! Thanks so much for such a great recipe! I've added it to my collection :) I halved it and used an 8x8 pan with great results. Can't thank you enough!

  49. These look AMAZING!!!! I tried making some last week with a different recipe and it turned into half batch creamy butter mixture and half left in the saucepan with caramel brittle (as it says to cook the cream, butter and salt in one saucepan and sugar, water and corn syrup in another, then mix together). But now that I found your recipe, I'm definitely trying again this weekend!

    I do have a question though. The other recipe I tried says not to use any utensils to stir the mixture though.. I was told to combine the mixture by swirling the saucepan occasionally. This recipe seems to allow you to stir the hot mixture occasionally throughout the WHOLE recipe. Is it going to melt spatula?


  50. You don't stir much once you clip on your thermometer. Just once or twice here and there to ensure the mixture is cooking evenly. Agitating candy syrups when cooking is usually a bad idea, as it can lead to crystallization and that's why many call for stirring to end at a certain point in the recipe.

    As for the spatula, it won't melt if it is silicone based. If it is plastic then by all means, keep it away from the hot pot. Grab a wooden spoon and stir with that.

  51. I tried making them today because I just couldn't wait any longer. My oh my, they are absolutely DELISH! I followed your recipe to the T and didn't change anything. It is the first time ever that it's worked out so well (the spatula didn't melt like you said!). Thank you SO MUCH!!!!! Definitely a 5 star recipe :)

  52. Tried these today to replace a lost recipe... Still never disappointed by a humble recipe. I made two batches this time, one covered in choc. and topped with sea salt and the other I flavored with cinnamon and poured over some pecans. I know it sounds a little strange, but it actually works. Thanks for the new go-to caramel recipe. This is one of my fav. candies to play with.

  53. Yes! This is a 5 star recipe. It was my 1st time making caramels and it came out WONDERFUL!

    I blogged it here: http://blog.shopdirtylaundry.com/posts/2011/8/4/something-new-for-dessert.html

  54. I just used this caramel recipe to make caramel apples. Living here in England, I substituted the corn syrup with golden syrup and used double cream (>40% fat) - the result is unbelievably good. I had to halve the recipe, and since my thermometer doesn't read well in the shallows, I double checked myself using the ice-water method. (Watching and testing the caramel while it went through a few of its stages was fascinating.)

    The one thing I'm curious about is this: The further along I got in the apple-dipping process, the more the caramel seemed to get greasy, almost like it was breaking. I made the situation worse by reheating (only to about 200F) and stirring to try to loosen the stiffening caramel. At this point I decided four apples was plenty for my husband and me and poured the rest into large square cookie cutter on a silicon sheet, figuring I could blot and cut them once they'd cooled. Any idea which of the many things I did could have made this happen? Is there a way I could have brought the caramel and separated butter back together?


  55. Answer will be a bit lengthy for a comment here so I'll just provide a link: http://candy.about.com/od/carameltoffee/f/separate_faq.htm

    As for apples and caramel. I tend to cheat a bit, I don't dip them like candy apples. Rather, I pour my caramel into a thin sheet and while still a bit warm, I cut pieces large enough to blanket my apples and then pinch/trim away the excess. Caramel dipped apples are lovely looking, but not always easy with such a rich caramel. For example, the caramels marketed at the store (at least in the US) for dipping apples don't actually contain butter (or cream for that matter--don't get me started on what a crime that is) hence making the mixture a bit more stable when it comes to reheating, dipping and stirring.

  56. Hi Ms. Not-so-humble,
    I am a huge fan of yours - you are such an inspiration! I love learning and understanding exactly what i am doing when cooking, and you are such a great source! Thanks a lot!
    And now i have a question (i tried to look for an answer in the chain, but didn't find anyghing, may be it is there and I missed it?)
    SUGAR: regular granulated sugar mentioned in this recipe vs. pure cane sugar, mentioned in the Cider caramel. What is the difference? How crucial is it? Is it possible to substitute regular sugar for the cane sugar in the Fleur de sel as well? Ans also, is there a difference between PURE cane sugar and just 'cane sugar' (this is what is written on the package)
    Thanks a lot!

  57. Marinag,

    Granulated sugar and pure cane sugar are usually the same thing.

    There are generally two kinds of granulated sugar widely available (at least in the US), one made from sugar cane and the other made from sugar beets. Check the ingredients, it will usually tell you which the sugar came from. If it says cane sugar, then you are dealing with "pure cane" sugar.

    For candy making, I prefer cane sugar. It isn't crucial to use cane in my recipes, beet sugar will do the job too. I just share the opinion of most candy makers, that is cane sugar works best when it comes to candy making.

    Hope this clears things up.

    Ms. H

  58. Great recipe. To those who asked about using Brown Rice Syrup:

    Yes, it will work! And it tastes great too. I used Lundberg Sweet Dreams Brown Rice Syrup (purchased at Whole Foods).

    Here is another recipe that specifies using Golden Syrup or Rice syrup.


  59. These were wonderful! I do have a question though, you say to serve them at room temperature, and at room temperature, mine seem to "melt", they lose their shape and are a bit greasy, but out of the fridge they are perfect firmness. Does this have to do with not hitting a correct temperature?

  60. Correct, if they are too soft then the syrup didn't get hot enough. You were probably within 10 degrees. I would check out the apple cider caramel recipe from Nov 2011 for tips on hitting the right temp.

    If they are overly greasy, try less butter to grease the pan. When you pour the caramel in thr butter melts, beads on top, and can give the caramels an overly greasy feel. They should be a touch slick, being homemade caramels but not slippery like a fish.

  61. I love this recipe. It was my frist time making caramels and the recipe was easy to do. Though I did replace the corn syrup with glucose and I didn't have use of a candy thermometer. The best caramel recipe I've come across in the my searchings.

  62. I can't wait to make the caramels again. Love them so much I posted again on my blog.



  63. These are delish! I made them last night and they are just fabulous! I'll be serving them tonight at my New Year's Eve dinner party and they are the prefect nibble for the end of a long, food stuffed, evening!

  64. I love this recipe. So far I have made it 3 times, and each time they taste amazing! Since tasting these, I have learned I will always be critical of storebought caramels now, since the homemade ones taste so yummy.

  65. Most delicious and fail-proof caramel recipe I've found. Amazing!


Related Posts with Thumbnails