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wrapped caramels

How to Make Caramel (+ Recipe Troubleshooting)

Light brown, or almost black. Runny and oozy, or firm and chewy. Sweet, slightly salty, or with a hint of bitterness. Caramel comes in all shapes and sizes. You can easily tweak it to your liking, once you understand how it works. So let’s investigate the science of caramels!

Note, do you want to learn how to caramelize sugar? Then we’d recommend you read our article dedicated to caramelizing sugar instead.

You can make caramels with just a few simple ingredients and a stovetop. But, caramels can be finicky. They can crystallize when you don’t want to. Or, turn too hard – or soft. Luckily, most of these problems can be solved with some easy fixes, once you know what to do.

What is caramel?

That is a good question. What does make something a caramel? There isn’t a clear set definition for caramel, unlike there is for other confectionery such as chocolate. For instance, technically speaking, you could refer to dulce de leche as being caramel.

Others may refer to it as caramel candy, we’ll stick with caramel. It’s a sweet treat, you can eat them in individual pieces. Or, the caramel may be part of a bigger dish.

Here we’ll refer to caramel as a sweet type of candy, with sugar (or a sugar replacer) as its core ingredient. Common other ingredients are milk – plant- or animal-based, butter, margarine, cream, salt, and water. Also, the caramels we’re discussing have a color somewhere in between a light orange and a dark brown. Caramels are sweet but can have a complex flavor. Some are creamy, others grainy, whereas again others can be stretched long distances.

Caramel sauce

Caramels can be liquid and poured. In that case, you’d probably refer to them as caramel sauce. Since you might run into some specific challenges when making a pourable caramel, we’ve dedicated a separate post to the topic. That said, the core science discussed in this article still applies to most sauces.

Wondering why caramel sauces don’t freeze in ice cream? We’ve investigated the matter. The high sugar content helps it stay soft, read more.

Caramel color

Caramel color is an additive that manufacturers may add to foods to turn them (dark) brown. You can simulate making caramel colors on a small scale. Read how in our article on controlling color and flavor of sugar syrups.

boiling dulce de leche
Cooking dulce de leche, which technically could be considered being a type of caramel!

How to make caramel

In its simplest form, you can make a caramel by heating the ingredients on the stovetop and subsequently cooling them down. However, most caramel recipes are slightly more complex, e.g. they might contain two different heating steps. We will discuss one of those, a caramel made through two subsequent heating steps (see also the recipe at the bottom of this article).

So why even have two heating steps?

To explain, we need to look at what you’re trying to achieve when making caramels. There are two things:

  1. Develop the flavor and color of caramel
  2. Create the correct consistency, e.g. firm, chewy, or slightly soft

You can influence both the flavor and color, as well as the consistency by choosing your ingredients wisely. But, the process you use has a big impact as well. When you’re using a two-step process, often that first step focuses on developing the flavor and color, whereas the second step determines the consistency.

Step 1: Developing the brown color

Unless you’re using brown sugar to make caramel, the ingredients you have at hand, are likely quite bland. Regular sugar, cream, milks, fats, they’re all white, or versions of off-white. However, you want your caramel to be brownish at least. What’s more, these ingredients are relatively bland in flavor. Mix these, and you’d mostly be left with a (very) sweet treat, due to all the sugar.

Without adding any extra ingredients, you can develop a lot of color and flavor for your caramel. All you need is heat!

Caramelizing sugar can add color & flavor

The first way to add color and flavor to a caramel is by caramelizing the sugar. When sugar is hot enough, it will start to turn brown and change flavor. This is called caramelization. Regular sugar, which consists of the molecule sucrose, starts to caramelize at about 160°C (320°F). At even high temperatures, it will only turn darker and more bitter, until it burns.

To caramelize sugar you have to heat just the sugar, maybe with some additional water. Adding almost any other ingredient will cause it to burn prematurely.

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Caramel recipes using this ‘trick’ to add flavor and color therefore often start by caramelizing just sugar. Once the sugar has develop the color or flavor you need, cool it back down by adding some of the other ingredients, e.g. milk or cream into the sugar. If you don’t add any other ingredients, the sugar will continue to caramelize for a bit, even after the heat is turned off. So, add this in quickly.

Want to learn more about the chemistry behind the caramelization reaction? Learn all about The Science of Caramelization.

caramelized sugar, two different colors
Caramelized sugar
The Maillard reaction is a faster, less hot, option

There is another way to develop color and flaovr, that doesn’t involve as high heats. It is through another very common chemical reaction in food: the Maillard reaction. During this reaction brown colors and plenty of flavor molecules are formed as well.

The Maillard reaction requires both proteins and sugars to occur and will happen at temperatures well below those of caramelization. It’s why you can’t heat a mix of sugar and milk as hot as just sugar. The proteins in the milk will react with the sugar and turn the mix brown, long before caramelization sets in.

Often a recipe might call for cooking all the sugar with some of the protein-containing ingredients until a nice brown color is reached. Then, other ingredients are added to cool it back down.

Or just add brown sugar

If your caramel recipe only consists of one step, there’s a good chance you need to add brown sugar. You can create a brown caramel without caramelizing sugar, or significantly triggering the Maillard reaction. Brown sugar contains molasses. This has a very dark, deep color that can color your caramel.

However, these caramels might lack some of the complexity in flavor. Both during the Maillard reaction as well as caramelization, a lot of flavor molecules are formed. These can help offset the just sweet flavor of a caramel.

cut caramel
Caramel cut into pieces

Step 2: Controlling caramel consistency

After this initial heating step, most caramel processes contain a second step. During this step the mix doesn’t become as hot, but it may be reheated again. It’s at this stage that the texture and consistency of caramel are determined.

So how does that work?

The concentration of sugar impacts texture

Let’s have a look at sugar again. Sugar and water have some pretty special interactions. First off, you can dissolve a lot of sugar in water. The warmer the water, the more sugar can be dissolved within. When you’ve truly dissolved a lot of sugar in the water, the sugar solution will start to behave differently.

At first, it will just be thicker. If you pour it, you will notice it’s a bit more like honey than pure water. The more concentrated the sugar solution, the thicker it becomes. At some point you can literally ‘pull’ the solution. Concentrate it even further and it literally becomes as hard as glass.

sugar syrup cooked to 121C
A sugar syrup cooked to 121C, it has become very concentrated. Once cooled down, you can ‘pull’ the sugar in these strands.
Removing just enough water

After the first heating step you’re often told to add back in cream, milk, or butter. All of these ingredients cool down the sugar, but they also dilute it, by adding in moisture. As a result, the caramel becomes thinner again. By bringing it back to the boil, you can evaporate moisture, to increase the concentration again. The longer you boil, the thicker and thus harder the caramel becomes.

Make a softer caramel by adding more moisture. Make a harder caramel by cooking off more moisture (or adding less back in).

Recipes often call for measuring the temperature at this point. The temperature of a boiling sugar solution is a good measure for the concentration and thus consistency of the solution. Try to stick to temperatures given in instructions. It will help you achieve the correct texture. If you do think the caramel is too soft, simply cook it to a higher temperature next time. If it’s too hard, decrease the target temperature next time around.

wrapped caramels
Caramels!

Troubleshooting caramel

Caramel may sound simple. Heat some sugar, to turn it brown. Then whisk in a few other ingredients to get the texture you’re after. Unfortunately, caramel has a tendency to not behave as desired. It might develop crystals on top, be too soft, turn grainy, or even separate. Luckily, there’s a way to fix (or prevent) most of these! Let’s have a look.

How to fix crystallized caramel?

Fixing crystallized sugar during caramelization

Your caramel can crystallize at two different points in time. First of all, it can do so when you try to caramelize it. It’s actually quite common. If it happens, just add a little extra water, redissolve the sugar and continue going.

We’ve discussed the in and outs of caramelizing sugar in way greater detail in our article dedicated to the topic.

crystallized sugar during caramelizing
Sugar that has crystallized while trying to caramelize it.
Fixing crystalline caramel

But, your caramel can also crystallize after you’ve made it. Maybe a thin white layer has formed on top? If you’d look closely at this white layer, you will see tiny crystals. As little water easily dissolves these crystals since they’re sugar crystals.

Unfortunately, once your caramel has started to crystallize there is not much you can do without reheating it. Fortunately, crystallized caramel is perfectly fine to eat.

Preventing crystallized caramel

You can prevent sugar from crystallizing a next time. Again, to explain, we need to have a closer look at sugar. Sugar, or more specifically, sucrose loves to crystallize. If there’s not enough water, it will crystallize. To prevent it from crystallizing in your caramel you have a few options:

  1. Add a crystallization inhibitor. This is an ingredient that prevents, or slows down the crystallization of sugar. The most common one? Corn syrup! Corn syrup contains a lot of large long molecules that interfer with sugar molecules finding each other and forming a crystal.
  2. Break down some of the sugar. Sucrose is the one that’s crystallizing. If you break down some of the sugar into invert sugar, you can prevent crystallization. You can do so by adding a little acid to sugar while you’re cooking it.

Fixing a grainy caramel

A grainy caramel has turned grainy due to the crystallization of sugars. The only way to truly fix it is by reheating the caramel to redissolve the sugars. If that’s not an option, make a new batch, focusing on preventing it from happening next time.

To prevent a grainy caramel, follow the same steps as above. Add some extra crystallization inhibitors and control the moisture well.

How to fix a separated caramel

A caramel can split if there’s fat in the caramel (e.g. from butter or cream). Often, a split caramel can be saved by gently reheating the caramel and stirring continuously. Adding some extra water can also help here to mix everything again before boiling off that extra water one more time. Last but not least, do not heat or cool down the caramel too rapidly. The fat might melt or solidify at a different rate than the caramel, causing the split.

Why caramel becomes (too) hard

No worries here! Just add some extra moisture, reheat and you will turn out with a thinner and softer caramel.

Can you freeze caramel?

Yes, you can, no problem. Take care to pack it airtight though. When you want to use or eat it take care to defrost it will in time. The caramel may become hard, though it depends on the recipe, so be patient before eating. Read more here on freezing caramel and its freezing point.

wrapped caramels

Caramels

Yield: 16 generous portions

Based on a recipe by the Kitchn, with a few minor tweaks. It's a small portion, best poured in a tray approx. 15x15 cm. If your trays are bigger, you can easily duplicate the recipe, or make an even larger portion.

In this caramelize we first caramelize sugar, to develop color and flavor. You can find more tips on caramelizing sugar here.

Ingredients

  • 160g regular (e.g. granulated) sugar
  • 30g corn syrup
  • 40g water
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 120g cream
  • salt flakes, to taste (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line a tin with parchment paper. Ensure the sides are covered so the caramel doesn't stick to the tin.
  2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a pot and gently bring to a boil. Stir a few times to ensure all the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to high.
  3. Caramelize the sugar until it has turned a nice dark brown.
  4. Turn down the heat to low and whisk in the butter until it's fully melted. Take care, the sugar may start to bubble because of the high heat! Next, whisk in the cream until it is mixed through completely.
  5. Bring the mixture back to a boil and continue cooking until it's approx. 120°C (250°F).
  6. Turn off the heat and immediately pour it onto your prepared tin/tray.
  7. Sprinkle some salt flakes on top (optional) and leave to cool down.
  8. The caramel may be a little sticky, if it is too sticky to cut into squares, place it in the fridge to firm up. Then cut into smaller pieces.
  9. Caramel is very hygroscopic, it easily attracts moisture. It's also soft enough to slowly flow, so the caramel pieces will easily deform. That's why it's best to store them in the fridge and wrap them individually, e.g. in wax paper.

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33 Comments

  1. Brilliant. Thank you. The most helpful caramel guide I have found on the internet after my failed banoffee caramel!

  2. I made penuche today for pecan rolls, and it turned into caramel. I cooked it again, let it cool to 110, beat it and turned it into a pan. Again, caramel. What causes penuche to turn into caramel? (Or, conversely, what would cause caramel to become fudgy like penuche?) Thanks in advance for any tips.

    • Hi Billie,

      Caramel turning into ‘penuche’ or a fudgy/crystallized structure happens because of the crystallization of sugar crystals. Just a few sugar crystals that come into contact with the caramel can be enough to initiate the crystallization. You can prevent this from happening by adding some glucose syrup which contains some very long molecules that inhibit this crystallization.

      The other way around, a candy that should crystallize/turn fudgy that stays liquid could be because of the presence of an ingredient such as glucose syrup. Another likely cause is that it’s not been cooked down enough. Sugar crystals will only form if there ‘too much’ sugar in your candy for it to remain dissolved. If there’s too much water, the sugar will simply dissolve. If you’ve got your temperatures and concentrations right, you can try adding a little bit of icing sugar when beating it. The sugar crystals in the icing sugar can help the other sugar crystals to crystallize by serving as ‘seeds’.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thank you! I think I had too much moisture. I let it sit in a cake pan in the refrigerator while deciding what to do with it. Miraculously, after a couple of days, it turned from caramel into penuche. I am guessing the refrigerator pulled moisture out. Hoorah. Now I can make pecan rolls. Thanks, again!

        • That’s great! A trick I have to remember :-). The fridge does tend to dry food out, which in your case is exactly what you needed. Also, over time sugar tends to recrystallize again if it can, so those two factors together seem to have come together perfectly for you! Enjoy the rolls

  3. Recipe #2 looks so easy but I am in the USA and don’t know how to convert. Do you happen to have the #2 recipe converted to an easy for me cups of ingredients recipe?

    • Hi Margaret,

      Unfortunately, converting weights to cups often isn’t straight forward (the other way around is a lot easier) since you might end up with very strange cup amounts (like 1/12 or 1/6). It’s the biggest disadvantage of using cups and spoons, that you’re not as flexible as you are with weights (hence I’m not a big fan).
      There are several online calculators that you can use to convert, but I haven’t done so myself so don’t know how ‘nicely’ this one converts for you. A simple kitchen scale nowadays isn’t expensive (they start at $10,- at Target) so that would always be my recommendation :-).

  4. Help! I am trying to make turtles, but the caramel always turns gritty and my chocolate blooms. How do I stop this?

    • Hi Candie,

      Great question. Grity caramel is almost always caused by sugar that recrystallizes. The best way to prevent this is to add some corn (glucose) syrup to the caramel. This will help prevent the sugar from crystallizing. It will also give your caramel more of a ‘pull’.

      Chocolate blooming can only be prevented by really good temperature control of the chocolate, that can be tricky for sure, a few pointers:
      – Temper the chocolate: chocolate will bloom if you do not temper it, so make sure you temper the chocolate before using it.
      – Control the temperature: don’t pour tempered chocolate over hot caramel (or vice versa) the hot caramel will re-melt the chocolate and ruin the temper again. Temperature control here is very important.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks for that Info. The chocolate is either tempered in a chocolate tempering machine or To 88 degrees. The caramel is cooled overnight. Despite my best efforts, the chocolate still blooms. Any help is appreciated.

        • Hi,

          It sounds like you’ve tried various things already so I would focus on trying to eliminate a few factors by doing a few tests. With candy making getting the details right is important, but since I can’t see what you’re doing exactly, I would suggest you try a few of the following. For more detailed discussions please send us a note with some more process & recipe details and we can see if we can be of more help!

          • You will want to know whether the blooming of the chocolate is caused by the caramel or an incorrect tempering process. I would suggest you store some tempered chocolate without the caramel and some with the caramel. That way you know which of the two might be the problem.
          • Dealing with tempered chocolate is the most challenging part of working with chocolate for sure. Whether the temperature you’re using is correct depends on your chocolate, if you got it from a supplier I would suggest you reach out to them to ask for the optimal tempering temperature to ensure you’re in the correct range. Different chocolates can easily vary a few degrees in their optimal temper temperature.
          • Tempering chocolate either requires a lot of experience (once you’ve done it often enough you can ‘feel’ whether chocolate is correctly tempered) or good measuring. If you have access to a tempermeter you could use that to check whether your temper is indeed correct.
          • Even a well tempered chocolate can bloom if you don’t cool it properly. Generally freezing freshly tempered chocolate is not a good idea, nor is very harsh cooling. The cold can undo some of the temper.
          • If the bloom seems to be caused by the caramel, consider changing the type of fat you’re using in the caramel (or lowering the fat content). Fat from the caramel can migrate into the chocolate, causing bloom.
          • Hope this helps!

  5. Does golden syrup also work as a crystallisation inhibitor ?

    I prefer the dry method, but sometimes find the caramel browns too much before all the sugar is dissolved (even when heat is reduced). What temp should I be aiming for dissolving and what temp should I be aiming for for caramelisation ?

    • Hi Shanon,

      Two great questions!

      Let’s look at the golden syrup first. Golden syrup is mostly made up of ‘invert sugar’. This is sucrose (which is the ‘regular’ sugar you’ll find in supermarkets) that has been broken down into glucose and fructose. Invert sugar does not crystallize easily so can indeed limit crystallization. That said, invert sugar is sweeter than sucrose so will impact your recipe. Glucose and fructose will caramelize at a slightly different temperature than sucrose, so keep that in mind as well.
      To compare, corn syrup is a mixture of small sugar molecules and larger molecules. These larger molecules prevent the crystallization of sugar. As such, the mechanism is somewhat different. Also, these longer molecules will help to give ‘stretch’ to a caramel, enabling you to pull a caramel into long strands.

      To look at question two, it seems like you’ve got some challenges with even heat distribution. Some parts of your pan may be hotter than others, causing some parts to crystallize whereas others haven’t even dissolved yet. This is a very common challenge. You don’t want to shake the pan too much to prevent crystallization, but you could move it around over your heat source or turn it to help even out hot spots. What you’re doing with a reduced heat helps as well, but clearly isn’t enough. Lastly, thicker bottomed pans can help as well. A very thin pan has hot spots more easily than a thicker one which can spread the heat around more, so might be worth looking into that as well.

      In my experience measuring the temperature at the end is tricky in a caramel. Once you see caramelization occurring before all of it has dissolved, turn down the heat, turn the pan and if nothing helps, you might just want to add a little water (be very careful, the sugar will be super hot, so it will probably splash and splatter). The water will help dissolve the sugar and will cool it down a little to give the colder sugar time to catch up.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Hello,
    I have a caramel recipe that is so delicious, but the caramels are oily. Any idea how to prevent that from happening? I did substitute toasted sugar for regular sugar.

    • Hi Donna,

      Oil leaking out is a common problem for caramels. When you’re making caramel with quite a bit of fat (e.g. butter or oil) you are essentially making an emulsion of water and fat. Once you ‘break’ this emulsion the oil will leach out. It sounds like in your case your caramel hasn’t completely split but does have more oil on the outside than you’d like to. Hope the following tips can help:

      • Good stirring up to the end helps to keep the different phases mixed well (we mentioned this one above as well, just repeating it to be complete).
      • You can consider reducing the fat content slightly. It seems like you don’t have a lot of problems with it splitting, so possibly taking out 10% of the fat/oil can help reduce the oiliness. Reducing it by that amount won’t affect the cooking process significantly, nor will it really affect the texture.
      • Your substitution of sugars shouldn’t matter too much in this case. Sugar plays a minor role in stabilizing an emulsion and the sugar change you’ve made shouldn’t have that much of an impact on a caramel since you’re already heating the sugar quite a bit.
      • In caramels milk powders (or dairy milk) as well as butter (instead of oil) contain some natural emulsifiers that help the oil and water to stay together and prevent separation. If you’re not using any of these, you could try adding those (or increasing them a little).
      • Hope one of those helps you improve your caramels even more, it sounds like they’re already delicious!

  7. How can I keep my caramel from spreading I would like them to be square shape soft and chewy. Is there a stabilizer I should use?

    • Hi Quarana,

      To get your caramel firm enough it’s important to lower the water content enough for it to become firm. Also, you can tweak the type of fat your using (one that is solid at room temperature will give a harder caramel after cooling down, e.g. butter instead of oil). Lastly, some ingredients (especially milk) will help thicken a caramel. The milk proteins can form a structure that helps hold the caramel together. It’s why substituting cow’s milk for another ‘milk’ might give very different results.
      You do not need to use stabilizers to make a firm caramel, you can do it by balancing your ingredients and process. My advice would be to look up a recipe + process that make a firm caramel and start tweaking from there.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Hello. I’m experimenting with a sauce we use for pumpable sauce as well as a thicker version for drizzle.
    50 lbs sugar, 200 ml Lemon Juice (the only thing I’ve found that’s keeps such a large batch from crystallizing).
    At temp I add 12 lbs ice to cool and thin quickly. With immersion blender add 12 lbs butter.
    I pull some out for drizzle and add 7 lbs ice – with the blender – to make the pumpable sauce.

    Here’s the new problem. Both versions separated in the fridge.
    I took some drizzle sauce out and put it in the mixer to re-incorporate.
    It turned a light beige: unusable for the purpose.

    Did I increase the butter too beyond it’s capability? How do I get these to re-incorporate?

    And, why the beige color and how can I get it back?
    (That sauce also become more voluminous. I assume I mixed air into it….)

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for reaching out! It’s a challenging question, hope the answer below helps!

      I’ll start with the ‘easy’ part: the changing color of the sauce. Yes, you’re right, based on your description I would also say this is caused by the incorporation of a lot of tiny air bubbles. Those air bubbles reflect light differently and make the sauce turn lighter. I’m thinking your sauces are pretty viscous and probably hold onto that air, not letting it go again (e.g. you wouldn’t have this problem with water, all bubbles would be gone in a few seconds). You could try to gently heat up the sauce to make it a little more fluid, which makes it easier for the air to escape. Maybe gently stir it as well to help the air escape. Note, this might not help with incorporating the fat, but it can help in getting rid of the air.

      I’ll continue with the second easiest answer: you’re absolutely right that lemon juice helps prevent crystallization. It does so by breaking down some of the sugar (sucrose) into its individual components (glucose & fructose). It is great at preventing crystallization, do keep in mind that it does slightly affect the sweetness and consistency of your syrup. This isn’t a problem if you make it the same way every time, but don’t leave the syrup + lemon juice at high temperatures (e.g. after cooking) for a long time since it will continue to break down the sugar and thus change over time. Just something to watch out for!
      If you’re looking for something else, corn syrup/glucose syrup can help as well, though you’ll need more than just 200ml. You could start trying it with 5 lbs of corn syrup and go from there.

      Lastly, the splitting problem of your caramel. This is not an uncommon problem to occur, I’ve had it happen several times. Since you’ve just got sugar + fat (with only very little proteins from the butter) you have nothing to help stabilize that caramel here. A few things you could try:

      • Add a little bit of emulsifier (you could try lecithin, this is a natural emulsifier found in soy as well as eggs) to help the fat and water stay mixed.
      • Controlling temperature, you could try using softened butter (slightly warmer) to lessen the temperature difference and make the butter a little more stable. Opinions and experiences here differ though, some recipes may actually call for adding the butter when the sugar is still hot to mix through completely. In other words, I would focus on experimenting with temperature, but am not 100% sure which temperature mix works best.
      • Keep in mind that butter fats turn solid in the fridge. As such, once the recipe has cooled down it should be pretty stable. You could try to prevent the separation by mixing through the sauces a few times as they’re cooling down to ensure they don’t split. Once the fats have solidified, it’s less likely to split.
      • Good luck!

      • Well, thank you for replying so quickly.
        In my slight-desperation meanwhile, I did the very things you prescribed.
        Heating the (thicker) drizzle up again brought back the color.
        Stirring it occasionally while cooling kept it from separating, which means
        the ingredient balance is good, I just need to pay attention to my cooling process.
        I’ll try several variations when cooling the next batch and see what works best.

        Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience!
        John

  9. Hello John!

    Thanks for the great info in the science of making caramel! It’s hard to come by good info on this!

    I am trying to make passion fruit caramels. And despite several attempts they always turn brown and bitter even though there is nothing burnt at the bottom of the pan. And they are too soft even at 127 celsius. I want them to be bright yellow and not bitter. The recipe I see online all have this nice yellow color and firm texture. I have tried basically everything; different temperatures on the stove, stirring all the time, stirring occasionally and not stirring at all. I had the same problem when making raspberry caramel but they turned out ok when I didn’t stir for the entire cooking process. But the passion fruit seems like a lost cause! When the mixture is at about 120 Celsius it starts turning brown and bitter. Why am I failing?

    Best regards,
    Erica

    • Hi Erica,

      Interesting question! Making a good caramel with (a lot of) fruit can be quite challenging for a few reasons, which we’ll list below. It contains some chemistry, but hope it’s clear, if not, please ask more questions!:

      To start, ‘regular’ caramel uses sucrose (= ‘regular’ white sugar) & glucose syrup. Sucrose is a type of carbohydrate called a disaccharide, it’s made by combining glucose and fructose into one molecule. Sucrose and glucose both start to caramelize at about 160C (which we show here).

      Fruits (whether it’s juices or purees) don’t contain sucrose, but they do contain a large amount of glucose and especially fructose. Fructose is what can give you issues. Fructose starts to caramelize as low as 110C! As a result, a fruit caramel with a lot of fruit juice/puree will start to brown and bitter at way lower temperatures, as you’ve seen as well. So nothing too out of the ordinary that you’re seeing there!

      You can correct for this by using less fruit juice/puree, or, by cooking to a higher temperature than you normally would and adding in a little of the juice/puree afterward to bring the temp back down to where you want it, to get the correct consistency. It might require a little trial and error.

      Whereas a lot of fruits make it harder to make caramel because of the fructose, a fruit such as passion fruit adds another challenge: acidity. Passionfruit contains a high % of acid, about twice the acid content by weight as raspberries and ten times that of lychees (info from On Food and Cooking, p.383). Acids can also mess up your caramel! If you cook sucrose in acid at high temperatures for longer periods of time, the acid will cause the sucrose to break down into fructose and glucose. This will again make it more vulnerable to browning (because of the increased content of fructose). But, this also impacts the viscosity, so how thick or thin your caramel is. Broken down sugar will be less viscous and will make a thinner caramel. (We discuss invert sugar, which is what you call broken down sucrose, here.)

      You might be able to counteract this by adding a little baking soda to reduce the acidity during cooking. You could then decide to add a little citric acid powder in at the end to bring back the acidity. (It’s very common for manufacturers to add a little acid to fruit-flavored candy at the end. That way you do get the ‘tang’ without having the disadvantages of acid during your production process.

      There are other ways to impact browning. For instance, adding dairy (e.g. butter, cream, milk) will result in browning at lower temperatures (because of the Maillard reaction). Also, you can influence the consistency by changing the type of fat you’re using. Butter will give a harder caramel than oil (since butter sets once cooled down).

      Hope one of these helps you to tweak your recipe and get a better result!

  10. A thousand thanks for the elaborate answer! Now I won’t have to end my caramel making career for good. With your helpful advice I feel ready to give that passion fruit caramel another chance!

    Forever grateful!
    //Erica

  11. Hey John,

    Love the science approach to this!!!

    I think I have some of my answer already but… Looking at a crepe suzette recipe and some (not all) advocate melting sugar THEN adding orange juice (butter going in with the sugar or right at the very end ahead of the zest). The splatter factor of adding the OJ to super heated sugar is a little off-putting. Am I understanding correctly that the “cost” of adding it sooner would be: risk of too much browning, no way to fast cool the sugar once it’s gone far enough and a thinner caramel? Or is there another driver that I am missing?

    Thanks!
    Claire

    • Hi Claire,

      You’re right! If you’d add the orange juice at the start you won’t be able to cool it with the orange juice anymore and you run the risk of too much browning. That extra browning is due to the high fructose content of orange juice. Fructose starts to caramelize more quickly than regular sugar. As a result, it will turn brown (and burn) long before you’ve even boiled off enough water, making the caramel thin.

      Also, heating orange juice for a long period of time might break down some of its aromas.

      Hope that helps! If you’d like to dig more into caramelizing sugar, I’d also recommend this article!

  12. hi there! is there a way to convert this recipe to a caramel sauce instead? if so, what are the main differences in terms of ingredients/ preparation process when preparing caramel chews vs caramel sauce?

    thanks!

    • Hi cc, hope that I have answered all your questions in this other article: 3 ways to make a caramel sauce. A key difference of course is that a sauce should flow, whereas a firm caramel should not. You’ll find that the final moisture content of the two is quite different. You need to heat caramels to higher temperatures than a caramel sauce to achieve the correct consistency.

    • Hi cc,

      Thank you for your patience! I was just working on an article dedicated to making caramel sauces so wanted to wait until that was finished before coming back to you! It’s just gone live today so I suggest you check that one out first. If that doesn’t yet answer your question, feel free to let us know! Read: 3 ways to make a caramel sauce.

  13. I make a soft caramel using both milk and cream., its a wonderful recipe but after making it will turn sugary in about 2 weeks- what causes that? I make another soft caramel recipe with cream only that lasts a good 2 months- thank you

    • Hi Anita,

      That’s interesting! Is anything else different in these recipes except for leaving out the milk? There are quite a lot of factors that can play a role here :-).

      When you talk about it turning sugary, does it become grainy and do you maybe even see small sugar crystals on the caramel? This is a common challenge when making caramel or candy in general. Sugar doesn’t always ‘behave’ properly. You can prevent crystallization by adding some corn/glucose syrup, it will also make the caramel a little more chewy and stringy.
      The milk might also play a role here. Milk reacts with sugar and cause the caramel to change color and flavor. It also tends to thicken the caramel quite a bit. If, as a result of that not enough moisture is left for the sugar to dissolve in, that can cause sugar crystallization as well.

      Hope that helps to figure out what’s going on!

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