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Feb 21, 2010 06:25 PM

Making homemade caramels shelf-stable

I make a European style soft homeade caramel candy. The only problem is that they aren't shelf stable. After a week or 2 they start to deteriorate and slowly get grainy (with sugar crystals). Does anyone know what I can do to make them more shelf stable?

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  1. Do you use more than one kind of sugar already? If not, I would suggest the addition of some cane syrup or corn syrup to keep the small sugar crystals from finding each other and becoming big crystals. Those crystals do love a good party. It would only need be a small percentage. What is the recipe? It would be easier to offer suggestions if we could see the ingredients.

    7 Replies
    1. re: cinnamon girl

      Yes, I use sugar and corn syrup already. THere is no graininess in the caramels initially, they just degrade over time, less than a month.
      I use 3c sugar to 1/2c corn syrup with 1c water, I take that to 350F, then add butter, heavy cream, vanilla and salt and I take it to 248F. i just pour it out, I don't scrape the pan, as I've found that that will make them crystalize right away. Anything jump out at you?

      1. re: runwestierun

        I'm puzzled b/c it's initially good and then degrades. In other kinds of candy making it's important that the sugar be dissolved before it starts to boil. I don't know if this is specific to caramels though.

        Also, you're obviously not introducing sugar crystals back into the pot during cooking or you'd notice it in the initial texture. That said, you can't rinse off the stirring spoon too often in making candy. In looking at a caramel thread on egullet (sorry hounds), I noticed the prevalence of a tiny amount of lecithin in their various experiments. I'm wondering if, after a couple of weeks, there's some loss of emulsion occurring. Crystals forming in "space" created between the slightly separating ingreds maybe? Here is the thread I looked at:
        There might be other ones too.

        EDIT/PS: In a different vein, does the humidity make any difference how long it takes for them to start crystallizing?

        1. re: cinnamon girl

          Where do you live? The problem is likely that you live in a humid environment and because sugar is extremely hygroscopic it is absorbing moisture from the air and getting grainy. The solution is to take the sugar a few degrees higher than usual and then to store your candies in a airtight container.

          1. re: Kelli2006

            I live on the Oregon coast. I do believe the only places more humid on earth are significantly closer to the equator. If I take the caramels to a higher temperature, though, they are harder to chew, and I don't like that. I will try the airtight container. I've been keeping them in a crock with a loose lid. THank you.

            1. re: runwestierun

              Keep them well wrapped, do you do individual wraps?? PITA, I know, but that'll help. I didn't ask about humidity but I know it's humid out there.

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                I pour the hot caramel into a pan lined with parchment and sprayed with a little Pam. Then I put them in the fridge for an hour. Then I cut them and wrap them individually in waxed paper.

              2. re: runwestierun

                You don't want to cook them to more then 5-10° or the texture will change significantly. The ambient moisture will be absorbed and they soften them with time, or you can cook them as usual and make smaller batches more often.

                250° is a good temp but I wouldn't go over 255.

      2. "In other kinds of candy making it's important that the sugar be dissolved before it starts to boil. I don't know if this is specific to caramels though."

        Yes, this is very important in making caramels as well and the major reason your's are eventually becoming grainy. Humidity will account for soft caramels, longer cooking time or the mixture not setting up at all. As cinnamon girl wrote, "crystals love a good party" and even one tiny undissolved crystal will find a way to hook up and create others. It's a chain reaction influenced by density and temperature, other ingredients added into the formula and cooling technique.

        The lecithin in the egullet fromula will definitely help with emulsion and possibly keep the caramels more stable but make sure to get all that sugar dissolved as well as you can, and don't scrape the pan. Try the egullet formula, although I don't like the Sorbitol use, I think it will make your caramels unnecessarily sweeter, and bring the temp to 148*. The use of glucose (corn syrup) prevents sugar crystals from killing the texture. As far as the demi-sel beurre, we don't have that product in the US unless you can get some French demi-sel, but I don't use salted butter in caramels. Just add salt to the caramel, as you were.

        Read this link for more info that will give your caramel making the edge you want:

        15 Replies
        1. re: bushwickgirl

          BG: Thanks for the humidity info - I was quite sure it wasn't a factor in Runwestierun's problem but it's nice to know what it does affect with caramels.

          What is the purpose of the Sorbitol? I can hardly wait to dive into that site; it's now bookmarked, coffee is ready . . . here comes a pleasurable hour! Thanks.

          1. re: cinnamon girl

            Sorbitol, who knows, the recipe writer's idea of a sweetener experiment maybe, nothing to do with caramel making technique or the improvement thereof. Derived from fruits, Sorbitol is a natural sugar substitute used by diabetics and also works as a humectant, attracting and maintaining moisture. I really can't think of why it's in the formula, unless it has something to do with keeping the caramels soft, but it makes no sense to me.

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              Thanks for the clarification and details about Sorbitol. How odd. It seems unnecessary to add a humectant to caramels. Plus they have the lecithin in there which, (I'm guessing here), as well as its primary function of emulsifier, also has humectant qualities - or at least "moisturizing" ones. It's sometimes added to breads that go stale quickly to keep it fresh longer. I should dig out RLB . . . she writes about lecithin acts in bread to maintain freshness.

              1. re: cinnamon girl

                Thank you all very much. I have not been careful to make sure the sugar was dissolved before it boils, I will do that. I will also try the lecithin, that is very promising.

                Now, about scraping the pan--I don't scrape at all when I am caramelizing the sugar, water and corn syrup. However, once I add the cream, butter and vanilla I stir and scrape the whole time it's cooking. I don't scrape when I am pouring it into the pan, I just pour. Is this OK?

                And one more question-- the only decent light colored pan I have is an All-Clad 9" skillet, so that's what I caramelize the sugar in. The pan is too wide for the burner and the sugar in the middle gets brown first. I don't scrape the edges, but I will use a silicone wisk and slowly pull the darker sugar out to the edges of the pan to get everything evenly caramelized. Could this be contributing to my problem? Is there any solution besides forking over the $$ for the right pan?

                1. re: runwestierun

                  "Now, about scraping the pan--I don't scrape at all when I am caramelizing the sugar, water and corn syrup. However, once I add the cream, butter and vanilla I stir and scrape the whole time it's cooking. I don't scrape when I am pouring it into the pan, I just pour. Is this OK?"

                  That's good. Are you occasionally washing down the pan sides while the sugar is carmelizing, to get stray sugar crystals? No stirring while carmelizing, which I think you're good with. Stirring is necessary, scraping the pan bottom to prevent sticking and burning, after you add the butter and cream, that's good.

                  Are you warming the cream before adding it to the carmelized sugar?

                  I make caramel in a saucepan, not a skillet. You must have some small burners if a 9" skillet doesn't fit. Are you using gas? I don't think the sugar carmelizing at different points is a problem, but it might be contributing to undissolved sugar crystals in your mix. Try a straight-sided saucepan, I use a 4 quart.

                  Let us know how if turns out.

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    Yes, I do warm the cream. THank you, I forgot to mention that.

                    I am cooking on a dinky-assed 30" electric stove because I live in a remote area with no natural gas. Imagine that. And I only have the one light colored pan, and I've found I need it to be light to see the color of the sugar.
                    We lost everything in a storm a couple years ago. We had to buy another house fast and I love the house, the stove is just a pain. As we slowly replace everything (pretty soon I'll have TWO pans!!) it's become clear that there are priorities--buying mattresses trumps remodelling kitchen so a bigger stove will fit. But what would make having a crappy stove better? Mmmmmmmm, shelf-stable homemade caramels.....

                    Back on track--I don't wash down the sides of the pan while I'm cooking the sugar. I will try that and post my results here. I don't get a crust around the outside, though, I remember I used to get a crust in my old pan. Thank you for all the solutions. I am excited to try them!

                    1. re: runwestierun

                      Oh, I'm truly sorry for your difficulties. Making caramels can certainly be a way of reminding one that there is a sweet side to life, even with all the bitter crap that comes one's way.
                      So keep up the caramel making. Your energy and resolve have encouraged me to do the same, in my also somewhat miserable existance, and I thank you for that.
                      Let us know how everything turns out.

                      1. re: bushwickgirl

                        Also sorry to hear you're having a bit of misery yourself BG. But the technical aspects of baking and candy making are always a good distraction, oui?

                        Anyway in thinking abt that egullet thread I'm struck by the approach. Everyone continued to twist themselves into knots after the original recipe (of that French caramel maker) was posted. Their solution seemed to be how many other ingredients they could add (sorbitol, lecithin . . . forget what else), rather than working on manipulating the basic ingredients. I guess it's a question of what kind of mastery you're pursuing.

                        1. re: cinnamon girl

                          Thanks for your kind words, baking and candy making are great distractions and then you get to eat something nice...

                          As far as all the added ingredients, it's the molecular gastronomy influence, I think, or maybe the egullet boy's club thing (sorry guys, and any females that have posted to egullet) or how to build a better caramel, one of those. I'm caught up in sticking to the basics, although there's another caramel thread happening right now and I did ask for the condensed milk version caramel recipe, but at least I'm not using Sorbitol.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl

                            Part of me loves all that stuff and I can get quite caught up in reading/learning about all the "chemistry set ingredients." It really didn't strike me till after someone posted the original recipe w/o the extras, that there's a real merit in learning how to manipulate the basic ingredients. It's all chemistry after all. I accidentally came home with someone else's condensed milk from the store a few months ago . . . that might be a good use for it. Another hour or two lost on the caramel threads is in my near future.

                      2. re: runwestierun

                        I'm sorry about storm experience, RWR. You've got a great spirit though. Just make caramels! I wasn't online yesterday but see that Kelly also asked you about humidity. I used to live in Vancouver - same climate as yours - so know EXACTLY what you're talking about.

                        There was a good thread on the Cookware board about buying pots. I think it was something like "Is All-Clad worth it?" and a lot of people chimed in with a brand they found as good as All-Clad for a fraction of the price in one of those big-box stores. A tool and dye actually took his equipment and measured the thickness of each and found the cheaper one to the be as good. If I find the thread I will include it here. Even if it's just to accumulate one inexpensive-high quality pot at a time when you're in your nearest city. Good luck! Keep making caramels.

                        1. re: cinnamon girl

                          Thank you all! I have not tried making them yet, the new husband is visiting his sister far away and I am doing the spring cleaning early this year the way I like to do it--gut everything, clean everything, and then put it all back. It pretty much requires living alone.

                          I hope things are going better for you, BWG. Or at least that your troubles are easily cured by baking. You mentioned that there is another caramel thread happening. Is it on EG? Could you please post a link?

                          Also, I would gladly post my recipe if anyone wanted to try it and see if they degraded (I assume you all live in the desert.)

                            1. re: runwestierun

                              Thanks for the kindness, mostly my life is ruled by my disability and the poverty it has led me to, but as I'm sure you know, things change, so I don't expect to have this life, as it stands, last forever. Onward and upward, and something sweet to eat can't be beat. Sure, post the recipe!

                              That said, here's the other link, possibly with some info for you that would be useful:

                              Good luck with your spring cleaning endeavors. My place needs the same treatment and now we have the cat fur shedding season coming...

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                Absolutely! Things certainly do change and your situation will change for the better.

            2. shelf-stable beyond a few days belongs to manufacturers (who don't mind preservatives and other crap). i wouldn't change that caramel with anything, just don't make too much. if you were giving it away, just attach a 'best before' tag.

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