Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Dec 20, 2008 12:19 PM

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.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MollyGee

          From what I have seen in other recipes, corn syrup is what is needed to keep the sugar from crystallizing on the sides of the pan.

          1. re: drtommd

            You can caramelize sugar without corn syrup, what the corn syrup does is prevent crystallization over time so the caramels will stay soft.

        2. 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 (, 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.