I love caramel. No, really. Love it. It’s one of the few things in my life I’d commit to because I know my love is everlasting. I have found reason to cut back (way back to nothing) on dairy recently. It saddens me. Mostly because of cheese (my other love). But also because of caramel.
The truth, though, is it’s good that I have to avoid caramel made with dairy. Why, you ask? Because how often do you get plain old, delicious, perfect caramel? Maybe at Christmas time. Usually, though, I’m stuck eating caramel with something. Like with chocolate coating. Or with some type of nuts. The real craving is for caramel. Just caramel. And not those blocks of Kraft caramels. You know, the plastic-wrapped ones that are good, but also kind of hard and not quite creamy enough. Those are good candies for grandpas to carry in the front pocked of their overalls, but they’re not good for adults who know what real love is.
A week or so ago, Tropical Traditions had coconut cream concentrate on sale. Coconut cream concentrate, also called coconut butter, is essentially ground up coconut. Similar to how peanut butter or almond butter is just ground up peanuts or almonds. Can you make this stuff yourself? Sure. But it was on sale, and Tropical Traditions is a very reputable company. I bought a gallon of their Gold Label virgin coconut oil this last winter from them, and it’s already almost gone. I’m a single girl. I’m not ashamed of my intake of medium chain fatty acids!
Anyway, this isn’t an advertisement for Tropical Traditions. Although, if you’re wondering, yes, you should buy from them. This is for what the coconut cream concentrate inspired me to do: make my very first caramels!
Sweet mother of deliciousness. Is this what it’s like to have faith that there’s good in the world?
For the record, I’ve been meaning to make caramels for quite a while. Every Christmas my mom’s friend makes them, and I love them. They’re one of my favorite Christmas foods. And honestly, the recipes seem pretty simple. I make several batches of cinnamon candy for friends and co-workers. Working a candy thermometer sounds more intimidating than it is. So it was just a matter of choosing a recipe and jumping in.
I used several recipes, including this, as a starting point. I noticed most recipes had cream, butter and some type of sweetener. I used my can of coconut cream as a replacement for heavy cream, coconut cream concentrate as a replacement for butter, and honey and maple syrup for the sweetener. I felt like maple syrup might be a better match for caramels, but also love the flavor of honey. So I decided to get the best of both worlds and mix and match.
For my inaugural run, I made simple caramel. Simple, delicious, melty, salted caramel. I’m already dreaming of next time when I might add some toasted chopped pecans. Maybe a drizzle of dark chocolate. Eh. Maybe not, too. Just know you can use this recipe as a base and adjust to your tastes.
Here’s the recipe. Finally!
Salted Coconut Caramels
- 5.4 oz can coconut cream (I used Native Forest brand)
- 2.7 oz coconut cream concentrate/coconut butter (Tropical Traditions brand)
- 2.7 oz honey (I used local)
- 2.7 oz maple syrup (I used grade B, organic)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (I have actual vanilla, not just extract – if you’re using extract, I’d suggest using half this amount)
- ½ teaspoon sea salt (plus more for sprinkling)
I poured the can of coconut cream in a small, heavy pan. And then filled the can with honey and maple syrup. Rather than fill each halfway full, I simply added both, roughly half and half. When the can was full, I dumped. Then I filled the can a third time, this time again roughly half full, with coconut cream concentrate. I added ½ teaspoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
I brought everything to a boil at about medium-high head and reduced the heat to medium. I didn’t whisk constantly, but stirred fairly regularly.
When I make candy, I feel like the temp rises quickly at first, then slows to a crawl that last bit. When the temp reached around 250 degrees, it started to pull away from the sides and I had a hard time stirring the spot on the side where my thermometer was. I ended up pulling it out and stirring until I decided to pour onto a pan greased with coconut oil. (To grease the pan I poured some coconut oil on a pan and spread it out with a paper towel. This is how we do greasing in my 1950s kitchen! Spraying food release is so 1990s.)
I spread the caramels with a metal spoon and let sit for about 15 minutes. Right moving to the fridge (so they’d setup faster), I sprinkled some sea salt over top.
When they’d cooled and setup, I cut them into pieces with a spatula. And put them on pieces of plastic wrap. I formed them into roughly shaped squares/balls/rectangles and wrapped. I ended up with about 25 decent sized caramels.
A few notes:
- I ended up with 25 caramels.
- If you’re wondering why I have such weird measurements, I used my 5.4 oz can of coconut cream as a base for measurement. It was actually really simple to do that way using equal parts coconut cream and honey or maple syrup with half the amount of coconut cream concentrate/coconut butter. I have real vanilla, so I added a full teaspoon. If you’re using extract you might want to use a smaller amount. And I might have added more salt than some people prefer, but I like salted caramel.
- Feel free to make a caramel size of your choice, or you don’t even have to wrap at all. I wrapped mine and stored them in the fridge because my house gets fairly warm during the day.
- Here’s a handy chart for the different temperatures associated with each stage of candy. In this case, the recipe was aiming for hard ball stage (260 degrees). It’s possible I was still in firm ball stage (closer to 250 degrees) since I didn’t use my thermometer that last bit. You can see descriptions of what types of candy are generally made at what stage. And I noticed caramels are generally a firm ball candy. So maybe not cooking up to 260 degrees was a good idea. I’m unsure. The cinnamon candy I make cooks to hard crack, but it’s easier (and not as imperative) to stir. If you don’t cook that one to hard crack, it will be chewy and not like a hard candy. In this case, with these caramels, I think you have a bit more wiggle room. So cook to your desired temperature.
Here’s the caramel – You can see I roughly spread it with the back of a metal spoon, onto a greased metal pan.
And the finished product. They won’t win any awards for style. But the flavor is decadent.