Soft & Chewy Caramels

updated Jan 3, 2024
How to Make Soft Caramel Candies

A two-step approach to making easy caramel candies.

Makesabout 55 caramels

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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Let’s talk caramels. The candy kind. The chewy, melt-in-your-mouth, deeply sweet, and insanely addictive kind. These make some of the best gifts ever, whether the event is Christmas, a birthday, a thank you for a favor, or a thoughtful hostess gift. Or no reason at all.

You probably already have the ingredients in your pantry, and if you haven’t made caramels recently, you probably don’t know how easy they can be. Grab a bag of sugar and your candy thermometer, folks! We’re making chewy caramel candies today.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Two-Step Method for Making Caramel Candies

I prefer a two-step approach to making caramels. First you cook the sugar syrup, and then you stir in the cream and melted butter. I’ve seen (and tried) some recipes that have you cook everything together, but I feel that the two-step process gives more reliable results.

Temperature of the Sugar Syrup

Look at enough caramel recipes, and you’ll notice that there is a huge range of temperatures for cooking that initial sugar syrup, from 250°F (hardball stage) to 320°F (hard crack stage).

I spoke with pastry chef extraordinaire Stella Parks of BraveTart and she confirmed my suspicion: since we’re not usually cooking the syrup until it literally caramelizes (which happens at 330°F), any sugar syrup within this temperature range will make caramels.

The Difference Between Soft Caramels and Firm Caramels

Stella also mentioned that she feels that the amount of cream (or other dairy) used in the recipe has more affect on the texture of the caramels than the temperature of the sugar syrup. After comparing two different caramels made with different amounts of cream, I have to agree.

The recipe below makes chewy caramels that are on the firmer side. For caramels that are more taffy-like, try increasing the amount of cream by 1/4 – 1/2 cup. (Eventually, though, you’ll make a caramel sauce that won’t set into candies if you continue adding cream.)

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Tips for Making Caramel Candies

Making caramels for the first time can feel pretty darn intimidating. Here’s my advice:

  • Read through the entire recipe before starting. Before you begin, make sure to have all your ingredients measured out and read through all the recipe steps. The process is straightforward but you’ll have to monitor the temperature closely and work quickly.
  • Make sure you have all the right equipment. You’ll need a 2-quart saucepan and a 4-quart saucepan. The 4-quart saucepan is necessary because the sugar will bubble up and triple in size when you add the cream.
  • Use heavy cream. Heavy cream contains 38 percent fat, which gives the caramels the perfect texture. Higher-fat creams like heavy cream are also more resistant to curdling when cooking.
  • Use light corn syrup. When shopping, look for light corn syrup in the baking aisle. Light corn syrup is easier to gauge the color of the sugar syrup when it’s boiling.
  • Use a reliable cooking thermometer. Monitoring the temperature of the sugar syrup is key to making caramel candies. A candy thermometer is an essential tool that allows you to keep a close eye on the temperature as it rises.
  • Don’t walk away. Don’t answer the phone or check emails while you’re making the caramels — the temperature can creep along slowly and then suddenly shoot up. But if you’re paying attention, then nothing will surprise you.

Now, the second time you make caramel candies, you’ll be an old pro. In fact, this caramel-making knowledge can be a bit dangerous. The ability to whip up a batch of caramels on a whim is a power that should not be taken lightly, after all. Just promise me you’ll use your power for good.

Caramel Recipe Variations

  • Softer Caramels: The softness of the caramels is mainly a result of the cream. This recipe makes fairly firm, chewy caramels. For softer, taffy-like caramels, experiment with adding an extra 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of cream to this recipe.
  • Salted Caramels: Add two teaspoons of salt to the cream mixture at the beginning of the recipe and sprinkle the finished caramels with coarse sea salt.
  • Gingerbread Caramels: Add 2 tablespoons of molasses to the sugar mixture. Add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves along with the vanilla at the very end of cooking.
  • Chocolate Caramels: Increase the amount of cream to 1 1/2 cups. Melt 10 ounces of good chocolate into the cream mixture along with the butter.
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

How to Make Soft Caramel Candies

A two-step approach to making easy caramel candies.

Makes about 55 caramels

Nutritional Info


  • Cooking spray

  • 1 cup

    heavy cream

  • 4 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1/4 teaspoon


  • 1 1/2 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1/4 cup

    light corn syrup

  • 1/4 cup


  • 1/2 teaspoon

    vanilla extract


  • 8x8-inch baking dish (or similar size)

  • Parchment paper

  • 2-quart saucepan

  • 4-quart saucepan

  • Instant-read thermometer or candy thermometer

  • Spatula

  • Whisk

  • Pastry brush

  • Wax paper


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  1. Line an 8x8-inch baking dish with parchment paper so that excess paper hangs over the edges. Coat the parchment and the sides of the baking dish with cooking spray.

  2. Place 1 cup heavy cream, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in the 2-quart saucepan and heat over low heat until the butter melts. Remove from the heat, but keep the pan close by.

  3. Place 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in the larger 4-quart saucepan. Stir until the sugar is evenly moistened and it forms a thick, grainy paste. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush so there are no sugar crystals above the surface of the sugar mixture. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan so that the heat sensor is immersed in the sugar. Do not stir the sugar after this point.

    Note: The large saucepan is necessary because the sugar will bubble up and triple in size when you add the cream. Do not use a smaller pan.

  4. Place the sugar mixture over medium to medium-high heat. Let the sugar syrup come to a boil without stirring. At first, you will see small bubbles around the edge of the pan, which will eventually move inward. Around 250°F, the sugar syrup will turn transparent and boil rapidly. Around 320°F, the syrup will darken slightly and smell caramel-like. You can proceed to the next step any time after the syrup reaches 250°F and before it reaches 325°F.

    Note: If your thermometer isn't quite submerged into the sugar, you may need to tilt the pan to get an accurate reading. Simply tilt the pan by the handle until the thermometer is submerged a few inches in the sugar syrup. If the syrup hasn't reached 250°, wipe down the sides with a pastry brush again. If it has, there's no need.

  5. Turn off the heat under the sugar syrup. While whisking gently, slowly pour the warm cream and butter mixture into the sugar syrup. The sugar syrup will bubble up and triple in size. Stop whisking once all the milk and butter mixture has been added.

  6. Return the pan to medium to medium-high heat. Let the caramel come to a boil without stirring. It will start off as a soft buttery yellow and eventually darken to reddish-brown caramel. Remove from the heat when the caramel reaches 245°F to 250°F.

  7. Quickly whisk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract into the caramel.

  8. Immediately pour the caramels into the mold. Do not scrape the pan (there are sometimes hard burnt bits on the bottom). Knock the pan against the counter a few times to help air bubbles work their way out. Set the caramels somewhere out of the way to set, for at least 2 hours or (ideally) overnight. Once the caramels have cooled to room temperature, you can cover the pan.

  9. When the caramels have set, lift them out of the pan by the parchment paper flaps and onto a cutting board. Cut the caramels into candies with a very sharp knife. If the caramels stick to your knife, spray your knife with cooking spray.

  10. Cut squares of wax paper a little longer than your caramels. Wrap each caramel in wax paper and twist the ends closed.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Wrapped caramels will keep at room temperature for about 2 weeks.