Salted Butter Caramels

pouring caramel

I had a wee bit of a dilemma recently. In my refrigerator was a half-jar of crème fraîche, that I had to use up before I left for a recent vacation on the beach. I’d been thinking about making caramels with it, but I also knew that I would be slipping on a swimsuit within a few weeks. And being alone in my apartment with an open jar of ultra-rich crème fraîche was probably not a good idea.

bordier butter salted cup of creme fraiche

So what did I do? I hemmed and hawed about it, until I channeled my mother, who would have flipped out if I tossed away the rest of the crème fraîche. (Or anything, for that matter.)

So I made caramels.

starting caramel

I love candy making and used to dream of opening a shop that only sold homemade candy. I don’t think it’d be much of a success, simply because a lot of people don’t care about homemade candy as much as I do. But when you make it yourself, you can use the best ingredients and anyone who has ever experience the smell of good cream and butter sizzling in a pot of deep-dark caramel knows what I’m talking about.

creme fraiche lyle's golden syrup

When I moved to France, I picked up my wonderful copper candy pot at a flea market for about €30, which I treasure, and it’s really sturdy. But unlike the copper pot—and everyone who lives in France is going to love me for this—you know how the aluminum foil here is thinner than newsprint and rips as soon as you try to shape it around anything?

aluminum foil foil-lined pan

Get yourself to Auchan, which I learned a few years ago, has heavy-duty foil. It’s amazing how the little things make me happy nowadays, like a pot of cream or sturdy foil, isn’t it?

sugar and syrup caramel pot handle

Speaking of thick French things, the first time I tried these, the thick crème fraîche, 40% fat content, made them smell amazing when I cooked the caramel, but the finished caramels were oozing silky, slippery, butterfat all over the place. And while delicious, the little squares were a bit hard to hold on to and my head hurt thinking about the comments that would generate ; )

Curiously, in France, it’s very easy to find crème fraîche in any supermarket. But fresh, pourable heavy cream (crème liquide) is difficult to find. Like in the states, ultra-pasteurized is what’s usually available. But do try to find one that’s fresh, not ultra-pasteurized.

happy caramel caramel spoon

Because salted butter caramel deserves only over-the-top ingredients, my Bordier salted butter was called into service. I have three or four kinds of butter on hand at all times, but reserve this mostly for spreading on my morning toast because it’s so precious. It’s €1.80 for 125 g (about 4 ounces, or 1 stick) and even though it’s pricey, I’d pay twice that it’s so good. So don’t tell the fromager who I get it from. (Who last time winked at me, which was worth the extra euros!)

A few tips:

1. Pay attention all the time. Don’t leave the kitchen with a pot of caramel boiling and use a heavy-bottomed, large saucepan. And be aware that the boiling caramel is very hot so take precautions handling it at all times.

2. Have all your equipment and ingredients ready. Pretend you’re a surgeon and have all your tools well-arranged before you start.

3. Candy making depends on accuracy, so you’ll need a candy thermometer. Don’t use those one of those with a probe at the end of a metal cord. I had a Polder one and the device blew out on its first use. When I called, they said if the probe touches the bottom of the pot, which is hotter than the syrup, that can happen. So that was $30 down in the trash and they refused to replace it. Lesson learned.

Hand-held digital probe thermometers are inconvenient for candy making, so I use a simple bulb one, a Taylor. You can get candy thermometers inexpensively in almost any supermarket or hardware store. If you’re unsure if your thermometer is accurate, bring a pot of water to a boil with the thermometer in it; at sea level, it should read 212ºF (100ºC.)

cutting butter in melting butter in caramel

3. Use a heatproof spatula. I am a huge fan of the spoon-spatulas made my Le Creuset. When I taught classes in various Sur La Table stores, I’d get to the stores a few hours early and make a beeline for the Sale rack which was full of discontinued merchandise. Le Creuset runs various colors at certain times of the year (orange, for example, around Halloween, red around Valentine’s Day). And afterward, the items got heavily-reduced so I’d snatch up as many as I could. They’re pretty great.

4. Don’t overstir the syrup. Sugar is a crystal and once you melt it, stirring encourages those crystals to hook back up. So only stir as much as necessary to keep the mixture smooth and to make sure nothing is burning on the bottom.

5. These caramels are slightly firm, but will still melt in your mouth. Waving the blade of a sharp chef’s knife over the flame on a gas burned to warm it will help you get nice, even slices if you do it before each cut.

Salted Butter Caramels
Print Recipe
40-50 candies
Because many people are leery of corn syrup, you can use Golden or rice syrup in this recipe in its place. (For those into agave nectar, I haven’t tried it, but suspect it may not have the right sugar density for candy making.) If using one of these darker syrups, you’ll need to be a bit vigilant and stir it as it’s cooking, since it can cook quickly in certain spots of the pan. Your finished caramels will also be darker, too. I use salted butter. Traditional wisdom was to only use unsalted butter in baking so you could control the amount of salt. But I like the slightly funky taste of salted butter, and if you can find one that’s cultured, the flavor is incomparable. If you only have unsalted butter, just add a few extra flecks of salt to the cream.
3/4 cup (180ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, bean paste, or powder
rounded 1/2 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt, preferably fleur de sel
1/2 cup (160g) light corn syrup, golden syrup (such as Lyle's) or rice syrup*
1 cup (200g) sugar
4 tablespoons (60g) total, salted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1. Line a 9-inch (23 cm) loaf pan with foil and spray the inside with cooking spray.
2. Heat the cream with 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan with the vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm while you cook the syrup.
3. In a medium, heavy duty saucepan (4 quarts, 4l), fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the corn syrup, golden, or rice syrup with the sugar, and cook, stirring gently, to make sure the sugar melts smoothly. Once the mixture is melted together and the sugar is evenly moistened, only stir is as necessary to keep it from getting any hot spots.
4. Cook until the syrup reaches 310ºF (155ºC).
To get an accurate reading while the syrup is cooking, tilt the saucepan to make sure the bulb of the thermometer is fully submerged in the syrup, tilting the pan if necessary.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in the warm cream mixture, until smooth.
5. Turn the heat back on and cook the mixture to 260F (127C).
6. Remove the pan from the heat, lift out the thermometer, and stir in the cubes of butter, until it’s melted and the mixture smooth.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and wait ten minutes, then sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the sea salt over the top. Set on a cool rack and let cool completely. Once cool, lift out the foil with the caramel, peel away the foil, and slice the bar of caramel with a long, sharp knife into squares or rectangles.

Storage: These caramels can be individually-wrapped in cellophane or waxed paper. Once cut, they may stick together if not wrapped. Store in an air-tight container, and they’ll keep for about one month.

*The rice syrup I use is from the Asian market I shop at, found in the Korean foods aisle. I don’t know how it compares to rice syrup sold in natural food’s stores, but if anyone knows, you are welcome to leave that information in the comments.

Related Recipes and Links

Candy Thermometers

Caramel Wrappers (Amazon)

Baking Ingredients and Substitutions

Candied Peanuts

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

How To Make the Perfect Caramel

Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Butter Cups

Peanut Butter Cookies with Salted Peanut Caramel

Triple Chocolate Scotcheroos

Salted Butter Caramel Sauce (Smitten Kitchen)

Valrhona Chocolate School

Quince Caramels (Chez Pim)

White Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats

Espresso Caramels (101 Cookbooks)

Coffee Toffee (Zoë Bakes)

Le Roux Salted Butter Caramels

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch

Chocolate Almond Buttercrunch Toffee

Lyle’s Golden Syrup (Amazon)

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  • Susie
    October 4, 2010 11:41pm

    Just made the caramels with Lundberg brown rice syrup – Came out perfectly. Truly luscious, and I followed the recipe except used 1/2 c of this syrup instead of the corn syrup. No burning problems. Yay, thanks for the great detailed directions!!

  • Juay
    October 27, 2010 7:36am

    I like the way you write about the salted Caramels, for sure, you are one who is a candy passionate. Do let me know if the homemade candy shop works out. Do sell online too, so I can order a batch :)

  • Annemette
    November 4, 2010 7:25pm

    Hi David
    I found your recipe by luck, and just made these caramel for the second time – amazing! first time with honey and second time with syrup (since corn syrup costs a fortune here in Denmark)
    I have tried for years to make great caramels, but never really suceeded in getting the right texture (have made very good amazing caramelsauces though!)
    Thank you so much! I will definately follow your blog! love your writing and easy-to-follow recipes AND that you tell the amounts in g and ml – makes it so much easier!

  • bani
    November 22, 2010 3:10am

    This Salted Butter Caramels look very delicious! I will try this recipe for my guests!

  • Jenn
    November 23, 2010 6:48pm

    hi David,

    I’ve been looking at a number of recipes for caramels, and most of them seem to have you stop between 240-248 – yours is the only one I’ve seen that goes to 260. Does that mean these will be harder than most caramels? or is there some other reason to go to 260?

    here is an example:

    thank you!

  • Jem
    December 4, 2010 1:40am

    I made these last night and they’re a total hit with my family! In the future I’d like to add flavors to the base…could you advise how you would add flavor? Amount? Would you keep the salt/butter measurements the same?

    Thanks in advance for any info you can offer!

  • December 4, 2010 9:25am
    David Lebovitz

    Jem: You would need to add an extract or oil, which are very concentrated flavors. I did mention citrus oils on the site a while back but natural food stores and cookware & candymaking stores and websites sell extracts/oils as well.

    Jenn: Mine has you add butter after they’re cooked, which lowers the temperature.

  • Maureen
    December 13, 2010 10:53pm

    I need a video for this one! Would you consider making a caramel-making video? I tried to make caramel with my sister when I was a kid and we poured the caramel on the plate and it got hard and stuck to the glass plate-we had to throw the caramel and the plate away. I tried again several years ago and I thought I was doing everything right, but I could never get the caramel to reach the right temperature. It kept bubbling and stayed at the same temperature but I neeeded it to go higher to get to the right stage. I am scared to make caramel. It reminds me of this Martha Setwart Mag in the 90’s that had Gelato recipes. I was dying to try to make gelato. I had to steep the hazelnuts for 24 or 48 hours. Then I went to cook it and it curdled right away! Disaster! I am a much better baker now, but I don’t want to attempt caramels again until I get a grip on what exactly needs to be done for it to turn out right. Thanks for all your great posts-I read them with a cup of coffee!

  • December 15, 2010 2:14pm

    LOL! Hi David, I found this post because I was trying to work out what to do with the unopened container of pouring cream in my fridge, it was nearing its expiry date. Read this post in the afternoon, rushed out to get golden syrup and caramels are cooling on counter as I type this. Thank you! (Already tasted cooled bits off the spatula, I know I’m going to have trouble restraining myself).

    Question: can I just double the recipe if I want to make a large batch or will that throw the measurements out? Thanks again.

  • December 15, 2010 6:09pm
    David Lebovitz

    shaz: Candy can be tricky so am not sure if this recipe works well if doubled. But if you give it a go, let me know how it turns out.

    Maureen: If the temperature isn’t rising on your thermometer, you might want to check it for accuracy. You can bring a pot of water to a boil with the thermometer in it (don’t plunge a cold thermometer into a hot pot or it can break)-and the temperature should read 212ºF, or 100ºC.

  • December 19, 2010 2:37pm

    Thanks David. Just wanted to let you know that I have made another batch (doubled) and it worked perfectly fine. I measured everything rather than use cups and tablespoons. The recipe even survived the addition of 60ml milk to make up 360ml (my carton of cream only measured 300ml). To flavour, I steeped cloves in the cream overnight, and sprinkled home-made orange salt over the top. Perfect for christmas gifts :) Thanks again for such a great recipe.

  • elizabeth627
    December 19, 2010 11:42pm

    My caramels while flavorful are hard, more toffee-like. Did I go to high a temp at the second stage or stir the sugar too much. I used really good butter.

  • Kristin
    December 20, 2010 8:28am

    I made two batches of your caramel today. The first with corn syrup and the second with Lundberg brown rice syrup. I made no other alterations. The batch with the brown rice syrup was definitely harder, almost toffee-like. The flavor was comparable to the corn syrup version; perhaps a little deeper, richer flavor. I would use the brown rice syrup again but will try cooking it to a little lower temperature, perhaps about five degrees on the first boil. Thanks. This was a easy to follow and yummy recipe.

  • Pat
    December 23, 2010 12:27am

    David, I was on the verge of swearing off of making caramels when I found this recipe. I screwed up several batches following different methods and felt utterly defeated.

    I modified this to make rosemary scented sea salt caramels that I’ve dipped in 70% cacao. They are incredible. I split the difference between hard and soft ball to get the consistency I wanted. I will definitely be making these again.

    Thanks again. I finally feel like I can make caramels. Wahoo!

  • Maz
    January 18, 2011 6:56pm

    Thank you David. Each of your recipes is great. I doubled the recipe (one for me and one for everyone else ;) and followed it exactly. I didn’t use foil – we don’t get along. But, I lined a jelly roll pain with parchment paper. I poured it in a thin layer, added the sea salt 10 mins later. After it cooled, i placed it on a cutting board, used a zyliss pizza slicer and sliced strips length and width to create rectangles/squares. I cut up parchment paper and wrapped each onederful little treat. I used Maldon sea salt, store bought unsalted butter, sugar and heavy cream… superb. Next time, I might try with more expensive ingredients. I hope I die on a day that I’ve had a few of these caramels. :)

  • Angela
    February 3, 2011 9:08pm

    Same message on your FB page. Thanks. I just submitted a recipe to the food52 cardamom contest for “Salted Orange Cardamom Caramels – with or without pistachios or chocolate” and I borrowed heavily from your Salted Butter Caramels. This in my head note with a link, is it OK? Caramels are intimidating & tricky but your technique really works. I also posted on my rarely visited & sporadically posted on blog.
    Salted Orange Cardamom Caramels – with or without pistachios or chocolate.

  • February 10, 2011 2:17pm

    First, I am a big fan; your recipes are wonderful as is your prose! I am going to try these using barley malt syrup and wondered if you thought that would work. I use brown rice syrup all the time to replace corn syrup in candymaking.

  • February 10, 2011 5:04pm
    David Lebovitz

    Nancy: I haven’t tried it with barley malt but if you do, please let me know how it works out. Happy candymaking!

    For additional information and advice about substituting ingredients, check out my post Baking Ingredients and Substitutions.