If at first you don’t succeed {boil the caramels again}

My plan was to make salted caramels, fudge, popcorn balls and peanut brittle.

Things don’t always go according to plan in my life.

My Food Network magazine made it look so simple:

There was the Barefoot Contessa, happily brushing oil on her parchment paper. Only four easy steps, and then “Voila, caramel!”

Or not…

First, Ezra was extremely unhappy about my cooking without him. He wanted to “hold you.”

Then, once I had my two pots going, one of sugar mixture, one of cream, the waiting began. Despite the warning in the magazine…this stuff does not darken quickly!

And wouldn’t you know it, by the time it was just getting dark enough, all chaos broke loose in our house. Cora knocked Silas over, Silas started screaming, and Ezra informed me, “I pooped!” Worrying that my opportunity to see how quickly the caramel would darken had now presented itself, I put Cora in her room, comforted Silas and changed Captain Beefy-Pants.

Quickly washing my hands before I returned to the candy-making (you’re welcome all who are soon to partake), I rushed back to the stove to discover a perfectly warm-brown-colored caramel.

Then I burned myself.

You’d think I’d know better than to turn the candy thermometer upside down as I carried it to the sink. And you’d never think that one tiny drop of caramel could scald so awfully! I opened the freezer to grab an ice-cube to numb and soothe the pain, but found only water in the bottom of our ice bucket.

Water should not be in the freezer…

Come to think of it, the butter had been a tad warmer than usual when I took it out of the fridge earlier…

Instantly I panic, because I had just come home with 9-1/2 gallons of milk the previous night; not something you want to go bad. I pulled out the fridge from the wall, checked the plug, and then flipped the breaker switch. The small light bulb in the corner of the fridge worked when I opened the door, but it was definitely not the proper temperature in there.

Oh, and did I mention I was still in my pajamas and didn’t have a phone to call anyone for suggestions? Yeah, there was that.

With nothing to do but keep the fridge closed to preserve the coolness, I decided to finish the caramels. Two pans were filled with the molton-hot sweetness, and I left them on the counter for a little while, so they wouldn’t heat my fridge. After dressing myself and the kids to go pick up Eli from school, I checked the freezer again.

Still warm.

As a last-ditch effort, I thought that maybe turning the temperature gauges in the fridge would jump-start the cooling system. I adjusted the freezer temperature; nothing. Moving on to the fridge temperature, I noticed that someone {Cora} had turned the dial all the way to Warm. Praise the Lord my fridge was fine. It leapt to life with a mighty rumble as I readjusted the temp to cool, and I quickly put the pans of caramel in to harden.

Later that afternoon, while the kids were napping, I threw together the fudge with much less drama and excitement.


Around 10 PM, after returning home from Josh’s work party, I decided to give the fudge and caramels a taste-test. Peeling the caramel out of the pan, the consistency was much softer than I had anticipated. Oh it tasted delicious, though! It was much too soft, it practically melted in our mouth.

Trying the fudge next, which Josh wouldn’t do because he doesn’t like walnuts, I was instantly transported back to my childhood. Growing up my grandma made fudge, popcorn balls and peanut brittle every Christmas. I would sneak into her kitchen and steal pieces out of the pan while everyone was in the living room. It was wonderful!

Thinking I hadn’t cooked the caramel long enough, I melted it all back down and once again brought it to a boil. This time I managed the whole process without burning myself. Four hours later, the caramel had hardened to an almost brittle-like state. It actually cracked as I cut into it. Once I took a bite, it slowly melted once more. Still delicious!


The popcorn balls and peanut brittle are still to come…

For those of you who wish to take on the challenge of holiday treat making, here are the recipes that I am using. The caramels are from the Food Network’s Ina Garten and the fudge is from my grandma. Enjoy, and good luck!

Grandma’s Fudge

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 large can sweetened condensed milk
  • 7 oz marshmallow creme
  • 2 Hershey’s chocolate bars
  • 12 oz chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and condensed milk in a large sauce pan. Slowly bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Boil for 4 minutes, or until temperature reaches 234 degrees F.

Add marshmallow creme, chocolate bars, chocolate chips, salt, and vanilla. Stir until all is melted and well combined. Stir in nuts.

Pour mixture into a well-buttered 9 x 13 pan. Cool in fridge for a couple of hours.


Fleur de Sel Caramels

by Ina Garten


  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon fine fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling (I used kosher salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Prep the pan. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing it to drape over 2 sides, then brush the paper lightly with oil.

Boil the sugar. In a deep saucepan (6 inches wide and 4 1/2 inches deep), combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown. Don’t stir — just swirl the pan.

Heat the cream. In the meantime, in a small pot, bring the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Finish the caramel. When the sugar mixture is done, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful — it will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer.

Fill the pan. Very carefully (it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.

Cut the caramel. When the caramel is cold, pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Cut the square in half.

Roll it up. Starting with a long side, roll the caramel up tightly into an 8-inch-long log.

Cut into pieces. Sprinkle the log with fleur de sel, trim the ends and cut into 8 pieces. (Start by cutting the log in half, then continue cutting each piece in half until you have 8 equal pieces.) It’s easier to cut the caramels if you brush the knife with flavorless oil like corn oil.

Wrap the candies. Cut glassine or parchment paper into 4-by-5-inch pieces and wrap each caramel individually, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.

I hope you have a little better luck with the caramels than I did!

So now I’m curious, what family recipes bring you back to your childhood?


24 thoughts on “If at first you don’t succeed {boil the caramels again}

  1. ______—

    Oddly enough I don’t see any tinies in the magazine picture. Could that be an important point?

    And oh how the confusing mess that is life is so much more funny when it’s someone else’s confusion and mess.

    But just so you know. I didn’t laugh. I just smiled. Hope your wound get’s better. Happy for your fridge.

    God Bless

  2. Oh yummy! It all looks so amazing!!

    Sorry you burnt yourself! Little home remedy for burns (which we learned after an unfortunate event on thanksgiving involving hot gravy, and a blender which exploded onto everyone in the kitchen): whole milk on a washcloth! Works wonders and takes the sting away almost instantly! Will heal faster too!

    And you had me cracking up the whole post with all the ways your kids keep you on your toes! Sounds so familiar! And I’m gonna use captain beefy pants in reference to my 2 yr old now… Such a good description!!!

    1. I’ve never heard of putting whole milk on a burn, I wonder if it has something to do with the fat content in the milk. I’ll keep that in mind for the future, thanks Dana! And “beefy-pants” is a term we’ve been using for our kids since Eli was little. It just seems to fit so appropriately. Haha! :)

  3. Jorja did that same thing to my fridge like a month ago! I couldn’t figure out why my frozen blackberries were a bag of juice. They really shouldn’t put those controls where kids can reach them. Oh, and I’m not allowed to cook alone either. On the plus side, though, she could probable make her own scrambled eggs if I let her use the stove. She already directs me through every step, and pulls up a chair so she can “help stir.”

    I can’t wait to make some of that fudge! I haven’t had Grandma Reiss’s fudge for years it seems like. I have her popcorn ball recipe if you want it. Those were always my favorite.

    1. I believe it! That girl can do anything, she’s so independent!! Haha! I actually have the popcorn ball recipe. I asked her for the fudge, peanut brittle and popcorn ball recipes years ago and just never get around to making them. I vowed I would this year.

  4. I made caramels once, and while cutting them proceeded to also cut a nice long gash in the palm of my hand. I obviously failed knife user safety training (uhhh) and have never again made caramel! Why is it everything goes to pot when there is something in need of watching on the stove? Never fails!
    That fudge does sound so good!

    1. Oh man! That’s horrible. It always seems to turn out that way, right? And the fudge is delicious! I’m working really hard on not eating any more of it, because I made it for gifts. Haha!

  5. “Capt Beefy Pants”. OK, I LOL’d at you for the 2nd time tonight. And hours later from the first time, it caused my husband to again react…”what?” haha I should read your work more often…it causes my husband to notice me. LOL

  6. im making the fudge on christmas eve and it will be in my recipe box labelled as “melissa’s grandmas fudge”

  7. Hey Melissa, Thanks for sharing! I can’t county how many times I’m working on a “special” (new/timely/costly) recipe and Hadassah suddenly needs attention. It’s heart ache when that recipe is ruined or not so good. I could learn something from your attitude (try again, no use crying over spilled milk). Easier done when it’s doesn’t affect my cooking/baking though. :) My holiday baking is usually any combination of English Toffee, Pumpkin Bread, Egg nog bread, and Peppermint Pretzels.

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