How Not to Make Caramels

January 5, 2008


I am in the midst of making a package of treats as a thank you gift. It will include the granola I wrote about yesterday, the rosemary roasted cashews that I love too much and perfect squares of decadent peanut butter brownies (a recipe I got from Smitten Kitchen). In case the recipient is reading, I will say no more about the package. Except for this: it was also supposed to contain caramels.


Caramels—ends dipped in melted bittersweet chocolate and wrapped in pretty parchment squares—would be a lovely addition to the package, no? Well I’m sure they would have been … had they come even close to being edible. And the rock-hard mass that my “caramels” became was certainly not edible, unless of course you enjoy losing your teeth while eating.


I’ve never made caramels before. You see, before yesterday, I didn’t own a candy thermometer, which is an essential piece of equipment for caramel-creating. And, let me tell you, those suckers are apparently hard to find. I don’t know if it was a post-Christmas shortage, but I had to go to several stores to find one (a little too potato-ricer-esque for my taste). I’ve also held off on making caramels because I was a little scared. So I was comforted when I read Jacques Pépin’s description of his caramel recipe: foolproof. And I followed his recipe to the letter. Even when my intuition told me that the color had surpassed lightly-golden and descended into a rich brown, I forged on until my thermometer registered 320°, as Pépin instructed. And I trusted that, because I had followed every single one of his instructions, that if I just let the caramels sit for the prescribed four hours they’d transform into the soft, pliable wonders in Pépin’s photo, even though they hardened mere moments after I poured them into their mold.


Upon closer inspection of Pepin’s introduction to the recipe, I see he says it’s almost foolproof. Ha! So, I ask you dear readers: where did I go wrong? Faulty recipe (doubt it, it’s Jacques Pépin)? Faulty thermometer? And, perhaps more importantly, do you have a recipe that is truly foolproof?

5 Responses to “How Not to Make Caramels”

  1. 2 things…temperature must be low or medium. if you cook caramel on high, it will continue cooking for a little while even after you have taken it off heat.

    secondly, did you warm your cream/butter mix? it has to be somewhat at the same temperature. if you had boiled it and added boiling cream/butter mix to the caramel, it would have continued cooking. alternately, if you had added cold cream to hot caramel, it would which point, your caramel would have been ruined and wouldnt be in the state you have photographed the cold cream theory is probably moot.

    try it again. when its 235 deg F, caramel/cream mixture is done. and it should hit the tray immediately…which shouldnt be too cold(or warm), of course. left in the cooking container, it would have continued to cook somemore in the ambient temp even if you had turned off the heat or taken it off the heat.

    dont give up. try again. good luck.

  2. ourkitchensink Says:

    FaustianBargain: Thanks so much for your comment. I did warm the cream/butter mix (per the recipe). However, I think that I might have been using too much heat. I don’t think the recipe specified a heat and I must have assumed medium high or thereabouts. I’m wondering if I should give Pepin’s recipe another try with this newfound knowledge or search for a entirely new recipe …

  3. kikibibi Says:

    I’ve just discovered you… from Deb at SK maybe? How delightful! I’m having so much fun “getting to know you.” Caramels is (are?) one of the first recipes I courageously tried as a kid, with my dad’s ever-watchful eye. They were such a hit and became a staple for many Christmases. My recipe comes from BH&G’s “Golden Treasury of Cooking,” which my dad passed down to me before he died. It is my favorite cookbook!

  4. kikibibi Says:

    p.s., your assessment is correct… and faust gives great advice, which I can’t improve. Except to say don’t give up, try again. If I could do these at age 13 without fail, you certainly can! I ain’t that good a cook!

  5. kikibibi: Welcome! And, you’ll be happy to know that I did try again and had success!

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