Fruitcake may be traditional and cookies well-loved, but for a truly special holiday gift, treat your friends to homemade caramels. With a few tools and the recipe, you can easily make the best caramels your friends and family will ever taste.
This caramel recipe is one of my favorites: It has the buttery sweetness of a classic caramel candy, but the addition of honey lifts the flavor out of the ordinary. The honey also happens to make this recipe more forgiving, helping to keep the caramel smooth.
Follow a few rules and success is yours. Caramel candies have a reputation for being difficult. They shouldn’t. Sure, there are a few stumbling blocks, but my recipe is designed to help you avoid them. The biggest hazard you face is that instead of being soft and smooth, your caramel will turn rough and grainy from the sugar recrystallizing as it cools. The honey in my recipe helps prevent this, as does bringing the sugars to a very high heat before adding the cream. Beyond that, just follow my instructions: Stir when the recipe says to stir; stop when it says stop. And above all, avoid the temptation, no matter how strong, to scrape out the pot at the end. Your reward will be soft, rich caramels.
Simple additions create new flavor twists. Once you master the basic recipe, it’s easy to personalize your caramels with flavorings or mix-ins. I’ve included two of my favorite variations to get you started. The vanilla-tangerine version balances the brightness of tangerine and the complex sweetness of honey and vanilla. It also demonstrates the best way to add citrus zest to caramel: at the end of cooking so that the high heat doesn’t degrade its flavor. The honey-nut variation, aside from being truly addictive and my personal favorite, shows how easy it is to add tasty mix-ins to your caramels.
Tips for caramel-making success
Caramels aren’t difficult; they just need you to be attentive. You’ll get excellent results if you simply take extra care at a few crucial points in the process.
Start by buttering the pan (and parchment) so that the caramels will release easily later.
Brush the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush to dissolve stray sugar crystals and to prevent the caramel from recrystallizing.
As you stir in the cream, the caramel will boil furiously, so stir with care.
Don’t scrape the pot when you pour the caramel into the buttered pan or you could cause the caramel to recrystallize.