Caramels are about as indulgent as soft candy can get. What other candy has as much milk fat and sugar compressed into such a tiny cube or ball? Caramels are very easy to make, especially if you aren't going to dip them in chocolate. I will typically make two to three batches at a time.
2 cups light corn syrup
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed and divided in half
4 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Some Safflower oil.
Oil a 9x9 inch silicone baking pan or foil lined baking dish.
Use a silicone baking pan, you won't regret it. You will still want to oil it, though. If you don't have a silicone baking dish, then generously oil a 9x9 baking dish lined with foil.
Heat sugar and corn syrup to boil then stop stirring and cook until 305° F.
Combine the sugar and corn syrup in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until it comes to a boil. Wash down sides several times with water using a pastry brush. Stop stirring and place a candy thermometer in pan and continue to boil over medium high heat. You are going to boil the sugar syrup mixture until it reaches 305° F (151° C), which will take about 10 minutes or so.
Heat cream over medium heat until simmering.
While you are waiting for the sugar mixture to heat you can heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently until simmering. Remove the hot cream from heat and set aside.
Add butter to sugar syrup. Slowly add the hot cream.
Once the sugar mixture has reached 305° F (151° C), reduce heat and slowly add 1/4 cup of the cubed butter (we'll use the rest near the end). Slowly add the hot cream to the sugar mixture. I usually do this with a small ladle or measuring cup. Keep the mixture boiling while adding the cream, but beware of boil-over if you add the cream too quickly. The boiling mixture will rise rapidly after adding the cream. Let the mixture settle down before adding more cream. The game is to keep it boiling without letting it overflow.
Continue cooking caramel until it reaches target temperature.
Once the cream has all been added, continue stirring constantly until the mixture reaches 242-243° F (116°) for dipping or else 246-248° F (117° C) for wrapping. If you like your caramel harder, you can keep heating until you get to around 250° F. If you like your caramel soft, be careful not to make it too soft. Extra gooey caramel is hard to package or dip. The caramel will usually continue to heat a degree past when you remove it from heat.
Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes.
Let sit 5 minutes before my favorite part: stirring in the salt and vanilla. If you love vanilla, then get ready for what you might call vanilla free-basing. Once you pour in the vanilla, salt and remaining 1/4 cup of cubed butter, stir just until blended. As you stir the vanilla into the caramel, the vanilla bourbon will boil off and you can inhale the intense vanilla smell.
Pour into oiled baking dish. Let sit overnight wrapped tightly.
Pour mixture into prepared baking pan. Cover well and let cool overnight. If the caramel sticks to the silicone baking pan, you can use an oiled butter knife to coax it away. Sometimes pulling quickly is better than slowly. Lightly oil a large plastic cutting board and place the caramel slab there. Slice into pieces and wrap or dip.
Dip or wrap as desired.
I typically prefer to make my dipped caramels more gooey than the wrapped caramels, but note that softer caramels are more difficult to work with and dip. Even firm caramels will succumb to gravity and sag after a few minutes. When dipping, slice only as much as you need from the main block to maintain rectangular shapes.