With Halloween season upon us in beautiful Salem, Massachusetts, homemade candy has been a big topic of conversation for the last few weeks.
(Check out all our Halloween content here, including seasonal recipes and photo tours of the month-long festival madness here in town.)
These maple caramels are a house favorite.
They’re creamy, soft and chewy, with a subtle good, old-fashioned maple flavor from Grade B syrup.
If you want a stronger maple flavor, add a few drops of maple extract, as well.
Make these the day before you want to eat them
The caramel needs to stand for a good 12 hours to cool completely and set up, so plan accordingly.
When they’re cool, cut them up and wrap in squares of parchment or wax paper.
Cut + wrap!
Once the caramels cooled, we cut roughly 1-inch long rectangles, and wrapped them in 5″ x 5″ squares of brown parchment paper.
Making caramel isn’t as hard as it sounds
For as intimidating as it may seem, homemade caramel is one of the most glorious—and easy—candies you can make at home.
Basically, you take a bunch of butter, heavy cream, and sugar and boil it until it hits a certain temperature.
Pour it out into a pan, wait for it to set, then cut it into pieces.
That’s about it. Pretty simple, right?
If you’ve never done it before, I’ll step you through the process below so you’ll know what to expect.
The single most important tip for making caramel
Don’t walk away from the stove. Seriously, trust me on this one.
Depending on how hot your stove is and how full your pot is, there’s a chance it could bubble over—or scorch.
The caramel only takes 20-30 minutes to cook.
Pour yourself a cup of tea and hang out in the kitchen where you can keep a good eye on it. 🙂
Get a candy thermometer and use it
With candymaking, temperature matters.
Get yourself a good candy thermometer and use it.
In just a few degrees, these caramels can go from being soft to being hard.
I cook these just to about 240-degrees F., which is right in the middle of soft-ball stage.
In candymaking terms, “soft-ball stage” means that a small blob of caramel dropped into a glass of cold water will form a soft and squishy ball…which indicates the finished consistency of your candy.
Want soft candy, cook it to soft-ball stage, between 235-245 degrees F.
(Caramel cooked to “hard-ball stage” will form a hard ball, which makes for crunchy, hard candy, and so on and so forth.)
Don’t let the temperature thing scare you off. Just use a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature. You’ll be just fine. 🙂
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup light corn syrup
2 cups sugar
6 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup maple syrup (I like Grade B, but use your favorite)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
a few drops of maple extract (optional, for stronger maple flavor)
Yields about 1 1/2 lbs. caramel
Do a little prep
Line an 8-inch x 8-inch heatproof baking dish with parchment paper, enough so that the edges of the paper hang over the sides of the pan.
This will help you remove it later.
Mix the salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg together in a small bowl.
If you’re using it, grab your maple extract and put it out on the counter within reach.
Set all three things aside. You want them ready when the caramel is done.
Make the caramel mixture
Put the heavy cream, light corn syrup, sugar, butter, and maple syrup in a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
(The heavier the bottom, the better. With a thin pot, you risk the bottom burning a little.)
Set it on the stove over high heat.
Stir well to start to dissolve the sugar and melt the butter.
Stir frequently until the mixture comes to a boil.
Once it starts to bubble, knock the heat down to medium-high, and clip your candy thermometer to the inside of the pot.
(Make sure it’s not touching the bottom of the pot, which can give you a false temperature reading.)
Boil the caramel mixture
Boil the mixture, without stirring (you heard me right, don’t stir), for 20-30 minutes, until it registers 240 degrees F on your thermometer.
When it first comes to a boil, the mixture will poof up, then subside.
(But that’s also why you want to make sure you don’t walk away from the stove, on the off chance that it spills over.)
As it cooks, the mixture will get darker and that beautiful, traditional caramel aroma will start to waft through your kitchen.
When the mixture hits 240-degrees F, remove the pot from the heat.
Pour and cool the caramel
Pour the spiced caramel out into your prepared pan.
Leave the caramel on the counter to cool for about 12 hours, or until solid.
Cut and wrap the caramels
When the caramel is cool and solid, it’s time to cut it up.
Flip it over on a cutting board and peel off the parchment paper.
With a sharp, non-serrated knife, slice the caramel into cubes or rectangles.
If you like, wrap each in a square of parchment or wax paper.
We used 5-inch x 5-inch squares of paper for our caramels, which were about an inch long each.
If you don’t feel like wrapping them, just layer them in an airtight tin or Tupperware between sheets of parchment or wax paper.
Stay tuned for more about Halloween in Witch City (a.k.a. Salem, Massachusetts) coming this week!