How to Make Homemade Caramels Without Corn Syrup

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A decadent cheesecake dripping in homemade caramel on a glass pastry stand.
A decadent cheesecake dripping in homemade caramel on a glass pastry stand. (Image: melissatenpas/iStock/Getty Images)

Modern candy-making instructions often call for corn syrup, even for old-fashioned confections such as caramels. Because they predate the corn syrup trend, an older caramel recipe is likely to call for a different sweetener. You have options when it comes to making caramels, so consider substituting a liquid sweetener that suits your personal tastes.

Corn Convenience

It's important to understand what corn syrup achieves in candy-making before you look for ways to avoid the ingredient. For caramels, corn syrup helps control sugar's graininess. It also hastens the transformation of the candy from a thin syrup to a thick concoction that solidifies as it cools. The amount of corn syrup used in a caramel recipe determines the texture. Too little results in candy that never sets, while too much produces candy with an overly chewy bite.

Classic Caramels

At their most basic, old-fashioned caramels require only sugar and milk, although some traditional recipes call for a small amount of butter at the end. Caramels form when you boil 2 parts sugar to 1 part milk. Once a drop of the mixture turns into a soft ball in cold water, you can pour it onto buttered plates, then cut it into pieces. To discourage graininess and encourage even cooking, remain vigilant during all stages of the process.

Sticky Substitutes

For modern cooks, using a substitute for corn syrup rather than forgoing a liquid sweetener may produce more predictable results. Choose a light-colored, mild-tasting honey, such as clover or alfalfa. Alternatively, look for golden syrup, also known as cane syrup or treacle. Rice syrup also works, but keep in mind that it is often darker than light corn syrup, honey or golden syrup, which affects the color of the candy.

Tips for Success

For predictable results, substitute the corn syrup with an equal amount of honey, golden syrup or rice syrup. Author David Lebovitz's salted caramels, for example, call for caramelizing sugar with about half as much corn syrup or alternative liquid sweetener. To follow a precise modern recipe, use a candy thermometer for an accurate determination of when to add warmed cream and butter and optional ingredients, such as sea salt and nuts, as well as when to take the caramel off the heat and pour it into a buttered pan to solidify.

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