Soft, buttery homemade caramels! A tried-and-true recipe you’ll want to make every Christmas. Hundreds of reviewers agree these are the most delicious homemade soft caramels around!

This post was originally published in 2012. It has been updated with new step-by-step photos but the recipe is still the same treasured recipe from an old church cookbook.

one caramel cube on parchment paper

I’ve tried other caramel recipes over the years, but always come back to this one. These are perfectly soft, but not such a soft caramel that they fall apart.

This recipe makes a ton of caramels! I usually make them for my yearly Christmas neighbor gifts. It’s a family tradition to make a batch or two the weeks leading up to Christmas.

I actually look forward to spending the evening wrapping caramels in wax paper (and sneaking some bites!) and hanging out with family.

VIDEO: How to Make Caramels

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Caramels wrapped in wax paper and placed in a bowl

Homemade Soft Caramels

This recipe makes a ton of caramels, so you’ll want to recruit the whole family to help wrap them and package them in gift boxes for friends and neighbors. They’re a creamy indulgence and quick treat everyone will love!

Long ago my Grandma would cut individual pieces of wax paper to wrap up these caramels. Now I just buy a pack of pre-cut wrappers on Amazon. I like these wax paper squares or these clear wrappers.

The original recipe my Grandma used came from an old church cookbook. It was submitted by a woman named Elda Peck.

So wherever you are Elda Peck, thank you! Your soft homemade caramels are a classic candy favorite at our house!

picture of old recipe for soft caramels

Why You’ll Love this Recipe

  • Soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture
  • Great for the holidays
  • Deep caramel flavor
  • Makes a large batch for gifting

Ingredients You’ll Need

Ingredients for caramels on a countertop

These homemade caramels are made with simple, easy-to-find ingredients. The magic is in the method of making them!

  • Sugar: It’s important to use white granulated sugar to create the best rich caramel flavor. No other type of sugar will work! I like Domino brand best.
  • Butter: Use unsalted, real butter for this delicious caramel recipe. (You’ll be adding in salt later.)
  • Corn syrup: For the best caramels, use light corn syrup (not dark corn syrup).
  • Salt: Kosher sea salt is best for this recipe — it gives the best texture and flavor!
  • Evaporated milk: Evaporated milk helps give these soft chewy caramels a creamy, smooth texture.

Optional but delicious: I also love adding the seeds of a vanilla bean to these caramels. Just add scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean pod and add them in with the sugar. They’re also delicious topped with some flaky sea salt.

How to Make Homemade Caramels

Butter and sugar in a pot
  • Melt the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt together in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat or medium-high heat.
Butter and sugar melted together in a pot
  • Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the evaporated milk a little at a time, taking 5-10 minutes per can and stirring constantly. A labor of love indeed.
Butter, sugar, and milk combined in a pot and turning golden brown, with a thermometer on the side
  • Once all the milk is added use a candy thermometer and bring the mixture to 238F-240F and not any hotter! Even a few degrees hotter will make them chewy instead of soft.
Carmels poured in a lined pan
  • Pour into a parchment lined 13×9 pan and cool completely. Cut and serve. Enjoy!

Storage Instructions

For a perfect bite size candy, individually wrap these creamy caramels in pre-cut wrappers from Amazon. From there, you can store them in an airtight container or in a candy jar. You can store them at room temperature or in the fridge. They’ll last several weeks!

An overhead view of a slab of caramel, before cutting

Caramel FAQs

What are caramels made of?

Caramels are made by heating white sugar until the molecules break down, resulting in a dark brown, rich flavored syrup. This recipe also includes butter, white corn syrup, Kosher salt, and evaporated milk.

Why do caramels need corn syrup?

Corn syrup is a necessary ingredient in caramels because it keeps the sugar molecules from crystallizing after they break down. This creates a soft, smooth texture, rather than a grainy texture.

Are butterscotch and caramel the same?

Butterscotch and caramel flavors are certainly similar. However, there is a slight difference: caramels are made with white sugar, and butterscotch is made with brown sugar.

A slab of caramel being cut into individual portions

Recipe FAQs

How can I speed up the process?

Some reviewers had reported good success with microwaving the evaporated milk to warm it up before adding it. The key is you want the caramel mixture to keep boiling the whole time you’re adding the milk.
(Adding warm milk won’t bring the temperature down as much so you can add it faster while still maintaining a boil.)

Can I half this recipe?

Yes! You can easily half this recipe and use an 8×8 or 9×9 inch pan.

Can I add a sprinkle of salt?

Yes! A sprinkle of salt makes a delicious addition to these caramels. I highly recommend this maldon salt. Sprinkle the salt over the caramels immediately after pouring them into the pan so the salt will stick.

Can I add a vanilla bean?

I love adding the seeds of a vanilla bean to these caramels. Just add scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean pod and add them in with the sugar.

How long will these caramels keep?

Once the caramels have been cut and wrapped in wax paper or parchment candy wrappers, they will keep in an airtight container for several weeks. I like to keep them in the fridge!

Pieces of caramel on a countertop

Expert Tips & Tricks

  • Testing the temperature: The most important part of making homemade caramels is to be sure they come up to the right temperature. For soft caramels 238F is the perfect temperature. I like to use a candy thermometer while I’m stirring/cooking the caramels then double check the temperature with an instant thermometer.
  • Testing the consistency: I highly recommend using a thermometer AND the cold water test to be sure you get perfectly chewy candies. To do the cold water test, simply fill a small cup with cold water then drizzle a little of the caramel into the cup. You should be able to use your fingers to form it into a stable ball, but it will still be soft and easy to squish.
  • Use a stainless steel pot if possible! These caramels turn out much butter when made in a stainless steel pot (as opposed to an enameled Dutch Oven).
A piece of caramel with a bite taken out of it, and more caramels in the background

I hope you love this recipe as much as we do! If you try these homemade caramels, be sure to leave me a comment/rating below. I’d love to hear from you!

one caramel cube on parchment paper
4.97 from 117 votes

Soft, Buttery Homemade Caramels

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr
Servings 80 servings
Soft, buttery homemade caramels! A tried-and-true recipe you'll want to make every Christmas. Hundreds of reviewers agree these are the most delicious homemade soft caramels around!
This post was originally published in 2012. It has been updated with new step-by-step photos but the recipe is still the same treasured recipe from an old church cookbook.

Video

Ingredients

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 sticks butter 1 cup
  • 2 cups white corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 12 oz. cans evaporated milk

Instructions 

  • Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Melt the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt together in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. (A stainless steel pot works best for these caramels.)
  • Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the evaporated milk a little at a time, taking 10-15 minutes per can and stirring constantly. A labor of love indeed.
  • Once all the milk is added use a candy thermometer and bring the mixture to 238F-240F and not any hotter! Even a few degrees hotter will make them chewy instead of soft. (This will take another 15 minutes or so!) I highly recommend double checking the temperature with an instant read thermometer as it comes to temperature.
  • Immediately pour into the prepared pan and cool completely. Cut and serve. Enjoy!

Notes

Optional but delicious: I also love adding the seeds of a vanilla bean to these caramels. Just add scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean pod and add them in with the sugar. They’re also delicious topped with some flaky sea salt.
STORAGE
I like to individually wrap these caramels in pre-cut wrappers from Amazon. From there, you can store them in an airtight container or in a candy jar. I like to store them in the fridge. They will last several weeks!
RECIPE NOTES
  • Testing the temperature: The most important part of making homemade caramels is to be sure they come up to the right temperature. For soft caramels 238F is the perfect temperature. I like to use a candy thermometer while I’m stirring/cooking the caramels then double check the temperature with an instant thermometer.
  • Testing the consistency: I highly recommend using a thermometer AND the cold water test to be sure you get perfectly chewy candies. To do the cold water test, simply fill a small cup with cold water then drizzle a little of the caramel into the cup. You should be able to use your fingers to form it into a stable ball, but it will still be soft and easy to squish.
  • Use a stainless steel pot if possible! These caramels turn out much butter when made in a stainless steel pot (as opposed to an enameled Dutch Oven).

Nutrition

Calories: 69kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 39mg | Potassium: 15mg | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 10IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 14mg

Categories: , , , , ,

Hi, I’m Erin!

BS Food Science,

MS Nutrition

I believe you can make amazing, gluten-free food with everyday ingredients that everyone will enjoy. I’m here to share my tried-and-true recipes with you!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Very tasty! Once I took the pot off the stove, I added two teaspoons of vanilla extract and two teaspoons of imitation raspberry extract. Now they taste like Brach Royals!

  2. I have a heavy 4-quart stainless saucepan. Is that large enough? If not, my only heavy pot is the enameled Dutch oven. I noticed that your photos show an enameled pot, I’m guessing that the reason you don’t recommend it is that it stays lava-hot and possibly jeopardizes overcooking the caramel as you’re trying to stop the cooking process at the desired temperature. Plus, it would be heavy and very hot to pour out the candy. Thank you for the delicious-looking recipe and outstanding instructions.

    1. Yes! The process shots need to be updated to show a stainless steel pot. A 4-quart should do the trick. You’re totally right about the enameled pot holding too much heat! I hope you enjoy the caramels 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    This is my 2nd writting. I LOVE these caramels and I love making them. Everyone just sings their praises! I haven’t had a person yet that doesn’t come back for more! I love salted caramels so I do add the flake salt immediately after pouring.

    I started making these when the recipe said to take 15 minutes per can when adding the milk. And I minded that! I think it is fine that it changed a bit. I do however stir my pot the entire time the caramels are cooking, not just when adding the milk. Does everyone else?

    Another question I have is this – I have never finished these in the 45 minute cook time that is noted in the recipe? Not even an hour. I do like my caramels chewy so “yes” this takes a bit longer, but my caramels always take a good 1hour and 45 minutes to bring the temperature up to 140°? And I always have it going at a slow rolling boil and stirring constantly. I’m just curious how they could get done in the 45 minutes or even just an hour?

    Finally I purchase the 2.9″ x 3.1″ clear cellophane self sealing treat bags from Amazon to place each of my 1″ caramels in. I get 1,000 of them for about $14. They work so nicely and look so nice for gift giving. I’ll start making them soon for all the Holiday gifting coming up.

    Thank You for one of my favorite recipes!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the caramels! I’ve found it works ok to add the canned milk taking closer to 10 minutes instead of 15 so I wanted to give that option to speed things up just a bit. How long this recipe takes to make can depend on so much! If you live at altitude it will take longer as well as how much you stir, how hot your stove is, etc. Great to know about the treat bags! I’ll have to go check those out. Thanks for the comment and so glad you love the recipe!

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