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Caramel trouble

I am trying to make caramel for turtle brownies using the Cook's Illustrated recipe, and my caramel is gritty. Can I rescue it? If I try another batch how can I prevent this from happening again? The recipe includes corn syrup and I do not have a candy thermometer.


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  1. I just made some turtle brownies from a recipe a friend gave. I will share it; it is a quick cheater's version but quite good. Could you share your recipe?
    Preheat to 350, grease 9 by 13 pan.
    Press 1/2 of the mix (1 pkg choc cake mix, 1/2 c butter, 1/4 c milk) into pan. Bake 7-8 mins or until crust begins to form.
    Sprinkle on 6 oz ssweet choc chips, 1/2 c pecans, and drizzle 1 jar best quality caramel ice cream topping.
    Spoon on top other half of batter. Sprinkle 1/2 c pecans, bake another 109-20 mins. Caramel will be soft.

    Not like homemade but they are gone very quickly.
    I have tried caramel unsuccessfully without a candy thermometer. Run out and get one.

    1. How long did you cook it? Caramel takes a good ten to fifteen minutes after it reaches a rolling boil. It will start to change color when you are getting close. Caramel is a firm ball, which you can test by dropping a small amount into cold water, then squeezing with your fingers to test the consistency.

      I just made salt caramels today, from this recipe:


      1. I make caramel very often and rarely use a candy thermometer nor do I drop any bits of the candy into water nor do I wipe the side of the pan with water. It's a visual thing, caramel-making and my biggest piece of advice is to never turn your back on the caramel and to err on the side of lower heat and longer cooking time...but your problem is, most likely, that the pan you used wasn't completely clean and, so, the sugar crystallized around little bits of debris. I once used vanilla bean sugar to make caramel and the end result was somewhat gritty. Please don't give up.

        1. Making caramel can be difficult. What has happen is as MollyGee pointed out it has crystallized. Now this can be a problem, but using a clean pot, brushing down the sides of the pot with cold water while you sugar is going through the different stages will help to prevent crystallization.

          Brushing down the sides of the pot with cold water will help to prevent the sugar from becoming crystallized. This is very important. Now depending on the sugar, you may need to clean the side of the pot more often.

          It would appear that you might have stopped the cooking process too soon; you should have kept going until the sugar is golden amber. When the sugar is golden amber, it’s going to reach about 340ºf, and will start to burn at 350ºf.

          Also, most often once you hit the caramel stage (http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/...), I suppose you want a golden caramel colour, the crystallized sugar will 90% of the time turn into caramel. What will happen is that a small part of the sugar in the pot will become a golden caramel colour; at this point you want to gently swirl the pot of caramel to help the browning process, do not swirl or mix the caramel using a spoon, swirl the pot. Once the caramel is a golden amber colour, you should stop the cooking process, so dip the pot into a bowl of cold water. This will also help to prevent you from overcooking (burning) the caramel. As a rule you do not want any smoke to come off the caramel, as the caramel begins to burn it will also give a very bitter taste.

          Also, be patient it takes some time to bring sugar and water to 340ºf. You do not need to add lots of water, just enough to make a paste. But it takes very little time to go from 340ºf to 350ºf, depending on the amount of sugar it can be a few seconds, turn you head and its burnt!

          Regarding the candy thermometer you don’t really need one to make caramel. You’re bringing the sugar water mixture up to almost the point of burring. So there is no need to worry about what temp the sugar is. You know you’re at the caramel stage as the sugar turns to a golden amber colour.

          8 Replies
            1. re: onlyscratch

              No, we are talking about caramel not firm ball stage.

              1. re: Pastryrocks

                I guess I'm confused. The initial question was in reference to caramel that would top a brownie, wouldn't that be firm ball stage? Also, doesn't cooking caramels to 340 degrees make it hard...more like toffee? If you caramelize sugar for syrup, you would cook to 340-350, but not for caramel topping...right? Soft to firm caramels, I thought, were cooked to 248 to 250 degrees, that's the temp at which I cook my caramels. I'm really not being a smart alec, I'm genuinely confused. Where am I making the disconnect?

                1. re: onlyscratch

                  Once you get above hard crack candy stage, you reach caramel stage. So to make a caramel sauce or caramels, you need to bring the temp up into that range. Weird, right? I make almond toffee, cooking it to 280, where it cracks like a brittle. But my caramel sauce (delicious on ice cream or as a topping on brownies or cakes) cooks until 350.

                  Oh, and always gently swirl in the pot - never stir. Adding any instruments to the hot sugar, or you will increase your risk of crystallizing as the cold (or coldER) hits the hot.

                  1. re: RosemaryHoney

                    Hi RosemaryHoney,

                    Can you please take a look at this post of mine?

                    I need help in cooking the Almond Toffee, so since you cook it it will be great of you can help me out.


                    1. re: RosemaryHoney

                      Hi RosemaryHoney,

                      Can you please take a look at this post of mine?

                      I need help in cooking the Almond Toffee, so since you cook it it will be great of you can help me out.


                      1. re: RosemaryHoney

                        Hi RosemaryHoney - I am 3 years behind this post, but here goes :)

                        I just wanted to add on to what onlyscratch mentioned.

                        The caramel has 2 processes and may be he is referring to the temperature after adding the cream/butter.

                        So to get it right - according to your post, it should reach about 340 degrees when simply melting the sugar and then after adding the butter/cream it should reach no higher than 248.

                        Would this be correct?

                      2. re: onlyscratch

                        Onlyscratch firm ball stage is about 100ºf from becoming brown caramel. Caramels are a candy, not liquid caramel. I’m no candy maker, but I have made fudge, nut brittle and also coloured glass from sugar and food coloring for garnish. Also made a ton of spun sugar for Croquembouche, not to mention the caramel so that the choux balls stay on the Croquembouche and the dripping of liquid caramel to make icicles.

                        Without knowing the recipe, I assume that 35% cream and/or butter was added when the sugar reached the brown caramel stage. From brown liquid caramel one could add 35% cream to make caramel sauce or also add some butter and make butterscotch sauce. Caramel is sugar that has been cooked to just over 340ºf. If allowed to cool in a cold water bath just until it could be piped (to prevent burring of the caramel), one could pipe out decorations. Add the liquid brown caramel to the bottom of ramekins allow to cool and become firm; and then pour in custard to make crème caramel. I could go on and on…

                        I hope this helps.

                2. The purpose of corn syrup is to prevent crystallization or grittiness. I have never seen a solution to fix caramel once it has become gritty. You can try to take the crystalized caramel and heat it over low heat to melt the crystals.

                  Are you using a dry caramel or wet (using water) caramel? A wet caramel will give you more control over cooking time but you have to be careful with agitating the sugar mix which can form crystals. I've never had an issue with crystallization when using a dry caramel.

                  1. It seems to me that using a candy thermometer if you are new to caramelizing sugar would be a good idea, both to get a sense of what temperature corresponds to color and to permit the user to feel some semblance of control over the process.

                    5 Replies
                      1. re: onlyscratch

                        I agree three. Any suggestions about which one to buy? Or I suppose that's in the "Tools" section.

                        1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                          Becareful of the taylor candy thermometers, I had the lettering rub off after a few uses.

                          1. re: chocolateman

                            My husband scrubbed the lettering off in the course of trying to be helpful.

                          2. re: somervilleoldtimer

                            I make and sell caramels, and have found that the expensive thermometers are no better than the thermometers that by Accurite ($3), at least for me they've been no better. I purchased two of the Sur La Table candy thermometers, and neither were accurate. I also purchased one from Taylor, and found it to be inaccurate as well, and there is the problem with the numbers rubbing off. My Accurite thermometer has not steered me wrong. I've made caramels for years and still use a thermometer...habit & security I guess.

                      2. I had CRAZY trouble with this this weekend making a version of the almond- clementine cake. I KNEW I should have started a2 bew thread! You guys are great! Anyway, here's what I dug up instead.


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                          I am familiar with that recipe and found the caramel portion very tricky and after difficulty with it, abandoned it, asked for advice here and began using recipes and suggestions from the caramel experts who joined in to help. The temperatures are very high with that recipe and conflict with all others I've come across so my advice is to ditch CI (blasphemy!) and use one of those offered here. A search on caramel will turn up more help.

                          That being said, I've yet to make a turtle brownie that pleases me. Often the brownie absorbs the caramel which I sandwich in the middle instead of swirling on top (that makes the top sticky and messy to eat and wrap.) Baking a base layer until set hasn't really helped and I'm almost ready to raise the white flag to my fantasy of the perfect turtle brownie. I have learned to make delicious caramel so all attempts were worth it.

                        2. As was briefly mentioned below, you should NOT be stirring your caramel with a wooden spoon or anything, but should only be swirling the pot. According to Chef Michael Smith from "Chef at Home", stirring caramel will make it crystallize. Not sure how you can fix it, but if you start a new batch, I would try to just SWIRL, and follow the other suggestions such as brushing down the sides of the pot. Took me a few tries to find out what worked best.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: icey

                            Also stirring can mix in some unmelted sugar crystals from the side of the pot and presto, crystallization.

                            1. re: icey

                              Sugar should not be agitated in any way while it is being cooked to the caramel stage, stirring, swirling, wiggling, etc can start the crystalization process and you can end up with gritty sugar.

                              For beginners, using a pastry brush and cold water to swab the sides can help prevent this from happening. I use a candy thermometer as well, just as a precaution.

                            2. Just wanted to quickly reply to the original question--Can crystallization be reversed when making caramel? Short answer: yes! Last night my caramel suddenly turned to sand because I had no idea what I was doing and I desperately searched the internet to find out how I could fix it. All the articles I looked at said this was irreversible and gave tips on how to prevent it in the first place. Not very helpful when you've already screwed up. But I thought to myself, the sugar started as crystals and I dissolved it, so why couldn't I do that again? I added some water and brought the heat back to low with the lid on so that steam could also dissolve what was on the walls of the pot. It took forever, and probably would've been quicker to start over, but my caramel finally turned out perfectly. So, if you don't want to toss what you've made because you refuse to let the crystals beat you, you can reverse crystallization. Take that, internet!

                              1. I'm not a caramel expert, but I once used a recipe that called for starting with the butter and sugar together (as opposed to just the sugar, or sugar and water) and it came out very gritty. I had better luck starting with sugar and water.

                                1. I was terrified of making caramel for a long time. Then I got a copy of Joanne Chang's book, Flour, which has directions that are so clear I felt empowered to make caramel and it turned out perfectly. I did not use a thermometer, because Chang's directions included very good visual clues. Using a thermometer tends to make me focus on the thermometer rather than paying close attention to what's going on in the pan.

                                  1. I made caramel last night in my electric pressue cooker.


                                    1. Take any paper label off can so it won't come off during cooking and clog the pressure cooker vents.

                                    2. Place sealed sweetened condensed milk can(s) in pressure cooker and cover with water. The can may be placed upright or on its side, however it will fit. You can cook several cans at once as long as they are all under water.

                                    3. Seal pressure cooker and bring up to HIGH PRESSURE.

                                    4. Cook at HIGH PRESSURE for 25 minutes.

                                    5. Turn off heat and allow the pressure cooker to cool off until pressure reduces and you can open it.

                                    6. Place sealed cooked can(s) in cold water in the sink and allow them to cool to room temperature before opening. Do not attempt to open a hot can, it can spray out hot caramel and cause burns.

                                    7. Open the cooled can and enjoy the caramel.