Cook the candy to firm ball stage The higher the temperature to which you cook a candy, the less water that remains, which changes the final texture and hardness of the candy. Caramels need to be cooked to ‘firm ball stage’ which is between 245 and 250F. The recipe that we were using initially said to cook to hard ball stage, which we did for our first batch and ended up with caramels that were way too hard to cut into pieces. We had to resort to hammering at it with a knife to get pieces to come off of the block. They still taste fine, but we’re obviously not serving these to our guests!
Use a candy thermometer but also use your judgment First, make sure your thermometer is calibrated correctly by boiling some water and checking that the thermometer reads 212F. If it’s off, remember by how many degrees it is off and use this information when you are making your caramels. Even if your thermometer is calibrated correctly, candy can reach firm ball stage at different temperatures depending on the weather and the humidity outside. Therefore, it is important to know visually when the caramel has reached firm ball stage. To determine this, drizzle a little of the hot caramel into a bowl of cold water. If you can form the candy into a ball that doesn’t deform when you set it in the palm of your hand, and that flattens when squeezed, then you have reached firm ball stage.
Stir, stir, stir! Make sure to stir together all your ingredients before you initially turn on the heat. Also make sure to keep stirring occasionally while you’re waiting for the caramels to reach firm ball stage. It actually takes quite a while for candy to reach firm ball stage, at least 30 minutes. While making our second caramel batch, we mixed it at the beginning and then just kind of let it do its thing. When we returned to the pot we saw that some fat had separated and risen to the top, and some of the sugar had burned a little bit. We quickly stirred it together and everything was fine, but let this be a lesson!
Phew. Caramels can sure be finicky. But ohhh sooo tasty.