So here's the recipe:
Recipe adapted from Charlotte Albright
Yield: depends on how big you cut your caramels
1 Tbs butter
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup water
2 cups light corn syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Lightly spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and line bottom and sides of the pan with parchment. Rub the parchment with the one tablespoon of butter, paying particular attention to the corners. You can also melt the butter and brush it on the parchment.
In a small heavy saucepan, combine the evaporated milk, heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk.
Pour the water and corn syrup into a large, heavy saucepan. Pour the sugar into the center, avoiding contact with the sides of the pan. Add the salt. Let sit for 15 – 20 minutes, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook and stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 6 to 8 minutes. Brush down the sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to remove any sugar crystals. Stop stirring, insert a candy thermometer, reduce heat to medium and let come to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until temperature reaches 260°F (hard-ball stage). This may take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your pan, stove and altitude.
Meanwhile, place milk mixture over low heat and stir until warm. Do not boil.
When the sugar mixture reaches 260°F, stir in the warm cream and the pieces of butter. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until the thermometer reaches 244°F (firm ball stage), 30 to 60 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Immediately pour the caramel into the prepared pan without scraping the pot. Allow to rest, uncovered, at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours without disturbing.
Unmold caramel by lifting the parchment paper out of the pan. Place the caramel slab on a cutting board and cut into pieces with a very sharp, heavy knife. If necessary, rub the knife with butter or spray with cooking spray. Wrap the caramels with waxed paper squares, twisting ends to seal, or with foil candy wrappers. The caramels will stick together if not individually wrapped.
And here are the variations:
For the red wine caramels, I reduced two cups of red wine (in this case, Merlot) down to half of a cup. Keep a heat-proof measuring cup nearby to check your progress. If you go too far, just add a little water to make it half of a cup. The red wine reduction replaces the half cup of water in the recipe. Everything else is the same.
For the bourbon-vanilla bean caramels, I reduced one cup of bourbon down to a quarter of a cup and decreased the water in the recipe to a quarter of a cup. (You could also just reduce the bourbon to half a cup, but I got a little carried away with my reduction.) This takes the place of the half cup of water in the recipe. I split one vanilla bean lengthwise, scraped the seeds out and tossed the pod in with the milk mixture. The seeds were reserved and added with two teaspoons of bourbon (instead of two teaspoons vanilla) at the end.
There you go. And there will be more variations to come.