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Course: Dessert
Keyword: Candy, caramel

Dark and Funky Caramels

ACTIVE TIME: 15 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 8 hours 40 minutes
Yield: 60 caramels
A lot of caramels taste too sweet to me, while others just taste acrid due to overcooking of the sugar. Including a few drops of liquid smoke (quality brands do not contain a bunch of chemicals, just condensed smoke), and a bit of soy, add some umami funk, which I really dig. Be warned though, these things are sticky; I recommend sucking not chewing, unless of course you have some fillings you want to be rid of.
Photo by Lynne Calamia
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  • No-stick spray (for greasing the pan)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 12 drops liquid smoke (We like Lazy Kettle brand)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature

Specialized Hardware

Parchment paper
Digital scale
4-quart heavy bottom pot
Wire cooling rack
Wax paper
Food grade silica desiccant pack (Optional but highly recommended and easily purchased on-line.)
ACTIVE TIME: 15 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 8 hours 40 minutes
Yield: 60 caramels


  • Cut two 7" x 16" pieces of parchment paper. Lightly spray an 8-inch square metal baking pan with no-stick spray (just enough to actually help the paper adhere to the pan, which is kinda funny when you think about it). Line the pan with the paper positioning one piece horizontally and the other vertically, pressing into the corners creating a snug fit. A few inches of paper should hang over each side of the pan, creating a kind of sling. Spray the paper, including the sides with the spray. (Candy is sticky stuff.)
  • Combine the sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar in a 4-quart, heavy-gauge pot and place over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil, about 4 minutes. (See note.)
  • Meanwhile, combine the cream, soy sauce, and liquid smoke in a liquid measuring cup. Have this and the butter standing nearby your cooktop.
  • Continue to boil the sugar syrup on medium-high heat until it reaches 230℉, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, without stirring, until the syrup is light golden and is approaching 300℉, 6-8 minutes. Gently swirl the pan to help ensure syrup is evenly heated.
  • Continue boiling the syrup, swirling (carefully) occasionally, until syrup turns deep amber and hits 350℉, another 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, gently swirl again, and cool for 2 minutes.
  • Carefully pour in the cream mixture followed by the butter and stir gently, The syrup will bubble up at this point but will settle down as you stir. Return the caramel to medium heat, stir until the butter is completely melted, then continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches 260℉, 7-9 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately pour into the prepared pan. Tap around the edge of the pan gently with a wooden spoon to release air bubbles.
  • Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes then transfer to the refrigerator, uncovered, for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
  • The next day, remove the caramel from the fridge and place on the counter for 15 minutes, Lift the caramel out of the pan by grasping the edges of the parchment and place on a cutting board. Peel off the paper and discard. Cut the caramels into 1" x 1" squares with a large heavy knife and place on a pan or large plate lined with wax paper. (Make sure the caramels aren't touching each other.)
  • Cut 3 1/2" x 3 1/2" squares of wax paper (you'll need about 60 squares), and wrap each caramel tightly, twisting the ends to seal. If the caramels become too sticky to handle, park the pan in the fridge for about 10 minutes to firm up.
  • Store wrapped caramels in an airtight container with a desiccant pack and store for up to 2 weeks. (If you skip the desiccant the caramels will be good, but very gooey.)
Note: Wooden spoons are often called for in candy making because they don't conduct heat the way metal does. In recipes that call for sugar only, that heat conduction can result in crystallization. In this case, crystallization is prevented by the inclusion of a secondary sugar in the form of corn syrup, so really the use of wood is about not burning your hand.
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