Artisan Caramels (NO CORN SYRUP)

Artisan Caramels (NO CORN SYRUP)

New Years may have come and gone, but I’ve still got a lot of foodie resolutions to accomplish. Besides for the typical “I’m finally going to lose those stubborn 20 lbs. I’ve been struggling with” promises, I decided to tackle some things in the kitchen this year, and I don’t just mean cooking diet food.

I meet people all the time and one of the questions I’m often asked is, “Are you a chef?”, and I never quite know what to say. Sure I’m a recipe developer who develops custom recipes for companies, writes for food magazines and teaches cooking classes, but am I a CHEF? To me, being a chef is not about the certificate (although I did go to culinary school) or which restaurant you work in. Being a chef means food is your passion, and you are constantly striving to keep with the times and get better at what you do.

Being a chef, to me, means you watch cooking shows and read food magazines in your free time. It means you experiment with cooking techniques and ingredients and you’re never satisfied with the status quo. It means you must try the latest sous vide machine and keep up with the ever-changing food trends. It means you don’t say “I don’t do pastry” or “Smoking is not my thing”.

So when I thought about my foodie resolutions this year, I decided that I have to try everything at least once. There’s no more “I don’t bake” or “I don’t do dough”. If food is my passion (it is!), then I want to be well versed in all things food. Over the past few months, I’ve been taking this commitment to heart, and I’m happy to say I’ve mastered these things in 2015:

✔️ made my own sourdough bread
✔️ learned to cook sous vide
✔️ made a variety of pickled vegetables
✔️ Used fondant for the first time
✔️ Created my own blend of dukkah
✔️ Cooked with plantains
✔️ Made homemade krembos
✔️ Made bread bowls for soup
✔️ Spiralized everything!
✔️ Learned to tolerate cilantro (this is a real victory for me!)
✔️ Made cauliflower everything (rice, couscous, buns, pizza crust, nachos chips)

Now for 2016, some of my foodie resolutions included:

✔️ Learn to smoke meats
✔️ Make kimchi
✔️ Make homemade soft pretzels
✔️ Make my own laffa and pita
✔️ Experiment with flavored sugars and salts
✔️ Deep fry a poached egg
✔️ Make egg yolk ravioli
✔️ Make caramel
✔️ Bake with kataifi

I’m happy to say that as of this writing, I’ve already made homemade pita, and obviously I’ve mastered the art of homemade caramel!

I have to hand it all to my dear foodie friend Melinda Strauss of kitchen-tested, the caramel queen! ‘Mels are even part of Melinda’s name, that’s just how much caramel runs through her veins. She used to sell the most incredible nondairy caramels, aptly named caraMELS, and when I decided to take on the caramel challenge, I knew just who to turn to!

The truth is, this dedicated caramel post was never supposed to happen. Instead, I was working on a special PECAN TURTLE recipe for next week’s blogoversary post, and when I posted pics of the caramel making process, everyone went gaga with requests. And since the caramel making process was a journey in itself (it took three tries to get it right), I decided it deserved a dedicated post.

Melinda gave me a basic recipe to work with, and she really held my hand through the process. Mel and I both have a passion for health-minded recipes, and we both decided that pulling off a corn-syrup-free caramel would be an amazing feat. Most homemade caramel recipes call for corn syrup, and they are a lot easier to make, but I was up for the challenge. After my second batch burnt though, I was feel frustrated and almost ready to give up. But I persevered and boy was it worth it!

The best part about working on three batches of these babies was being able to play around with the ratios to make the perfect combination of chewiness and buttery flavor. Mel was kind of worried when I wanted to add more cream and butter but the proportions worked out perfectly in the end. #thirdtimesacharm.

Stay tuned for a special blogoversary post next week featuring this caramel!

Related Recipes:

s’mores toffee bark
speculoos toffee party mix

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140 thoughts on “Artisan Caramels (NO CORN SYRUP)

      1. Hi, follow up! Where I live, whipping cream is 30-33% fat (as compared to US Heavy cream at at least 36%) and the higher creme double (40%) is not liquid (like creme fraiche). Is it alright to go with the slightly lower fat content whipping cream, or will the caramel suffer for that? Add more butter to even it out?

      1. It is technically possible to use the water drop test if you do not have a thermometer. Considering the low price of a thermometer, it is best to have one. But the water drop test can in some cases be more reliable as altitude can in some cases mess with the exact temp, from what I hear. The water drop test is pretty accurate.I

        I have made several very successful batches of caramel without using the thermometer. Between knowing how the stages look, and using the water test, it is something that is possible.

        1. I am a local Artisan caramel maker out of Idaho and I was only taught to use the water drop test. This has been the method handed down through my family for generations. I actually don’t even know what it would be on a thermometer, lol. It is extremely reliable.

  1. Would I be able to substitute creme fraiche for the heavy cream, or would you lose the chemical properties of using a liquid cream?

    1. I used heavy cream that I separated from milk I pasteurized and the separated with my cream separator. I then left it in the fridge for two nights as I didn’t have time to make the caramels that night. The whole batch of cream had clotted to a spreadable cheese consistency. It melted right into the caramels no problem. The only thing I might be concerned about is that the creme fraiche might be a bit too acidic, but the only way to know for sure is to try.

    1. Well a few things – make sure you use a heavy bottomed pot. Also, you can’t rush the process. Let it do it’s thing, even if it takes a long time. You’re heat also can’t be too high otherwise it will burn before it reaches 350. Good luck!

  2. When I made these the caramel got very gritty and the bottom of the pot became covered with a crystalized solid. I used room temp. cream, but it was terrible. What did i do wrong?

      1. I added the cream and butter just fine, but as I stirred it the caramel gradually built up crystals in the liquid and all over the bottom of the pan.

    1. I have made this recipe substituting citric acid crystals for cream of tartar. I think I kept the amount the same, but I might have doubled the citric acid to be sure. It seemed to inhibit the crystallization the same, as it was the same as the other batches I had made with cream of tartar. Citric acid can often be found with the canning supplies. I would imaging that lemon juice can also be used, but probably a tablespoon (that’s just a guess) or so would be needed. The only way to know for sure is to try!

    2. Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and cream of tartar. I’m not sure if it would work for caramel, but it’s viable for homemade play dough!

  3. I have made this three times and it is the best caramel I have ever eaten. I keep it on low (1) when melting sugar and turn to (4) to start boil and then once it bubbles back it off to (3). Perfect every time. I use all organic ingredients and it is awesome as pieces, caramel apples and turtles with cashews. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Terry!! That is awesome, and reassuring (!!) considering that some readers had a hard time with this recipe. Caramel is so fickle, it was hard to know if it was my recipe, or it was caramel being caramel!

  4. I can finally make caramel without GMO corn syrup! Thank you! It coats apples really well and actually sticks compared to the corn syrup caramel that slides off the apple after drying. This caramel is VERY sticky though…I hope I don’t lose a filling. But anyway, this recipe coated 5 apples and made 30 Christmas pecan, caramel, chocolate turtles.

    1. Thank you for show much for sharing the yield on this. I’m so happy it worked out for you! I was really passionate about coming up with a recipe that has no corn syrup because it’s so hard to find!

      1. Cream of tartar provides acidity. Acidity keeps the sugar syrup from crystallizing. You can absolutely substitute cream of tartar for lemon juice, ACV, or plain white distilled vinegar. I used a capful of WDV with great success. The trade off is the caramels are just a bit stickier.

    1. Hi Lindsey, no that is not a typo. This caramel is different from other caramels because it is not made with corn syrup. So with these, you’re kind of starting off making your own corn syrup. You have to bring the caramel to temperature very slowly or it can burn really quickly.

  5. I made these today, exactly as posted. They did burn. 350 is way too high a temp for this recipe. Thought you should know, whole thing in the trash.

    1. Hi Renee! I’m so sorry to hear that your caramel burnt, however, 350 is NOT a typo. This recipe is different from other caramels because it does not call for corn syrup. With this recipe, you are basically making your own corn syrup, so the mixture has to come very slowly to 350 degrees. You cannot rush the process or it will burn. I have made these caramels countless times, and many readers have made them sucessfully as well. Sometimes it takes several tries until you get it right. If you’are looking for an easier caramel, go for a corn syrup based recipe.

      1. It took my stove nearly 20 minutes for the sugar to dissolve, and at least 30 minutes to reach 350. Stoves differ, but patience is the only key.
        Delicious and perfect results.

  6. This is exactly what I was looking for, thank you for taking the time to figure this out. I make caramels every year for my family but I’ve been determined to find one without corn syrup. Everything else I found just didn’t sound right. I haven’t made these yet, but I’m super excited to try. A little intimidated about bringing it to 350°, removing it, then returning it (gasp) to heat, but I’m taking your word for it! Thanks again.

    1. Hi Kristen! it’s definitely an intimidating process, much more so than if you were using corn syrup (because in essence, you are making your own). Just go slow and don’t rush things and you should be ok!

  7. Three burned batches. First was medium-high heat, the second was medium heat, the third was minimal heat. The mixture of 1 cup water, 2 cups sugar, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar burns at 300 degrees F. This happens every time. Please adjust your recipe.

    1. Hi Eric, I’m so sorry to hear that you burned through three batches of caramel, that must be seriously upsetting! I actually burned through two the first time I tested this recipe, so I totally get it. But that being said – this recipe is 100% accurate. There are lots of readers that have made them successfully. Caramels without corn syrup are very difficult to pull off. It’s a slow process.

    2. Try making it without a thermometer and just watch for the color to be medium-dark amber before removing from heat to add cream and butter. I did this and they turned out perfect.

  8. This was my first venture into candy making and I am pleased to say it was successful! I went super slow, to the point where I almost wasn’t sure anything was happening, and it worked great. I’m on the hunt for a good vegan alternative to make for friends, I might try this recipe with coconut cream and coconut oil…wish me luck! Thanks!

    1. Oh thank goodness Killian! I was starting to second guess my own recipe after a few readers had some trouble with it! I’m SO glad it worked for you! Let me know how the vegan version works out, I am so curious about that!

  9. Is this a hard Carmel or a soft one? We use carmels for our gingerbread house chimney, but don’t like to buys the junk ones any more.

  10. They turned out wonderfully! I know folks with burned batches are frustrated and I completely understand that. But I did follow this to a T, having never made a successful batch of caramel in my life. I’ve tried many recipes and none have panned out for me. I appreciate the thorough instructions. Sometimes we can’t point out the exact factor that causes a recipe flop. It could be any number of things. But, yes, 350 is correct and yes, it was a sloooooow process. But I had the time and they turned out very nicely. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for sharing Tori, I am so happy to hear that! Every time someone comments that they’ve had a fail, I second guess my recipe, until messages like these come along and I know I’m not crazy!!

  11. I haven’t tried these yet, but am so excited to make them! I hate using any ingredients of questionable quality and love that there isn’t any yucky corn syrup in this recipe. I was wondering if adding another extract to the recipe would compromise the end result? I wanted to try making a coffe-flavored version… my husband’s favorite. Thank you!

    1. Hi Amy, I haven’t tried it but I don’t think it would compromise the recipe. Although for coffee flavor, I would add grounds instead of extract! It adds great texture and amazing coffee flavor.

  12. I just made them and they turned out perfectly!
    I don’t have a candy thermometer, I just went by colour and smell AND I swapped the cream of tartar with a little lemon juice. It still turned out great, thanks to your amazing recipe!!:)

  13. :( I tried. I went sooo slowly. It took my an hour on the first step. Finally went clear and I brought the burner up to medium low. Maybe I went too slow? Probably not possible. I was at the point of waiting until 350 and it started smelling burned. So I stopped at 340. They tasted burned. Not sure I have the patience to try again. I did everything properly to the T! Read through all the comments and still have no idea what I did wrong.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear Jessica – caramel is so extremely fickle, especially so when you don’t use cornstarch. There are so many factors that could have went wrong. Perhaps as you mentioned, you went too slow?

  14. Made these last night. Followed the recipe to a T. They are too soft – like they didn’t set up enough. It’s too thick for sauce, but too soft to wrap individually. Perfect for a drizzle.

    I’ll recalibrate the thermometer on the next batch. They don’t taste burned, though! That’s what I was afraid of. Step two did take nearly an hour, though. Even in my solid copper candy-making pot.

    So, I’m going to enjoy my squishy caramel and try again for firmer ones. Good thing I bought a quart of cream!

    Thank you for a great recipe!

    1. Oh gosh Lisa, I’m so sorry this recipe didn’t work for you! If you read the comments above, you’ll see that it did work for some and not others. I know that once happened to me too when I made them and I just kept them in the freezer to hold their shape.

      1. Oh, DON’T be sorry. It worked perfectly. I’m so grateful to have this recipe and I’m quite sure the fault was mine. Or, the weather. Putting them in the freezer is a great idea. For now, we’re using it to dip apples in. Thank you again!!

  15. Great recipe.Made a few changes – used lemon juice instead
    of cream of tartar.I don’t have a candy thermometer so heated till I got a soft ball consistency and then added butter and cream.I was dreading crystallization but thankfully nothing happened. Next time I am thinking of adding instant coffee powder at the end as I love the flavor .Do you think it would be OK?Thanks a million .

  16. Great recipe!! It was the first time that I attempted to make caramel (to coat apples) and I followed the recipe exactly as you said (and was anxious and nervous the whole time), but it turned out great.
    I do think that for apples it needs to be a little thicker though, kind of “milkier”, should I increase the amount of cream, butter or maybe reduce a little the water of the first step? what do you think?

    THANK YOU for making a recipe without Corn Syrup, I can’t find that in my country. I am very greatfull.

  17. I made these without cream of tartar and with 2% milk and it turned out perfect!!! Thank you so much for the recipe!

  18. Hi!

    I am so excited to announce that my mom and I made these today and they turned out absolutely perfect! We are not bakers or candy makers and we are first timers! Thank you so much for a wonderful recipe! They are delicious!

  19. Your recipe is amazing. this was my first time trying making caramel and it went fabulously!
    I do want to make it a little ticker and creamier though, do you think the solution would be to put more cream or butter in? or maybe even less water at the beginning with the sugar?

  20. Made these exactly as published and they were amazing. Added cardamom and pistachios to the end of the second batch and they were even more amazing. But I would like to use preserves in my next batch. What are your thoughts— Do I add it up front and melt with sugar mixture and would there be any modifications to the recipe/procedure?

    1. Hi Natalie! Cardamom and pistachios sound so amazing!! I have never tried adding preserves so I’m not entirely sure, since caramels are so finicky, I’m always scared to play around too much.

  21. have you ever added flavor essence to any batches? (like orange?) and if so, where in the process would I add that? my guess is substitute in place of the vanilla?

  22. My daughter an I make Turtles every year at Christmas. We have finally perfected Joy of Cooking’s Vanella Caramels. Megan came across your recipe as we would too do not wish to use corn syrup. However we are at high altitude, 5600 ft, which makes a difference in candy making for us. We get a nice firmness at about 230°. How would you suggest adjusting your recipe as I don’t see what altitude you are making your caramels?

    1. Hey Mags, to be honest, this blog post was my first try at caramels (and took me three tries to perfect it!) and I don’t feel qualified enough to answer your question. I am sure the altitude makes a difference, and I live in New York, so perhaps do some research and see if you can find anything online. Good luck!

    1. This seems like such a great recipe, but I burnt a few batches even when going slow :( but now I bought a copper pot and my first batch tastes fantastic! My other pot was heavy bottomed, but I think I was having trouble with hotspots. Also, when I tip the hot syrup toward the thermometer I get a better reading, which I wasn’t doing before. Finally, I also calibrated my candy thermometer by boiling water and seeing how far my thermometer is off (due to altitude and perhaps my thermometer not being spot on accurate). All these things helped me not burn my caramels, I think!
      Besides that, I do have a couple questions. When I added cream and butter, my temperature didn’t drop below 248 even though I had it off the heat for a couple minutes. Was something amiss? I ended up just adding the vanilla and moving on, but my caramels were a little on the soft side, though I don’t know if this was the reason. If I wanted a firmer caramel, would I cook it longer pre cream or post cream? Thanks for a corn syrup free caramel!

  23. I didn’t read every comment, so maybe someone said this already. IF your caramel is burning at 300 degrees, it might be worth considering that the pot is not at 300 degrees, just the mixture. Things that can make the bottom of the pot high enough to burn your caramel are the thickness of the metal.The type of metal. How the bottom is formed. An electric burner with a hot spot.

    Th recipe says “stop stirring.” That’s when your pan can heat up and burn your mixture. I’m not offering a solution, just wanting to point to a culprit.

    The other element that can affect your result, is altitude.

    And for those who asked. Brown sugar makes an excellent caramel in recipes without corn syrup.

  24. Maybe it should go without saying but, DO NOT taste after adding cream and butter and the mixture stops boiling. It is still brutally hot. (DUH!) I burned roof of my mouth due to habit of tasting food for seasoning. I have nevermade candy or carmels so this danger wasnt in forefront of my mind and should have been.OUCH.

  25. This is my 3rd time making this recipe and It turned out a Little more sticky than the first two times but I guess it’s because I used a different king of heavy cream that was not as thick as the previous ones.
    I have a question about temperatures!
    I know this is a soft chewy caramel but if I wanted it harder will the temperature need to be higher than 350?
    Would you happen to know at what point to pull it from the heat??
    Thanks for sharing this recipe, as was looking for one without the corn syrup and yours is fantastic!!!

    1. I learned to make caramel the old fashioned way from my mom, using the “soft ball” check in water. If you want to make a firmer caramel, you definitely need to heat it to a higher temperature. If you’d like to check the firmness, fill a small bowl with cold water and drip a bit of the candy into the center of the bowl. You should drip enough to make a large marble. Using your fingers, collect the drips into a ball in the water and see how firm it is. I like a slightly firmer caramel too, and just used this method yesterday to increase the texture of the caramel I was making. Once the candy is at the firmness you like, take it off and note the temperature for future reference. BTW, my 12 year old daughter used this recipe last Christmas to make for her friends. She dipped the caramel in chocolate afterwards. It was seriously amazing! I’m making it today as holiday treats for friends. Thanks for a great recipe!

  26. Thanks for this recipe! I’ve made it three times now over the last couple weeks and it has turned out perfectly each time. We are living overseas and it is difficult to come by corn syrup, so this has been a Godsend. It took a while to find the whipping cream as well, but we finally located that as well. Thanks for working the bugs out so we don’t have to. When ingredients are hard to find, you don’t want to waste any by attempts that don’t work out!

  27. I made these twice now. I’ve made all sorts of candy before so I was faily certain I could make this one. The first time the sugar burned just a little over 300 and that was with me watching it like a hawk and taking 45 minutes to get to that temp. The second time, the mixture was getting dark and really the perfect color but I could tell it was close to burning by smell. I kept tasting throughout by dropping some mixture in ice water to see if I was burning it. The consistency was hard crack so instead of taking it all the way up to 350 and risk burning it and wasting ingredients, I stopped at 300 and added the butter and heavy cream. I then heated it to 260 for a hard ball stage and proceeded with the recipe. They came out great.

    1. Hi Joan, I haven’t really played around with this recipe too much so I can’t recommend based on experience. I think I would love an espresso flavored caramel!

  28. I tried this recipe and followed directions carefully. watched it very carefully. Could not let it get up beyond 200 degrees as it was already scorched even with periodic swirling and lowering the temperature.. Horrible, bitter. Frustrated because I used to make delicious caramels with Corn Syrup but am looking for a better recipe. What did I do wrong?

      1. I tried this recipe over the weekend. I cooked the sugar mixture probably more slowly than need be so it took forever, but I did not experience any burning issues like so many others. I followed the instructions for the last cooking step and took it off the heat when it reached 248 degrees, however, the caramels never really set up properly. They are ok if I keep them in the refrigerator but at room temperature are somewhat runny. Any idea what the problem/solution could be? Should I have just cooked the last step longer and tested it with cold water?

  29. I made a batch of there over the weekend. Everything seemed to work perfectly. I cooked the middle step on the lower end of medium high so it took forever but they didn’t burn. BUT once cooled, the caramels were very soft and did not hold together. I used a good thermometer to check for the 248 degrees. Do you think I just needed to cook the last step longer? Or is this just the way these are supposed to be?

  30. I’ve made caramel in the past with corn syrup but I decided to try out this recipe today with a couple of tweaks and thought I would share my results. First- I only managed to get the temperature up to 340° before it started to burn (so it was very slightly burnt tasting). Then, instead of heavy cream and butter, I used coconut cream and coconut oil. After adding these ingredients, the temperature stayed way higher than 248° so I didn’t bother putting it back on the burner. It stayed very soft quite a while (a little too runny for dipping caramel apples), but eventually thickened to a nicer consistency at room temperature. I also found not to substitute a 1:1 ratio of table salt for the crushed sea salt as it became slightly too salty. So, I think it definitely would have worked with the dairy free ingredients if it weren’t burnt and over-salted.

  31. These turned out great, thank you!! Fwiw, I am high altitude (over a mile above sea level) and did not tweak this recipe, turned out fantastic!

  32. My caramel didn’t set up properly. I know that it got to the right temperature, because I used a candy thermometer. What did I do wrong? What can I do to fix it?

  33. Exactly the recipe I’d been searching for – thank you! Success with the first attempt, but I didn’t take it quite to 350 degrees as it started to smell ‘done’. Very happy!!

  34. I was skeptical because of all the comments that said that their caramel burned, however mine came out perfect! I did it on an induction stove so it was very easy to control the temperature. I didn’t have a candy thermometer so I used one for meat instead and it was fine. It took less than an hour to make and cooled very quickly. The only ting I had trouble with was cutting the caramel as it was very tough to work with. In my opinion, this recipe was very easy and fun to do!

  35. I know I’ve already posted a comment thanking you for this recipe, but wanted to say again how grateful I am for this recipe. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made it. Probably only limited by the fact that cream is hard to come by here (though I just read the comment by the person who tried milk, and now I’m tempted to have a go at that as whole milk is super easy to find). But I have a cream separator now, and just made these again, and both my kids and I have been enjoying them yet again. Just wanted to say thank you, yet again, for the joy you’ve brought to our family via caramel!

  36. I’m thinking of using honey instead of cream of tartar would that be alright? Where I live it’s next to impossible Getting anything like that…can I perhaps lessen the crystalization by adding butter and honey a little early? Any other suggestion would be great!

  37. Thank you so much for this recipe!! It’s delicious and very easy to follow. I will be bringing these to share with my coworkers on this busy emergency room Halloween night !

  38. Thank you for doing all the legwork and devising this wonderful recipe. Greatly appreciate your clear and easy-to-follow directions. Can’t wait to try this.

  39. OK WOW. Where have you been my whole life. I dislike blogs and such but read your entire recipe. “without Corn Syrup” had me hooked. But I loved your story. Thank you. I am trying these caramels tonight since it is going to rain here in CA on Friday. Shine on sister!!!

  40. when using the wet pastry brush to brush sugar crystals off sides of pot do we brush them up and out of the pot, or wet them down so they rejoin the syrup in the pot?

  41. I had no issues alone the way with this caramel. I have never made caramel before this! It’s turned out great. I didn’t use the fleur whatever for ontop, just himalayan pink salt. Delicious caramel. Just use the candy thermometer and water technique and you should be fine. Make sure you brush down the sides with a pastry brush and water.

  42. Have you ever used Maple Syrup to make your carmel instead of sugar? I’m looking for a maple carmel to do turtles with.

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