EASY Chewy Caramel Recipe (gluten free & dairy free option)

23rd June 2022
Blog post

Welcome to my **FOOL-PROOF Chewy Caramel recipe: naturally gluten free & dairy free option too!!**

Caramel is not easy if you don’t know what you’re doing… its can be veryyyy frustrating if you’re not following a good recipe. Trust me, I’ve tried about 1454933 million recipes online and most failed. I’m sure this was just user-error, but the sign of a good recipe is when it includes all the tips and tricks you need to make sure you can’t make that error!

Luckily for you, I’ve put together a recipe with TONS of tips and tricks to ensure you get the perfect caramel every single time.


Uses for my Gluten Free Chewy Caramel Recipe

You could warm it up and pour it over ice cream, make little chewy caramel sweets (wrap up little pieces in baking paper), fill Rolos with it or how about having a go with one of my favourite recipe:

  1. Gluten Free Mars
  2. Gluten Free Mars Cookies
  3. Gluten Free Toffee Crisp
  4. Gluten Free Double Decker

**PLEASE NOTE: I am currently giving all of these recipes a little refresh so bare with me 🙂


Total Beginner? Read this!!!!

I think its REALLY helpful to understand what you’re doing before you make caramel. This helps you to get it perfect first time and if it goes wrong, it helps you to understand where you went wrong.

There are 2 steps for making caramel.

(Step 1) Melt your sugar to 165oC.

All caramels are made by melting the sugar to at least this temperature but there are two methods of doing it. Its really just a preference thing on which you pick.

  • Wet Method = heat sugar + water in a pan. Some people add acid (tiny dash of lemon juice/cream of tartar/corn syrup) to this to help prevent it from crystallising. This is my favourite method
  • Dry Method = heat just sugar in a pan.

165oC is important because its at this temperature where “caramelisation” occurs. Below that, you haven’t got caramel.

If you heat it above 165oC, it will still work but it changes the colour and taste of the caramel (it gets darker and burnt tasting the higher the temperature).

(Step 2) Add butter and cream and heat to 120oC.

The temperature you heat this mix up to determines the consistency of the end product – ie. whether you’ve got runny caramel, fudge, chewy caramels, brittle etc.

  • 112-116oC is “soft ball stage” which will make it fudgy.
  • 118-20oC is “firm-ball stage” which means the caramel will hold its shape but be chewy which is what we’re after!
  • Just above 120oC is “hard ball stage” which sets really firm and can be hard to work with/bite into!

Hopefully that helps you understand what’s going on… as a total novice its taken me years to understand why my caramel kept failing but now I know this info, I get it!


Ingredients for my Gluten Free Chewy Caramel Recipe

There’s only 4 ingredients you need to get hold of

  1. Caster sugar. You can also use granulated but caster melts quicker and easier so would be preferred.
  2. Double cream. Wouldn’t replace this.
  3. Butter. Use a proper block of butter rather than a tub of margarine. Salted/Unsalted is up to you… I prefer to use unsalted and then sometimes add a tiny bit of salt at the end depending what I’m using it for.
  4. Lemon Juice/Corn Syrup/some kind of acid. You only need a tiny, tiny dash but it massively helps to prevent your sugar from crystallising so if you’re a beginner, I really recommend using this. You can’t taste it.

Ingredients for Dairy Free

You can easily make this chewy caramel recipe dairy free too!! Swap the double cream for a vegan double cream and butter for a vegan block of “butter”.

There are obviously alternatives to the brands below but they will have different fat/water contents and I haven’t tried them out so I can only recommend these brands.


Equipment

Do I need a thermometer?

Yes, I’m afraid so. I use a Thermapen (digital thermometer). Its almost impossible to guess the required temperatures without it. Any kind of sugar thermometer will do the job.

What type of pan do I need?

Ideally you need a heavy bottomed, not “non-stick”, deep pan.

It needs to be immaculately clean too.


Storing your caramel

If you store your caramel in the fridge, it will last around 3-5 days.

It will set very firm so you’ll need to bring it out of the fridge for a few hours to reach room temperature before it can be used. If you haven’t got the time, microwave it in 10 second blasts to warm it up a little.


Gluten Free Chewy Caramel Recipe (dairy free option)

Before you start, weigh out everything! Really important for this recipe.
Servings: 220 grams of caramel (approx)

Ingredients

  • 150 grams caster sugar
  • 80 ml water
  • 50 grams butter - *see "Ingredients" in the blog post above
  • 100 ml double cream - *see "Ingredients" in the blog post above
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Instructions

  • Add your sugar to a pan and give it a shake so the sugar is spread evenly across the bottom.
    >See advice on the pan in FAQ
  • Pour the water and lemon juice into the pan, so that its covering all of the sugar (if its not, give the pan a little shake).
  • Heat the contents on the lowest temperature you can set your hob to, until the sugar has dissolved. Important tips:
    1) The water should not simmer/boil during this stage. if it starts to simmer at all, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool a little before returning back to the heat.
    2) You know when your sugar has totally dissolved because the sugar/water mix will have gone from cloudy to totally clear and you wont see any grainy bits sitting at the bottom of the pan.
    3) This stage requires a lot of patience!!! If you crank up the heat or move onto the next step before the sugar has fully dissolved, you risk the sugar crystallising and it won't be usable so BE PATIENT!
    4) Ideally, don't use a spatula/spoon during this phase. If you need to mix anything, just lightly swirl the pan.
  • Turn up the temperature very slightly to bring the sugar/water mix to a simmer.
  • Let it simmer until it has reached precisely 165oC, at which stage it'll be light brown. Takes around 5-10mins. Important tips:
    1) During the simmering stage, do not stir the sugar/water mix AT ALL. Not even once. It may cause it to crystallise.
    2) Watch it very carefully because it quickly goes from around 150 to over 165. Hotter = burnt caramel taste and potential for the mix to be less chewy and more brittle.
    3) Whilst its simmering, you may notice patches (*like the picture*) of white forming around the edges. They need to be removed as they will form hard, crunchy lumps and you don't want them to fall off into your lovely smooth caramel! Get a pastry/egg brush, dip it in a tiny bit of water and brush around the sides of the pan so the stuck bits melt into the sugar/water.
    4) I also move my thermometer around the pan a bit because some points of my pan are often slightly hotter than others so I look for an average of 165oC.
    >If it does crystallise (looks like sugar cubes), see my FAQs for a potential way to rescue it!
  • At this stage, very, very slowly pour in the cream and stir it in. It'll bubble up like the picture.
    >It needs to be slow to stop the mix seizing up. You can't go too slow so don't worry about that!
    >Be careful, remember its really hot!!
    >Wooden spoon/spatula is fine.
  • Cut the butter into 3, adding 1 chunk at a time and stirring it in until its fully incorporated.
  • Increase the temperature slightly and let the mix boil until it reaches 120oC (it'll still look like the pic above whilst its boiling – not really like a regular liquid, more like honeycomb!)
    >Move your thermometer around the pan again just incase some points are hotter/cooler than others. If they are, you can stir it to make it all the same temperature and measure the temperature again.
    >DO NOT remove it from the heat until it reaches 120oC. This is the perfect temperature for a chewy, thick caramel. Any less and it will be a runny caramel.
    >You can stir with a wooden spoon/spatula now.
  • At this point, remove it from the heat and carefully place into a heatproof bowl/jar/dish or use however you'd like to!
  • To clean your pans, fill them with water and boil. The leftover caramel will dissolve and you can pour it straight down the drain.
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Troubleshooting

Why does my sugar keep crystallising when I melt it?

Here are the most common possibilities:

  1. You didn’t fully dissolve your sugar into the water before it started boiling (step 3 below)
  2. Your pan wasn’t fully clean
  3. You stirred it during stage 5 (when you cranked the heat up)
  4. You had the pan too hot throughout.
  5. You had “impure” sugar meaning a grain of something else/some existiing lumps were in it (the only explanation I can find for when it goes completely wrong and I can’t see why … aka bad luck)

I’ve also found this fab video to help explain some of the above.

Can I rescue it if it has crystallised?

The internet says no but I have done it A LOT of times. Two options:

(1) If it looks like this, add a dash more warm water (start with 30ml) and lemon juice, and the crystals should melt back down

(2) If it looks like this, I still think its possible! You’ve essentially boiled away all the water and gone to the “dry method” of making caramel.

I take it off the heat for a minute and give it a good stir. I then return it to the lowest heat possible (on the smallest hob possible) and occasionally stir it, until its all melted.

The biggest risk I’ve found with this process is that its on the heat for longer than you really want it to be, so it can quickly go to a deep brown colour = burnt! It will still work like this, but might taste a bit bitter. For this reason, you really do want to keep that heat as low as possible. Also, whilst its melting, I use the end of a wooden spoon to bash down the largest lumps of sugar into smaller bits to help it melt quicker.

Only turn the heat up again once all the sugar lumps have melted (pic 3 above), at which stage you need to bring the mixture up to 165oC.

I’ve added the butter/cream but it wont mix in.

Has the sugar mix gone all stringy and difficult to stir? Like this… the sugar is sitting in a lump and the liquid I’ve added just wont mix in…

If so, you put the sugar/butter in too quickly and the mix has seized. You can try keeping the pan on a very low heat and hope it comes back together again but its likely you’ll need to start again 🙁

Why did this happen? Most likely: you added the cream/butter too quickly. I’ve also found it happens when the sugar/water mix isn’t quite hot enough so its not as runny as it should be..

My caramel isn’t the right consistency…

ITS ROCK HARD AND DIFFICULT TO BITE INTO…

  1. Did you just get it out of the fridge? If so, see “storing your caramel” just above the recipe.
  2. Did you heat the sugar/caramel above the temperatures set in the recipe? If so, its lost too much liquid and it will be too chewy!
  3. Did you add enough butter/cream? If not, it will be too solid.

If its 2 or 3, you might be able to fix it by SLOWLY heating it back up and then adding a dash of cream/butter.

ITS TOO THIN/RUNNY…

  1. Has it cooled down yet? Whilst its still warm, it will be a lot thinner. It will be chewy at room temperature.
  2. Did you heat the sugar to 165oC?
  3. Did you heat the caramel to 120oC? If it was any cooler than 120oC, this could be why. You might be able to fix it by SLOWLY heating it up again and reaching that temperature!.
  4. Did you use a different brand of butter/cream? Some butter/creams have higher water/fat contents so can alter the recipe slightly. It’s unlikely, but possible.

ITS LIKE FUDGE…

When you added the butter/cream, you didn’t heat it to quite 120oC. It was probably more like 112-116oC. You might be able to fix it by SLOWLY heating it up again but to to 120oc.

>>>For all of the above, if you need to re-heat your caramel that has already cooled down you need to do it very slowly. If its still in the pan, just reheat on the lowest temperature possible, on the smallest hob. If you can’t get it out of the container to re-heat it, place it into the microwave for 20 seconds at a time until its runny enough that you can pour it back into to a pan. Or, if you’d stored it in a mixing bowl, place the bowl over a pan of boiling water and melt it until runny then pour back in a pan.

>>>If you’re not sure you’re using the thermometer right, you can test the caramel another way. Taking a tsp of the caramel, put it into a mug of ice cold water and then try it. It should be a soft, slightly squishy ball.


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