January 23, 2011

Salted Caramel Bars and a Lesson About Making Caramel

Sometimes I just jump into a recipe without thinking. You'd think I'd learn by now, but apparently I haven't. Making caramel though was a bit of a wake up call. 

Now, I will say up front, I don't believe making caramel is hard. I think, with the right information (which clearly I didn't have), that even a novice can make this. 

That being said, I'm still not exactly sure why I thought making caramel would just be throwing some stuff in a pot and boiling it until I thought it was done. I mean, there is a candy thermometer for a reason! It's clearly much more scientific and tempermental than I thought.

The caramel in these bars was supposed to be soft and chewy. Mine could have cracked your tooth. See the jagged edges of the crust? That's because I had to take a giant knife pointing directly down into the bars to crack them apart because they wouldn't cut. 

Now that I have lived and learned -- and now researched -- I have a few important tips that I think will help your caramel making journey be much more successful than mine.
  1. You need a candy thermometer. This will help you identify the exact right stage to remove your caramel from the heat to get the desired consistency.
  2. You should insert the candy thermometer into your pot at the beginning of the cooking process so you can see it climb (not after when you've already passed the point of no return).
  3. Slowly, slowly, slowly bring it to a slow boil.
  4. Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring.
  5. Monitor the candy thermometer very closely. Caramel will get hot quickly so it doesn't take long to get to the stage (soft, hard, hard crack) you want, so don't go anywhere!

Whew, I feel better. Now, go and make these delicious bars (carefully!)!

Salted Caramel Bars
Printable Recipe
Serves 9-12


  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg yolk, whisked
  • 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour

Caramel Topping:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 12 tsp vanilla extract
Plus a few pinches of sea salt flakes for sprinkling

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper with the edges hanging over the side (this will allow you to lift it up to remove and cut nicer bars)
  • In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar and salt with a fork. Add the yolk and combine. Add the flour and combine until the dough is flakey. Pour dough into lined pan and press down making it level. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Once chilled, bake for 25-27 minutes until lightly browned.
  • Once baked, set aside to cool.
  • Meanwhile in a pot, combine the topping ingredients: butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, sugar and cream. Insert candy thermometer into pot (it should have a ball or clip so it doesn't slip in). Slowly bring to a boil and make sure all sugar is dissolved. Stir for about 5 minutes until it is thick and bubbly. Once the thermometer reads 230 degrees, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Pour on top of shortbread.
  • Refrigerate for 2-4 hours. Then sprinkle with sea salt flakes.


  1. great tips! i've never made carmel before but i might give it a try!

  2. Lindsay, I'm really impressed that you tried this caramel. I keep thinking I want to try it but I'm chicken. Good for you! Good job!

  3. Thanks for the tips. I was planning to make caramel without candy thermometer - now I realise its critical to have one.

  4. I've taught cooking classes, directed a cooking school and been in my own kitchen for several decades. That said, I still approach caramels, fudge and anything else that requires a candy thermometer with a certain degree of trepidation! It's one of those irrational culinary fears I suppose. Sometimes you just need to plunge in and take a chance. I love caramels but wait for a friend to deliver them to my door each December. I might just attempt this myself.


  5. Anything that requires use of a candy thermometer always makes me a bit queasy but the end result is always to-die-for! (If done correctly :P) These look delicious! Love salt and caramel...best combo ever.

  6. Making caramel can be easy but it just takes patience to get it right but it is worth mastering. Salt and caramel are one of my all time favorite combos. Wishing you luck for next time!

  7. Thanks again for the tips. I made reference to it in my blog today

  8. I have never tried making my own caramel...thanks for the tips! I LOVE caramel.... I think I need to make some soon! :)

  9. Your bars still look delicious. I have yet to try making caramel of my own, still gonna wait a while before tackling it. But, your tips will definitely come in handy when I do. I have a new linky on my blog called "Sweets for a Saturday" and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link this up. http://sweet-as-sugar-cookies.blogspot.com/2011/01/sweets-for-saturday-1_21.html

  10. YUM! I made salted caramels this holiday season, but now I so wish I would have thought to put some on shortbread...sounds amazing! Thanks for the idea for next time! :)

  11. I have used my candy thermometer maybe twice...I'm a little scared of making candy! Caramels have always scared me a bit! I'm sorry that yours turned out too hard...they still look awesome!

  12. Caramel is something that I made myself conquer this fall. It is hard to do! I think your tips are spot on though.

    Sometime, if you really want something that may make you want to beat your head against the wall, try making a caramel sauce with just white sugar, then after its caramelized adding in butter, cream, and vanilla. That one is tricky, but is unbelievable if you can get it!

  13. Thank you for coming by and linking these up to Sweets for a Saturday. I truly appreciate the support. Hope you'll be able to join in again next week. By then, I'll have a cute button that you can grab and add to your post.

  14. This is a very interesting recipe. I have never made anything like this before. I should try one of these days :)

  15. Caramel is pretty tricky, sounds like you made toffee! :) The bars sound delicious, even if they didn't turn out the way you wanted!

  16. I've had my share of caramel flops...you're so right about needing the thermometer...especially if you're a novice (which I will be for the rest of my life!). The bars look delicious nonetheless..I'd even risk my teeth for a bite!

  17. You are a brave lady; tackling this recipe without the thermometer. The bars still looks tasty good.

  18. I absolutely love homemade caramel! This looks fantastic, Lindsay!

  19. Even though they may be hard as a rock =o) they look delicious!!!!

  20. Ehehehe...it looks like a wonderful first effort. :) I look forward to seeing the next batch.

  21. WHOA! Caramel bars are good treats for Halloween! My kids enjoyed eating this last year. I'm so lucky that I came across your blog. I've been looking for quite some time now for a decent recipe for this. =)

  22. I am a Cosmetic dentist Thousand Oaks and realy enjoy youed this article. Just bookmarked your site.



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