Caramel making is not for the faint of heart. Not that it is incredibly difficult, but it does require near constant attention from beginning to end. I know this because the first batch I made just prior to this one scorched to such a degree that I had to soak the pan for hours and in the end boiling soapy water was the only way to get that burnt-black sugar to let loose. I had turned the pan to low while I was washing a few dishes, not remembering that stirring constantly really means "stirring constantly," not "frequently," and certainly not "stir once and then go do something else." No, caramels require constant stirring from beginning to end.
These caramels are rich and soft, but not gooey. This recipe is exactly the same one I use without the addition of sea salt, in fact, it was my mother-in-law's idea to add the salt, and I would have to say it was a great idea! I liked them perfectly well without the salt, but with the addition of salt they went from delicious to addictive. I can't stop eating them and most of the family feels the same way. The kids however are not too fond of the salt, which simply means more for me, but it is easy to leave the salt off, next time I might be able to resist salting them all, as long as their rooms are clean.
Sea Salt Caramels
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
Before adding the butter to the pot, use it to grease a 9 x 13 glass pan.
In a 6 qt stockpot melt the butter and add in the rest of the ingredients, mix well. Over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, cook the mixture to 246-degrees. This takes some time and requires a flat-nosed stirring device (I use a wooden spoon with a squared bowl) to continually scrap the bottom of the pans. Be sure to be attentive while stirring, being careful not to miss any area of the pan as the caramel will scorch quickly and the burnt flavor will be detectable in the finished candy.
When the caramels begin to approach 245-degrees, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the bottom from scorching. Watch the bottom of the pan as the candy comes up to temp, the darkened color will appear with each stroke of the spoon and will indicate that the caramels are very nearly to or at 245-degrees. If allowed to cook past 245, the caramels will quickly become too hard to chew. Below 245, the caramels will be too soft to wrap successfully (refrigeration will help if they do come out too soft.) Once the caramels reach 245, immediately remove from the heat and mix in the vanilla.
Work quickly and very carefully to pour the caramel into the buttered dish. Sprinkle the warm caramel with a moderate dusting of salt. Press in the salt lightly to stick. Allow to cool to room temperature. Cut the caramels down the middle of the pan and use a scraper tool under the cut side to lift them out to a cutting board. Working with half the pan of caramels at a time, cut them into bite-sized pieces and taste for saltines. If more salt is desired, sprinkle the cutting board with salt and roll each piece prior to wrapping. Wrap in wax paper cut a little longer than the caramels and twist the ends to seal. Caramel will soften a bit the next day. Store in refrigerator but consume at room temperature.