I have an affinity for all things caramel. It can be in a candy bar (Caramello, I miss you!), a simply-wrapped chunk of chewy goodness, or the all-time-bestest-ever candy: Milkfuls. Oh how I miss Milkfuls.
Even my Grandma’s sticky buns were drenched in an incredibly gooey and cavity-inducing sweet caramel sauce, making them completely irresistible to me. As difficult as giving up cheese proved to be, the caramel torture was a much heavier burden to bear.
What is a caramelholic to do??!?
It involves superheated sugar and coconut milk. And a few burns. And some lessons learned about the differences between wax paper and parchment paper. And in the end? Worth. It.
You’ll want a candy thermometer for this. Don’t use a digital unless it really is instant-read. The response time on those is usually just wayyyyy too slow. (I’m looking at you, Martha Stewart. You liar.) Even the nice heavy-duty ones don’t necessarily work well with the way I make these caramels. I have a Wilton model, with a little lip that prevents the bottom of the thermometer from resting on the pan. Sorry. Now it’s above the syrup, even. Oi. The best one I ever used was a super-cheap one like this, and I accidentally put it through the dishwasher. Oopsie.
I like to use a deep, wide-bottomed pot. The larger surface area makes for quicker heating, and the depth gives you a little leeway during the second stage of the process, when the caramel mixture becomes really bubbly and foamy.
As a safety note, you’re going to be working with some really hot stuff here. Wear long sleeves and have some oven mitts handy for handling hot stuff.
Are you ready to get gooey? (Sorry I didn’t take step-by-step photos. Maybe next time.)
For starters, prepare an 8×8 or 9×9 pan by lining it with either parchment paper or non-stick aluminum. Wax paper doesn’t work. I repeat. Wax paper doesn’t work. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Brush the bottom and sides of the lined pan with some melted coconut oil, or use some baking spray on it.
- 1 pint (16 oz) coconut milk or creamer — I like to use So Delicious creamer
- 3/4 C light corn syrup
Combine in a large pot. If you’d like, add up to 1 tsp of your favorite sea salt. Heat this while stirring over medium heat until the corn syrup and creamer are a homogenous mixture. Remove from heat and set aside.
- 1 3/4 C evaporated cane juice
- 3/4 C water
In a separate pot, combine sugar and water. Stir until sugar is all moistened. Clip candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Heat on medium-high heat without stirring until the thermometer reads 310F/155C (hard crack). If you’re nervous about not stirring the pot, you can lift it from time to time and give it a gentle swirl.
Here’s where it gets a little hairy. Pour the superheated sugar mixture into the milk mixture. Do it quickly. It’ll bubble and splash. The sugar will cool quickly and form a lump. Don’t worry. Take the opportunity to swap your candy thermometer to this pot.
Your caramel mixture will require nearly continuous stirring. Stir it on medium-low heat until that lump of sugar melts, then turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir stir stir until your thermometer reads 240F/115C (soft ball). This seems to take forever, but once your caramel starts to rise above the boiling point, the temperature will shoot up fairly quickly. Be diligent. You’ll have to stir vigorously to keep the foaming to a controllable level as well. Once the foam dies down a little, you’ll be pretty close to finishing.
Once you’ve reached soft ball stage, grab a spatula, remove the pot from the heat, and quickly pour the caramel into your prepared pan, scraping the sides almost immediately. If you wait to scrape the sides, the caramel will cook past the soft ball stage and you’ll have some awkwardly crunchy bits in your chewy caramels from the scraped bits.
Immediately sprinkle the caramel with some coarse sea salt before it gets a chance to do much cooling. Yummy!
Allow to cool completely before cutting. Use a hot knife coated in a little coconut oil to slice this sweet gooeyness into squares. Or, top with some melted chocolate before cutting.