I’ve been experimenting with making candies using honey instead of corn syrup, and these Sea Salt Honey Caramels were the results. I got interested a couple of months ago when I stopped in at Cox Honey in Cache Valley and bought several jars of honey. I wanted to have good-quality honey on hand for my whole wheat bread recipe. I got a little carried away — $90 worth of honey will last me awhile!
A lot of caramel recipes have corn syrup in them, because as an invert sugar, it prevents sugar crystals from forming. Sugar starts out grainy, and turns liquid when it’s melted. Still, the little jagged edges can re-attach and crystallize, making your candy grainy. Corn syrup helps to interfere with the crystals re-forming, keeping your candy smooth.
Honey is also an invert sugar, so I thought maybe it could do the job just as well. It’s more expensive than corn syrup, but a lot of people are avoiding corn syrup these days for heath issues. And I love the honey flavor in these caramels!
You don’t need to dust them with salt (especially if you have health problems with sodium), but salted caramel is still kinda trendy, and the large crystals add a little flair.
I’m not a candy-making expert, but I’ve learned a few things that work for me:
1. Be sure to start with a large pot, so when the candy boils, it doesn’t boil over the sides.
2. Don’t forget the pinch of baking soda in the recipe. It keeps the caramel from “curdling” while it’s cooking, and I think it also aids in the caramelization process.
3. While cooking, use a pastry brush dipped in water to “wash down” any sugar from the sides of the pot. This will also keep the sugar crystals from forming. You could also butter the sides of the pot before you add any ingredients, to keep sugar crystals from sticking.
4. Temperature tips: Most of Utah’s population is about 4,000 to 4,600 feet above sea level (and higher in the foothills, Park City and other mountainous areas), so water boils and evaporates at a lower temperature than at sea level. So does your candy! It will be done at a much lower temperature than specified in a national cookbook or marked on a candy thermometer, which are designed for sea level temperatures.
Generally, subtract about 2 degrees for every 1,000 feet above sea level. To be sure, you could calibrate your thermometer. Put your thermometer in boiling water, and subtract the thermometer’s temperature from 212 degrees (the sea level boiling point). Whenever you make candy, subtract that number from the temperature given in the recipe. So if your thermometer read 204 degrees, you would subtract that from 212 and get 8. That’s your boiling point. From then on, always subtract 8 from the temperature given in any cookbook candy recipes.
Sea Salt Honey Caramels
I sprinkled mine with Real Salt, from Redmond, Utah. The kosher version has bigger, nicer-looking crystals.
Cooking spray and butter
1 cup honey
2 cups white sugar
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Line an 9-by-9 inch baking dish with wax or parchment paper. Spray paper with cooking spray.
In a large, heavy pot. Mix together the honey, sugar, milk, butter and baking soda over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, while stirring occasionally.
Keep the syrup boiling over medium heat, stirring often to keep it from scorching on the bottom of the pan. Be patient; turning up the heat may cause it to burn. Continue to let the mixture boil until the temperature reaches soft ball stage (about 240 at sea level, or about 232 degrees at Utah’s altitude). Or use the cold water test: when a few drops of the candy syrup, dropped in a cup of cold water, becomes a soft ball. You can also drop a few drops on a small chilled plate to see if it becomes a soft ball.
Pour the caramel into the prepared baking dish.
Let the caramels cool at room temperature until firm. Sprinkle lightly with kosher or large-crystal sea salt.
Lift up on the ends of the parchment paper to pull the block of caramel out of the pan. Cut in 1-inch pieces. Serve, or wrap in waxed paper for giving.
— Valerie Phillips