My friend Amy put me on to a recipe book named Caramel by Peggy Cullen years ago, and I still think her caramel recipe is my favorite, despite all the others I’ve tried. If you are as careful as the recipe tells you to be, the recipe turns out perfectly. This is definitely one of my favorite all-time recipes. The caramels are easy to cut (well, as easy as caramel can be), and the flavor is fantastic. I usually make the vanilla bean and honey variation, because it’s my favorite, and my friends who don’t care much for honey have still loved them (the honey flavor isn’t overbearing at all). I allow these caramels to cool in my bread pans lined with Reynolds Release foil (a gem for caramels!) and then slice and wrap the next day. Beautiful! Please note, if making this recipe above sea level, adjust the temperature accordingly: 2 degrees lower for every 1000 feet above sea level you are cooking at. So, for Provo, decrease the temperature by 9 degrees in all instances when measuring the candy. Also, it’s a good idea to have everything prepped before starting (cans opened, ingredients measured), and you will probably be standing over the stove for about 45-60 minutes. Incidentally, I’ve passed these out at Christmas, plain, but I’ve also dipped them for Valentines or other holidays. Always terrific.
Classic Cream Caramels or Honey Vanilla Bean Caramels
2 c. sugar
1/2 c water
1 1/2 c. light corn syrup (or 1 c. corn syrup and 1/2 c. honey)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. sweetened condensed milk
1 T. pure vanilla (plus vanilla seeds scraped from a pod, if doing the variation)
(2 c. lightly toasted walnuts, chopped, optional, but good with the honey/vanilla bean variation)
Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil so that the edges of the foil are overhanging; press the foil snugly into the corners of the pan (I’m telling you, get Reynold’ Release!). Lightly butter the foil (not necessary with the Release). Set the prepared pan on a cooling rack. Place a nonbreakable glass of water next to the stove for storing the pastry brush and wooden spatula when not in use.
In a 3-1/2 or 4-quart saucepan, gently stir the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt together (and honey, if using). Wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Over medium-high heat, bring the syrup to a boil. Insert a candy thermometer and boil, undisturbed, until the temperature reaches 250 degrees, about seven minutes. Wash down the sides of the pan and add the butter. Once it melts, gradually stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream; bring to a boil. In about five minutes, when the level of liquid reduces somewhat, gradually stir in the remaining 1 cup cream. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally with a figure-8 motion, until the temperature reaches 250 degrees, about 7 minutes.
Remove the pan from the hat and stir in the condensed milk. Return the pan to the heat. Stirring constantly with a figure-8 motion, boil until the temperature reaches 244 degrees (or 245, if using honey), about 4 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and continue to stir for 1 minute. Stir in the vanilla (and vanilla seeds, if using). Pour the caramel into the prepared pan without scraping the saucepan.
Let the caramel cool and sit undisturbed, for at least 8 hours or as long as overnight; do not cover. Turn the caramel out onto a piece of waxed or parchment paper and peel off the foil. Using a large sharp knife, cut the slab into quarters. Cut each quarter into four 1×4″ bars or 16- 1″ squares (or whatever). The caramel can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 3 weeks.