Chewy Vanilla Caramels

Nothing says the holidays like homemade treats. Despite loving to cook and entertain, it’s a bit ironic that I don’t typically turn to these homemade goodies at the holiday season. This year I was invited to kick off the holiday season with a friend and have a cooking/candy making extravaganza day. I had been itching to try these caramels for some time and she wanted to try some new recipes as well, so we got together for a day of magic and let me tell you, there’s nothing like a warm sweet-smelling kitchen with some holiday tunes in the background to get you into the spirit.

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I’ve loved caramels since I was a kid… Milk Duds, Rolos, See’s Milk Chocoalte covered Caramel Squares, those Tahitian Vanilla Caramels from Trader Joes. You name it, if it’s stick to your fillings good and covered in chocolate, I’m all about it. I did some reading up on making caramels and there may be some people who call this a ‘cheaters’ recipe because you start with corn syrup, but it does make it MUCH more foolproof for first timers like me. But yum yum yum, these are SO good I guarantee you’re going to forget what’s in them and just devour. The vanilla is just right, they are silky smooth and chewy without being too hard – the perfect combination.

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These caramels were shockingly easy. They do require a bit of attention, but are worth every minute and every stir. Make sure you’re using a really big pot, 6-quart is recommended in the recipe, and a candy thermometer to get the temperature and chewiness just right. You also might want to share the finished product with a friend because this recipe will make a TON of caramels. I got about 64 from half a batch. Wrapped up in little bundles like below or even in seasonal baggies, they make the perfect little something for the holidays and are bound to be a hit!

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Chewy Vanilla Caramels*

  • 2 cups light corn syrup
  • 1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, pod split and seeds removed
  • 1tbsp pure vanilla extract

Butter a 9×13 inch pan, or combination of other similarly sized dishes.

Start with all ingredients except vanilla extract in your large pot. Place over medium heat and whisk mixture to evenly distribute the vanilla bean seeds. Heat the mixture stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Once it starts to boil clip on the thermometer and get ready for magic. The mixture will start to rise and bubble vigorously – this is when you’ll be happy to have the big pot.

Cook, stirring frequently (switch to a wooden spoon or spatula) until the mixture reaches 240 degrees. Don’t let it go higher as that is more of a hard caramel rather than soft caramel stage. It will take a long time to reach 240. It will hover around 200/220 for a long time and you may wonder if it’ll ever happen, but eventually you’ll get to 240! As soon as it hits 240, remove from heat, add vanilla extract and stir to combine. Pour into prepared pan(s). Do not scrape out caramel from the bottom of the pot, as it’s a different temperature than the rest. Let rest at room temperature overnight.

Cut into strips to make it easier to remove from dish and cut further into small squares. Wrap each piece in waxed paper and bundle in your favorite gift giving way. They’ll keep for at least a month.

*ingredient list from and directions adapted from Tante Marie’s Cooking School

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