Caramels—simple ingredients, oh so tricky, yet oh so good

Honey-Vanilla Bean-Salt Caramels

Honey-vanilla bean-salt caramels, December 2011

Last year during the Christmas season I set about to make caramels for gift-giving, seeking a recipe that used honey rather than corn syrup. My family members must have shaken their heads and wondered what those gooey little lumps were supposed to be that they received. This year I again tried making caramels, and after a few unsuccessful attempts (burned, burned, too hard, too soft) arrived at a wonderful, buttery, great-textured result that will probably be my go-to caramels recipe in the future.

As I discovered, any number of things can go wrong with caramels. You can cook the mixture too fast or get it too hot, or you can take it off-heat too soon. (If it doesn’t taste burnt, you might be able to rescue it by cooking it again.) Here is my finalized recipe, which incorporates some tips that might help you succeed.

This recipe includes the option of real vanilla bean. Fancy salt such as fleur de sel or other can be used, but simple coarse sea salt is fine too.

Use caution when working with hot caramel. Children should have close supervision by an adult. Caramel stays very hot much longer than you think, and it can burn your skin or tongue!


4.5 from 2 reviews
Recipe type: Snack
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 64
  • Special equipment: candy thermometer
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon fleur de sel or coarse sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 vanilla bean, finely ground, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon additional salt for sprinkling
  1. If using vanilla bean, finely grind it in a clean coffee grinder. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, and butter it or lightly spray with oil. Place some water and an ice cube in a small bowl and keep next to the stove for checking the consistency of the caramel and in case of burns.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring cream, butter, salt, and ground vanilla bean to a boil. (If using vanilla extract, you will add it later.) After mixture boils, remove pan from heat.
  3. In a tall pot over medium low heat, bring sugar, honey, and water to a boil, stirring until sugar is mostly dissolved. Boil, but do not stir, until mixture reaches a light golden “caramel” color.
  4. Slowly add cream mixture to pot, stirring. The mixture will bubble up. Carefully clip candy thermometer to side of pot, making sure tip is not touching the metal of the pot. Continue cooking over medium low heat. You can check the consistency of the caramel any time during cooking by dropping a teaspoonful or two into the ice water. This will show you what the caramel would be like later if you took it off heat at that point. When you can form the test caramel into a firm ball with your fingers rather than it being soft, stringy, or diffuse, you know it’s done. Begin checking it at about 250°F.
  5. Continue cooking, stirring very infrequently. The temperature creeps up slowly, and it can take 30 to 40 minutes or more to cook, but watch it carefully. The temperature will drop down for a few minutes after stirring. When caramel reaches 260° to 265° and/or tests at desired consistency, remove pot from heat, and if using vanilla extract, stir it in now. The vanilla will make the mixture bubble up again.
  6. Pour the hot caramel into the prepared foil-lined pan. Allow it to run into the pan; don’t scrape the pot. Cool for about 15 minutes, then sprinkle on the salt. Allow to cool at least a couple of hours.
  7. Turn onto a cutting surface, peel off foil, turn salt-side-up, and cut into 1-inch squares. Tear or cut 12-inch wide waxed paper into sixteen 4-1/2 inch strips, then cut each strip into four 3-inch pieces. (This can be done while caramel is cooking.) Wrap caramels in papers and gently twist ends.
Serving size: 1 caramel. Calories: 37; Fat: 2g; Saturated fat: 1g; Unsaturated fat: 0g; Carbohydrates: 6g; Sugar: 6g; Fiber: 0g; Protein: 0g; Cholesterol: 5mg.


(Recipe adapted from

Shared at Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free Slightly Indulgent Tuesday and The Gluten-Free Homemaker Gluten-Free Wednesday.

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6 Responses to “Caramels—simple ingredients, oh so tricky, yet oh so good”

  1. sandra says:

    This looks so good. It may be on my Christmas gift list next year. One question – Do you think I could substitute coconut sugar for the white sugar? I have a cane sugar sensitivity (along with many others and celiac). Also have you used a substitute for the heavy cream? Thanks for your help.

    • Eileen Beran says:

      Sandra, I checked around on the Web and found a few vegan caramels recipes that don’t have cream but have corn syrup, which might be interesting to try. Here is one with alternative sugars: (cut and paste the link into your browser). I haven’t used coconut sugar, so I can’t say if it could be substituted. One thing about caramels “failures” is that unless they’re burned, you can use the batch as sauce (if it didn’t set up) or store in the freezer and have as an occasional indulgence yourself. I tried a batch with orange juice and orange zest that got a little too done and the orange zest was sticking in the teeth. I didn’t want to give them as gifts, but I don’t mind the bits of zest. I would love to hear what you come up with!

  2. Jim Wesslund says:

    They were great…liked the combination of sweet and salty.

  3. Debbie Wesslund says:

    I loved these caramels! Very tasty and NOT sticky! Thanks for sharing this recipe, and for sharing some of your caramels with us.

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