I see coconut-based soft caramels in stores and they cost a lot. Since caramel is my favorite candy (I would kill a man for a caramel creme), I thought I’d give it a shot. This one’s vegan too! Rejoice!
Here’s a recipe. I halved it in order to not be upset at making untenable sugar waste if the candywork went south. My can opener was also inoperable so I got really creative with one of those can-punch tools. On the plus side, I had all the components in my house so I didn’t have to go grocery shopping.
My ingredients (with questionable halving and resource salvaging):
- 5.5 ounce coconut milk
- 3/8 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 7/8 cups sugar (I used turbinado)
- 3/8 cup water
- 1 TBSP extra virgin coconut oil
First, add the coconut milk, maple syrup, and coconut oil to a pot. Heat it up til it looks liquid and all your coconut cream chunks have dissolved. Make sure the mixture is warm, adding cold things to hot sugar won’t get a nice result.
While this is happening, line a square 9×9 baking dish with parchment paper and oil up the paper with some coconut oil. This is where you’ll put the finished caramel to cool and you want removal to be easy.
Now for sugarwork! In a nice giant flat pan, add sugar and water. Turn up the heat to medium-high and let it keep going until it turns a shade or two darker. Don’t stir! Just let it bubble. That’s normal.
I didn’t use a candy thermometer, I just judged it by eye. Probably not such a great idea for a novice, but it turned out okay. Also, turbinado sugar is already brown, so trying to wait until it gets a “light amber” color is kind of dumb. Caster sugar would be my recommendation. I’m buying a big bag of Domino sugar for the next batch.
Now for a combination! When the sugar gets to be light amber, add the coconut mixture to the sugar. Slowly. Gradually. In portions. Like a college student sloughing off obligations. You’ll get a bigger bubbly pan that smells like coconut.
Let this keep cooking on medium to medium-high heat. Stir constantly. I’ve been given the following tips from my mother and my grandmother about this part:
- Don’t scrape the sides. The sides cook faster and crystallize, if you scrape that into your mixture then the whole thing will turn into crumbly sugar
- Turn down the heat if it threatens to bubble over
- Use the softball test to determine when it’s done
The softball test, you think to yourself. What is that? Do I go outside and play a quick game of softball while it cooks? Do I shape the caramel into a homunculus that has a good throwing arm? Do I hire a team of young softball players to stir? No to all of those.
The softball test is a widely used candy-making technique, also famously used for fudge. Fill up a cup halfway with cold water. Use a spoon to grab a bit of your caramel and drip it into the cup. Retrieve the caramel from the water and see if you can shape it into a ball. A soft ball, if you will. If you can, it’s done! If it’s too hard, you’ve probably messed up the recipe and have to start over. If it dissolves, cook it for longer.
When you pass the softball test, immediately pour the caramel into your prepared baking disk. Don’t you dare scrape those sides. I did, and I got a puddle of crystals in the middle of my batch. Hypothetically, you could sprinkle salt or cookie pieces or something fun onto the top at this point. Put the dish into the freezer until cool.
You did it! Caramels at last. They should be chewy and smooth. Once cool, use the parchment paper to lift out your caramel sheet and cut it up into pieces. Store in an airtight container (I cannot stress this enough) and enjoy!