I know now it was because I cooked it too hot. Candy making is really precise and you do really need to use a good thermometer and monitor it closely to get good results.
Never being one to give up easily I decided to give the recipe another try this year. Much to my delight it turned out perfectly.
Here are a couple of things I learned while making caramels:
1. Have everything prepped and ready to go before you start. Pan lined, ingredients out and measured. It just makes everything go smoother and less stressful.
2. Candy making is not a time for multitasking. You really need to stay focused on the job at hand. Now is not the time to wander out of the kitchen and fold a load of laundry, Book some Faces (Facebook) or run outside to check the mail. No, really! You need to stand by stove and pay attention to what your caramel is doing. Sugar burns easily. And it burns hot. A drip of hot sugar on your skin will hurt like the dickens. Pay attention, stay focused and plan for up to two hours in the kitchen. I promise you...it's worth it.
3. Use a digital thermometer if you can. Last year I used an old fashioned glass candy thermometer. I think that's where I messed up. A digital thermometer made it much easy to remove the caramel from the heat at the precise temperature and stop the cooking. If you cook it too much it'll make toffee like candy: hard and crunchy. If you cook it too little it'll be soft and mushy and won't hold its shape.
4. DO NOT STIR! the sugar, corn syrup and water mix. Why? I haven't a single clue. But don't do it. I know I did when I made it last year and since learned that stirring the sugar mix is a no-no. So learn from my mistakes, don't stir during this step.
5. Once you hit 310 degrees (F) and add in the warmed liquids, understand that it's going to take a long time to hit 248 degrees again. I kept thinking it should move faster than it did. Patience, Grasshopper, you will be rewarded if you just take the time needed. But during this step in the process: stir, stir, stir using a whisk.
6. Sprinkling the kosher salt at the end: Look at both of my photos. You'll see that the first caramels with the Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey didn't have much salt on them. And the next photo had quite a bit more. The recipe calls for one tablespoon of salt to be sprinkled but it also said to do it to taste. One tablespoon seemed quite excessive so I found a happy medium for me and probably used less than a 1/2 tablespoon on the second batch. That was perfect to my taste.
7. Once the caramels are cooled in the pan, cut them to size and wrap them with wax paper. Don't think you can cut them and pile them in an airtight container. Nope, not a good plan. You'll just get one big stuck together pile of candy. Not fun. Take the time to wrap each one.
8. Eat them right away. I sent some to a friend (Hi Amy!) and she tucked them away and went out of town for a week. When she returned and tried them she said that they were all sugary. Not caramel like at all. I haven't had that happen because quite honestly I haven't had a batch last longer than a week (What?!? They're damn good...!) so I don't know what happened. But just don't let them sit too long...you'll probably regret it.
9. Don't be afraid to experiment! I decided to try making these with some cinnamon whiskey. I wanted to try using Fireball whiskey but our liquor store didn't carry it so I bought Yukon Jack Wicked Hot whiskey instead. The cinnamon flavor carried through but I wondered if the Fireball Whiskey would have had a stronger cinnamon taste? Next up for me is Apple Pucker Salted Caramels. Doesn't that sound delish??
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup whipping cream
2 ounces (1/4 cup) honey flavored whiskey (Jack Daniels)
1 tsp vanilla
1 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1. Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper; spray with cooking spray.
2. In 1 quart saucepan, heat butter, whipping cream, whiskey, vanilla, and 1 tsp of salt to boiling stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. In 3 quart saucepan, mix sugar, corn syrup and water. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat. DO NOT STIR!!!! Boil until the sugar turns a light golden amber color and the candy thermometer reads 310 degrees (F).
4. When sugar mixture reaches 310 add cream mixture. Beating with whisk cook until thermometer reads 248 degrees (F). Pour caramels into pan, cool ten minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste. Cool completely.
Cut into squares, wrap individually in parchment or waxed paper.
The original caramel recipe is attributed to Bakedbree.com.