Homemade Caramels – Tastes Better From Scratch

These Homemade Caramels are perfectly soft and chewy and easy to make with a few pantry ingredients. We love to gift them to friends and family.

Want more candy recipes? I love this Buckeye Recipe, Homemade Almond Joys, Chocolate Fudge, and Rocky Road!

A bowl of easy Homemade Caramels, wrapped in parchment paper pieces.

Why I love these caramels:

  • Family Tradition – This is my Mom’s homemade caramel recipe we’ve been making at Christmas time for decades. They were always our food gift for friends and neighbors during the holidays.
  • Perfect – They really are soft, chewy, melt-in-your mouth delicious caramels! They truly couldn’t be any better! This is a treasured family recipe.
  • Easy – This easy caramel recipe only uses pantry ingredients and the steps are simple. But the magic is in the cooking process – it’s important to not rush these! Read my tips below for the best caramels every time.

How to make Homemade Caramels:

Combine: Add butter, sugar, and karo syrup to a large heavy-bottom saucepan then stir over medium heat until mixture begins to boil, about 5-10 minutes.

Two images showing butter, sugar, and karo syrup in a pot, then after it comes to a boil.

Add Evaporated Milk: Gradually add the evaporated milk, one can at a time, taking about 12-15 minutes PER CAN, while stirring constantly. Make sure the mixture maintains a constant boil, otherwise your caramels can curdle.

Two images showing evaporated milk being poured in a pot of caramel, then the caramel being stirred.

Caramelize: Stir the mixture constantly, scraping the sides occasionally, until it reaches a firm ball stage. I don’t rely on a candy thermometer. I use the ice water test: Drop a spoonful of the hot caramel into a cup of ice water then mold the caramel with your fingers into a ball. You will know the caramels are ready when they feel pretty firm and pliable. Remove from heat then stir in vanilla.

A pot of easy homemade caramel, golden brown.

Cool: Pour caramels into prepared pan then refrigerate until cooled and hardened. (Best if you refrigerate them overnight, or for several hours. They will be easier to cut and wrap). 

An easy caramel recipe poured in a 9x13 pan on top of parchment paper.

Cut: I like to use a stainless steel scraper to get perfectly even lines.

Two images showing cooled caramel being cut into small squares to wrap for candy.

Wrap: The caramel will seem hard in the fridge after they’re set, but they should be soft at room temperature. Cut soft caramels into small pieces then wrap like a tootsie roll in wax paper, if desired.

The best caramel recipe, wrapped in parchment paper to enjoy as candy.

Tips for Perfect Caramels Every Time:

  • SLOWLY stir in evaporated milk: This should take about 15 minutes per can, pouring in a little bit at a time (or warm your evaporated milk a little, to make the process faster). The caramel must maintain a constant boil the entire time.
  • Maintain steady heat: Keep your burner/stove on medium heat to avoid any changes of temperature. Maintaining heat the same is why the milk gets added so slowly.
  • Candy Thermometer vs Ice Water Test: I personally don’t trust candy thermometers. Unless you take the time to calibrate yours, they can often be “off”. And depending on your location (altitude and humidity) 238°F may not be the perfect temperature for you. The best (and easiest) way I’ve found is using the ice water method. Drop a spoonful of the hot caramel into a cup of ice water then mold the caramel with your fingers into a ball. You will know the caramel candy recipe is ready when they feel pretty firm and pliable.
  • Wrap them cold – I like to make them 24 hours ahead of time so they can get nice and cold in the fridge, making them easier to cut and wrap.
Two images showing caramel being poured into a cup of ice water, and then someone holding the caramel for the ice water test.

Make Ahead Instructions:

To Make Ahead: These easy homemade caramels will keep well in the fridge for several weeks. Take them out to come to room temperature for them to be soft and chewy.

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Recipe

  • Line a 9×13” pan or jelly roll pan with parchment paper. (If you don’t have parchment paper you can generously butter the pan.) Either size pan will work–9×13” will yield thicker caramels.

  • Add 2 sticks butter, sugar, and karo syrup to a large heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Stir over medium heat until mixture begins to boil, about 5-10 minutes.

  • Gradually add the evaporated milk, one can at a time, taking about 12-15 minutes PER CAN to slowly add it, while stirring constantly. You want to make sure the mixture maintains a steady heat and constant boil (no drastic changes in temperature) otherwise your caramels can curdle.

  • Stir the mixture constantly, scraping the sides occasionally until it reaches a firm ball stage (about 240-245 degrees F on a candy thermometer). It takes patience and time, but it’s sooo worth it! (Also, I don’t really trust or rely on a candy thermometer–I like to test it the old fashioned way. Drop a spoonful of hot caramel sauce into a cup of ice water and mold it with your fingers into a ball. When ready it will feel pretty firm and pliable, but still slightly sticky.) 

  • Once you reach 240-245 degrees F / or the firm ball stage, remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

  • Pour caramels into prepared pan. Refrigerate until cooled and hardened. (Best if you refrigerate them overnight, or for several hours. They will be easier to cut and wrap). 

  • The caramel will seem hard in the fridge after they’re set, but they should be soft at room temperature. Cut caramel into small pieces and, if desired, wrap like a tootsie roll in wax paper.

Evaporated milk: Could substitute heavy cream.
Troubleshooting:

  • Candy Thermometer: I don’t always trust candy thermometers, and depending on your location (altitude and humidity) temperature will vary. A good way to test them is the ice water method. Drop a spoonful of the hot caramel into a cup of ice water and mold the caramel with your fingers into a ball. The caramel should feel pretty firm but pliable in the ice water.
  • Caramel is too soft after it has set up: It needed to cook longer. You can pour the whole batch back in to a pot and warm it up again! 
  • Caramel is too hard: it cooked for too long. Use the ice water method to avoid this. 


Make Ahead and Storing Instructions: homemade caramels will keep well in the fridge, covered or wrapped, for several weeks. Take them out to come to room temperature for them to be soft and chewy.
 

Calories: 94kcalCarbohydrates: 17gFat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 34mgPotassium: 26mgSugar: 17gVitamin A: 90IUVitamin C: 0.2mgCalcium: 24mg

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I originally shared this recipe November 2017. Updated May 2020 and November 2023.

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