I really love homemade caramels and I make them every holiday. They can be tricky, but with a little practice, some good equipment and (hardest for me) patience, it can become fairly easy to turn out a good batch of them. I was recently inspired to make pumpkin spice caramels to use up some leftover pumpkin puree. The caramels turned out really well, possibly one of my favorite versions yet, though I say that about each new batch of caramel I make. These caramels are dark and shiny with a slight flavor of pumpkin and spice that goes well with the caramel flavor. The pepitas add a little bit of texture as well as helping cut the sweetness.
To start, I heated up some pumpkin puree with pumpkin pie spice and heavy whipping cream. I then covered it and set it aside to keep warm. Meanwhile, I cooked a honey/sugar mixture over medium heat until it was dark amber and 305°F/152°C (hard crack) on a candy thermometer. This took about 15 minutes on my electric stove at medium using a heavy-bottomed pot. Resist the temptation to walk away, sugar can turn on you!
Once the caramelized sugar was at temperature, I took it off the heat and added butter, stirring until melted, and then slowly added the cream mixture. The cream always bubbles up in a scary manner, so it’s important to do it slowly. When it was smooth, I put it back on the stove slightly below medium and brought it up to a steady bubble but not too violent a boil. Stirring occasionally, I cooked it until it came up to 245°F/118°C. Stirring constantly, it was a short wait until it reached it’s final temperature, 248°F/120°C (firm ball). This temperature makes a soft, slightly chewy caramel that will hold it’s shape. Like the previous sugar-cooking step, it’s important not to walk away from the cooking sugar. It will seem like it isn’t doing anything for a really long time, but then shoot up suddenly at the end. This stage took me about 30 minutes.
I stirred in a little vanilla off the heat and immediately poured the caramel into the pan on top of the pepitas. There may be some bubbles in the caramel, this is ok. Gently tap the pan against the counter to bring them to the surface. They should smooth out as the caramel cools and sets.
- ¾ cup (3.5oz/104g) pepitas, toasted and lightly salted (optional)
- ¾ cup (9oz/255g) light corn syrup
- ¼ cup (3 oz/85g )honey
- 2 cups (14 oz/397g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (4.75oz/135g) pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
- ¾ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- 1½ cups (12 oz/340g) heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons (1.5oz/42g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Prepare an 8"x8" square metal pan by lining it with foil or parchment and greasing it. Sprinkle the pepitas evenly over the bottom of the pan.
- Combine the corn syrup, honey, sugar and salt in a heavy 3 Qt. saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture simmers around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Cover and cook for 3 minutes.
- Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more.
- Attach a candy thermometer to the pan without letting it touch the bottom of the pan. Cook the sugar mixture uncovered, without stirring, until it reaches 305°F (152°C). It will be a dark amber color.
- While the sugar comes to temperature, heat the pumpkin puree, pie spice and cream in a small saucepan until it just begins to simmer. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the mixture hot.
- When the sugar mixture is at 305°F (152°C), take the pan off of the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Slowly stir in the hot cream. It will bubble up violently so do this carefully.
- Put the pan back on the heat and adjust the heat so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until smooth.
- Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F (118°C). Then cook, stirring constantly, to 248°F (120°C) for soft chewy caramels.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4-5 hours or until firm.
- Using the liner to lift the caramels out of the pan, invert the caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner.
- Cut the caramels with an oiled knife into 1-inch squares. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.
If your caramels do turn out too soft or too hard, they can be fixed by recooking (assuming you didn't add nuts). If they are too soft, remelt them and cook them again to just 2 degrees higher than the last time. If they are too hard, remelt them with an additional ¼ cup of heavy cream and bring them back up to 248F/120C.