I really can't say enough good things about these candies. Usually, an endevour as risky as caramel making tends to yield results that are show-stopping, and this recipe is no exception to the rule. I love how these caramels just melt in your mouth yet have enough chew to be really satisfying. The milky, deep flavors of burnt sugar and heavy cream are absolutely superb. These are nothing like anything found in the supermarket. They're rich, complex, and real. There's not many things I abhore as much as artificial caramel flavoring. But a real caramel, especially when given as a gift, brings out the holiday spirit in almost anyone. :)
I don't pretend to be an expert on candy making or caramel making for that matter, but I can offer a few tips that I found useful. I almost ruined this entire batch of caramel save for the intuitiveness of my nose: the nose knows as they say. When you smell sugar burning beyond the point of what you think is acceptable, then it most likely is. Most recipes want you to leave the sugary mixture alone to come to temperature on the stove top. I say, use your better judgement. Don't leave a batch of caramel to burn simply because a recipe directs you not to stir.
Secondly, follow your judgement on where the heat should be. For example, my caramel was bubbling away on medium heat (which the recipe directs) but was not coming to temperature nearly quickly enough for me, and I felt as though too much liquid was being evaporated. Simply put, I turned up the heat. Unfortunately, this is when the caramel started burning. Had I left the burner on medium the mixture wouldn't have come to temperature, but turning it higher caused the bottom to begin to burn. What to do? Use your own judgement, I don't think there is a set of rules set in stone somewhere about precisely what to do on this. My own feeling is that the most important point is to save your caramel mixture at all costs. You can't bring a batch of caramel back from burning or going past the hard ball stage, 250 degrees.
Soft Candy Caramels
Makes about 80 caramels
2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup condensed milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt or fleur de sel
Lightly spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick ooking spray and line it with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to just overhang on the sides. Lightly coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium saucepan, gently stir together the corn syrup and sugars along with 1/4 cup water. Set the saucepan over low heat and continue to stir gently until the sugar dissolves (avoid sloshing the sides of the pan). Once the sugar has dissolved, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high, and wait for the mixture to reach 240-245 degrees, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, stir together the cream and condensed milk and set over medium heat. Gently warm the mixture, do not let it boil.
Once the sugar mixture comes to temperature, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter and warm milk mixture until completely combined (the mixture may bubble up). Place the pan back on medium heat, stop stirring, and bring the mixture back to 245-250 degrees.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla and salt, and pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Allow the candy to set for 8 hours or overnight before removing from the pan and cutting with a sharp greased knife. Wrap the cut caramels in wax paper (4"x4" pieces do a good job). They may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days.
Source: Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.