Homemade caramels are perfectly soft and chewy.  They are so easy to make and are great for gifts for friends and neighbors or just for your family to enjoy! 
  Homemade caramel candies some wrapped and some unwrapped. |
So let’s talk caramels! Do you know there is a difference between caramel and carmel?  Caramels are these scrumptious little candies that you are hopefully planning to make today.  Homemade, perfectly soft and chewy caramels are my weakness, and this is a treasured family recipe.

My family usually reserves them for our special treat at Christmas time. We give them as neighbor gifts and always have a huge batch to enjoy ourselves!

The ingredients for these caramels are very simple. Butter, sugar, karo syrup, evaporated milk, and vanilla extract. However, the key to creating magic–that amazing rich caramel taste and texture–is in the cooking process. These can’t be rushed! Read my tips below, for making perfect caramels, every time.

Side by side images of cooked caramels in a sheet pan and caramels cut into small pieces.

Once you pour them into a jelly-roll or 9×13” pan, allow them to cool completely. You can refrigerate them for a long time. I usually refrigerate them until they are nice and cool, pull the whole pan of parchment paper out onto a cutting board, and then cut them into small squares. They are much easier to cut when they are cold.

A hand using a tool to cut caramels into small squares.
They are seriously the tastiest little caramels ever! “Melt-in-your-mouth delicious” is probably the best way to sum them up!
 Homemade caramels cut into squares, with three wrapped in wax paper.
Tips for perfect caramels:
Slowly stir in the evaporated milk:
It is imperative that you add the evaporated milk just a little bit at a time, taking about 15 minutes per can, to stir it in, so that the mixture maintains a constant boil the entire time. This is a really simple, easy step, but if rushed, you can ruin the caramels.
*If you add the evaporated milk too quickly, the sudden change in temperature of the caramels will cause them to curdle.
Maintain steady heat:
Maintain your burner/stovetop at medium heat. Again, you don’t want any drastic changes in temperature as you cook the caramels.
Candy Thermometer vs. Ice Water Test
I personally don’t trust candy thermometers. Unless you take the time to calibrate yours and make sure it’s correct, they can often times be “off”. And, depending on your location (altitude and humidity) 238 degrees F may not be the perfect temperature for you.

The best (and easiest) way I’ve found for success in any location, is using the ice water method. Drop a spoonful of the hot caramel into a cup of ice water. Mold the caramel with your fingers into a ball. You will know the caramels are ready when they feel pretty firm and pliable.



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Prep 10 mins
Cook 1 hr
Total 1 hr 10 mins
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  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups light corn syrup
  • 24 ounces evaporated milk (2 cans)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Line a 9x13'' 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--9x13'' 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 constant boil, 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.
  • Try these dipped in chocolate or pretzel rods.


Don't miss the tips and tricks for this recipe listed above in the post!


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

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About The Author

Lauren Allen

Welcome! I’m Lauren, a mom of four and lover of good food. Here you’ll find easy recipes and weeknight meal ideas made with real ingredients, with step-by-step photos and videos.

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  1. 5 stars
    SO YUMMY!!!!!
    I’m not the best chef- so 3’s a charm.
    Took me three tries on the same batch to get it right. First time I didn’t cook it long enough and it didn’t harden enough. Threw it back in the pan and proceeded to cook it too long so it became too hard. Threw it back in the pan for the third time, added almost an entire can of evaporated milk and some more corn syrup which did the trick since it was so overcooked. Came out perfect and scrumptious! Took me all day – but hopefully someone can learn from my mistakes!

  2. 5 stars
    This is awesome! Thank you for the recipe.
    I have a question regarding Step 6 and 7.
    “6. 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).
    7. 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.
    wouldn’t several hours in the fridge make the caramels real hard?
    By “but they should be soft at room temperature.”, do you mean once you take them out of friedge and leave them under room temperature then it would soon become soft?
    If so, how long that may take?
    Many thanks.

    1. I like to refrigerate them because they’re easier to cut when they are cold, and hardened. Once they sit out at room temperature, they soften a bit. The pan of caramels will take at least 30 minutes to come to room temperature. Wrapped caramels will soften, once they’re taken out of the fridge, within 15 minutes or so.

      1. Thank you Lauren.
        I did some experimentation for a small quantity late this morning.
        1) I stopped stirring at 424F for the temperature,
        2) transferred it to sheet tray (cupcake shaped);
        3) dipped the bottom of the tray in cold water with ice for 7 to 8 minutes and then took it out
        4) left it under room temperature ( 69F ) with parchment paper loosely on its top for about 42 minutes.
        5) then, became a bit creative, use the tip of a knife to get each of them out the cupcake hole.
        They are slightly harder than desired. I tried one, pretty good.

        I was a bit reluctant to put them in the fridge for concern of flavor contamination because my fridge is crazy full.

        To make the next batch softer,
        should I stop at 420F and cool with ice for 3 to 4 minutes and room temperature cooling for 36 to 37 minutes?

        Many thanks.

        P.S. Could you please replace my email address with “Don Li”? Appreciated.

  3. 5 stars
    I made these!! They turned out so good. Had a nice buttery taste. It took so long for the carmel to reach that 240 soft ball stage I couldn’t believe how long I was standing at the stove maybe because I was stirring it constantly so it didn’t stick or burn.. I never stopped stirring which is crazy because I have ninja pans and nothing sticks haha kinda forgot about that. Any ways after I finally stopped stirring for 20 seconds and allowed it to boil and went back to the pan every 20 or 30 seconds maybe even 40 seconds. It finally reached temp I had to also switch pans early on because there was no way it was going to fit in my biggest one handle pot. So I used a 2 handle pot that I usually use for pasta or big meals and that helped. Thank you so much for the recipe, I now need to try and make a dairy free version for my daughter!! Very delicious 😋 I will be making this again after my arms recover lol!!

  4. I have been told that corn syrup has been linked to several health problems common in my family, is there an alternative (brown sugar, honey, more granulated sugar) that I can use instead? If so, please let me know.

  5. 5 stars
    Absolutely perfect. Your instructions were easy to follow and right on target. I don’t have a candy but remember helping my mom test things with the ice water so I was happy to see your instructions on that. Thank you, this turned out great for me.

  6. 5 stars
    This was my first time making caramels and I found the instructions super easy to follow. They turned out so yummy! I used a pizza cutter to cut them into squares, that worked for me better than a knife and didn’t stick at all. Thank you so much for this yummy recipe, I will definitely make again!

    1. Yes! If you search the comments several others have used a mold with success. Please let us know how it turns out for you!!

  7. Yum. Preheat the evaporated milk in a separate pot or in the microwave, then you can add it much quicker without curdling.

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