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 minutes
Cook 1 hour
Total 1 hour 10 minutes
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  • 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
    Super easy and excellent recipe. I add 2-teaspoons of Watkins butter extract with the vanilla at the end. Also I use sweet condensed milk sometimes for a chewy caramel.

  2. Excited to try this!
    For the sugar, could I use 1 cup granulated sugar and one cup brown sugar? Will it change the flavor too much?

  3. Hi there, quick question! You never mentioned how long after adding in the 2 cups of evaporated milk to keep on heat. What’s your normal time after adding the milk? I took mine off 5-10 minutes AFTER the 20-30 mins of milk adding and they still seem to be under. Thank you for your help!

  4. My family has been making similar caramels to these for decades. I use 1 cup of dark Karo syrup instead of 2 cups light and use 1 can evaporated milk and 1 can sweet condensed milk. Also, if you heat the milks, in a separate pot, to scalding ( near boiling), then you can add it all into the boiling sugar in 2-3 minutes, while stirring, instead of almost a half hour. I also add a tsp of salt to enhance flavor.

  5. 5 stars
    This recipe is perfect as written. I added a tsp of salt with the vanilla, as I’d seen recommended in comments.

    USE PARCHMENT PAPER ONLY, top and bottom, which easily releases. 😁
    Do not use wax paper, it sticks. 🤬Don’t ask me how I know. 🙄

    Following the instructions exactly as written yielded a perfect, stretchy, chewy, candy caramel in a little over an hour of stirring.

    Slooooowly adding the evaporated milk on a heat setting of 6 on my stove kept the boil going without interruption. Each evaporated milk addition was an once or two followed by a minute of stirring, and resulted in a little reaction that enriched the color incrementally. I removed from heat at the top of the “soft ball” stage. This took a little over an hour. (The same amount of time it took me to get the wax paper off after it cooled, because I followed bad internet advice lol)

    I love this recipe and WILL use it again!

  6. 5 stars
    Use condensed milk not evaporated. Put condensed milk in at beginning. Use 1cup brown and 1 cup white sugar. Use 1 cup corn syrup not 2. This recipe is makes no sense. It wont come out right. I have been making candy for 40 years.

    1. 1 star
      I agree with Mark. I am 70 years old and have been making caramels since I was 12 years old I guess. That much granulated sugar and corn syrup will be a mess. Most importantly it will crystalize to hard crunchy caramels in just a few days. This recipe is a set up for epic holiday failure!!

      1. 5 stars
        This recipe worked great, first time I have ever made caramel and they turned out perfect. The only thing is the cooking time was nearly 2 hours instead of the hour and 10 minutes

      2. 5 stars
        I’ve been making these caramels every Christmas for years and they have always been amazing! My nephew found a caramel this past November from the previous Christmas and said it was still as good as the first one he’d eaten when he got them the previous christmas!

    2. 5 stars
      Take it from the many many positive reviews, it does absolutely come out right. I’ve made this recipe multiple times, doubled it and made it all at once, etc. It comes out perfect every time, zero alterations. I’ve had plenty of Caramel from old fashioned candy places and this stuff is as good or better.

  7. Was wondering if you could use Butter flavored pancake syrup instead of karo white corn syrup? Has anyone tried any variations to the syrup ingredient?

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