Chocolate Caramels — Soft and chewy, nice and chocolaty, with the slightest hint of espresso flavor that makes the chocolate flavor even richer! A final pinch of flaky sea salt is optional but AMAZING! This EASY Christmas candy recipe is suitable for novices and is great for gift giving, holiday cookie exchanges, and all of your holiday entertaining needs!
Chocolate Caramels Recipe
If you’ve ever wanted to combine everything you love about sweet, soft and chewy caramels with the flavors of rich chocolate, this is the recipe for you.
Chocolate caramels are truly the best of both worlds because they have the texture and consistency of homemade caramels, but with the perfect amount of cocoa to satisfy your chocolate craving.
And for me because I am a huge fan of sweet-and-salty desserts dessert, the sprinkle of flaky sea salt on top is the best.
Tip: Even if you’ve never made candy before, I promise you can make these easy chocolate caramels. Make sure to read my Tips directly above the recipe card!
While these candies certainly are sugary, that doesn’t mean they’re overly sweet. The unsweetened cocoa powder and instant espresso powder temper the sugar and corn syrup.
The final results is a chewy caramel candy that’s more like a semi-sweet chocolate and not too sweet by any means. Plus, the sprinkle of flaky sea salt on top really brings it all together in the best way.
Follow my very specific and straightforward directions, and you will be munching on your homemade caramels in no time!
Whether you want to make these homemade chocolate caramels in advance of your Christmas and holiday parties, for hostess gifts, gifts for coworkers, teachers, coaches and so forth.
Or make them for cookie exchanges because everyone is going to fall in love with these bite-sized chocolate caramels. While cookie exchanges are technically for cookies, I don’t think there will be any complaints if you show up with a big batch of chocolate caramels with sea salt.
Ingredients in Homemade Chocolate Caramels
This easy homemade Christmas candy recipe uses easy to find and common fridge and pantry ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Heavy cream
- Unsalted butter
- Unsweetened cocoa
- Instant espresso powder
- Pure vanilla extract
- White granulated sugar
- Corn syrup
- Flaky sea salt, optional but highly recommended
Note: Scroll down to the recipe card section of the post for the ingredients with amounts included and for more complete directions.
How to Make Chocolate Caramels
Nervous about making homemade caramel candies? Don’t be! All you need is a trusty candy thermometer to get the temperature just right. Essentially, you really just have to mix all of the ingredients together, cool, slice, and serve. It’s that easy!
Step 1: Line an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper and spray it lightly with nonstick spray.
Step 2: Heat the butter, heavy cream, cocoa, and espresso powder in a small pan until very hot but not quite boiling.
Remove it from the heat and stir in vanilla; set aside.
Step 3: In a separate high-sided deep saucepan, cook the granulated sugar and corn syrup in a deep saucepan.
Step 4: Stir occasionally until the sugar is melted and then stir in the melted butter and cream mixture.
Step 5: Boil until a digital thermometer reads 245°F.
Tip: You must use a thermometer for this recipe, no exceptions. If you’ve never bought one, and you’re going to be buying one, I suggest a thermometer with pot clip to make your life much easier. You can use the thermometer to make Churro Toffee (Disneyland Copycat) later!
Step 6: Remove from heat immediately and pour into the prepared pan.
Step 7: Wait about 5 minutes before sprinkling the flaky sea salt on top.
Step 8: Let the caramels cool for about 5 hours before cutting and serving. Enjoy!
Do the Caramels Taste Like Coffee?
Because I used 1 tablespoon of instant espresso, my caramels have a slight hint of coffee flavor.
If you don’t know this, generally speaking, coffee or espresso enhances, intensifies, and brings out the flavor of chocolate.
In my super popular, now 10-year-old recipe for Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache, the recipe also calls for using brewed coffee. Even coffee haters say that they really can’t taste the coffee!
So while I do recommend using instant espresso in these chocolate caramels, if for some reason, you have a coffee allergy, or a strong aversion, to coffee, or simply want to avoid the flavor, omit the espresso powder.
Tip: Make absolutely sure that you are selecting instant espresso and not actual ground espresso. Instant espresso is going to dissolve, whereas regular ground espresso will not and will be gritty, granular, and gross. No one wants to eat coffee or espresso grounds so don’t confuse the two products!
What Is the Cooking Temperature for Soft Caramels?
245°F is the magic number!
- If you undercook the mixture, your caramels may not set up and may be runny.
- If you overcook the mixture, your caramels will set up a very hard. More like a piece of hard candy. However if you ARE looking for a firmer “caramel”, consider my Melt In Your Mouth Toffee topped with chocolate! After all, toffee really just is sugar cooked past the point of the caramel state.
How to Tell When Caramel Is Finished?
You need to use a digital thermometer when making this homemade candy recipe. You cannot guess.
You can use any type of digital thermometer that you have on hand that’s intended for cooking or baking.
However, because you’re dealing with scalding liquid, I find it easier to use a clip-on digital thermometer. Just clip it to the side of your pot, and when it reaches 245F, you can easily see it.
As soon as the caramel reaches that temperature, it needs to be removed from the stove top immediately and poured into the baking dish. Don’t take your eye off of the caramel at this step in the process, it’s very time sensitive!
Do I Have To Use Parchment Paper?
I know what you may be thinking, if I just spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray, I don’t need to also use parchment paper, right? Wrong!
Parchment paper is going to make life a lot easier for you when it comes to slicing and serving your salted chocolate caramels.
When you’re ready to slice it, you can simply lift the sides of the parchment paper to remove the entire slab of caramels from the baking pan and put that on a cutting board.
Make sure to leave parchment paper overhanging and loose on the sides of the baking pan so you can easily grab it.
Can I Slice The Chocolate Caramels While They’re Still Warm?
You should not slice the caramels until they’re cooled because they’ll melt right back into one big square.
After the caramel has adjusted to room temperature, after about 5 to 6 hours, that’s the best time to slice it.
I do not suggest putting the pan in the refrigerator or freezer to speed it up. Have patience, and just let it set up at room temperature.
Tips: Lightly butter a very sharp knife to make sure the caramel doesn’t stick to it when you’re ready to slice. You’ll create the cleanest cuts that way.
Serving Suggestions For Chocolate Caramels with Sea Salt
Usually, the main reason I’m making a batch of Chocolate Caramels during the holiday season is so I can hand them out to friends and family as gifts! They’re also great for bringing with you to a cookie exchange instead of your typical holiday cookie.
To use these Chocolate Caramels as gifts, cut wax paper into strips and wrap each caramel square individually.
They even sell holiday-themed wax paper, precut, and ready for all your candy wrapping needs.
How To Store Chocolate Caramels
There’s no need to refrigerate nor freeze homemade caramels. In fact, the moisture from a refrigerator or freezer could actually do them more harm than good.
Chocolate caramels will easily keep airtight at room temperature for 1 month. You’ll have no problem consuming them, or giving them away, before they would have a chance to go bad!
After wrapping them, I throw them all into a large Ziploc bag and keep it in my pantry.
Tips for Making Homemade Soft Caramels
Candy Thermometer: Use one! You cannot make this recipe without a candy thermometer. If the caramel isn’t cooked all the way to 245°F, it’ll be way too soft and won’t hold the right shape. If it cooks past that temperature, it will likely harden and/or burn completely.
High Sided Deep Saute Pan: Besides, using a candy thermometer, this is my biggest piece of advice for this recipe. When you are boiling the mixture, it will bubble up considerably. A nonstick pan is nice although not essential.
However, a high sided sauté pan is essential. Do not use a sauté pan or pot that doesn’t have high sides. The amount of bubbles created when the mixture is coming up to 245°F is more than you may think so make sure your pot is big enough.
Be Patient: It may take a while for your mixture to come up to 245°F depending on how strong your stove is. At a minimum it may take 20 minutes. However, it may take 30 minutes. Keep an eye on things, don’t leave your kitchen, intermittent stirring is fine but really, you can mostly just leave this alone to do it thing and boil away.
Clear Day: If possible, it’s always best to make candy on a clear day. It doesn’t matter how hot or cold out it is, but if it’s cloudy or rainy, or you’re having a snowstorm, wait until you have a clear day for the most optimal results in candy making.
Heavy Cream: Don’t use anything but heavy cream. Whole milk, half-and-half, almond milk, soy milk, none of that! Only heavy cream. If you have one in your area, Trader Joe’s tends to have great prices on heavy cream.
Butter: Use a better quality unsalted butter because this is what’s going to give you those rich, buttery tasting caramels. Something like Kerrygold always yields great results for me.
Espresso Powder: As already mentioned, instant epresso doesn’t cause the caramels to have an overly strong coffee flavor. Although, for those who are averse to coffee, or have an allergy, you can omit it.
Make sure you are selecting instant espresso, and not actual ground espresso. The former will dissolve, the later will not.
Unsweetened Cocoa: Make sure you use unsweetened cocoa powder. I suggest purchasing the highest quality that you can because this is a key ingredient in chocolate caramels. Good ‘ole Hershey’s will do in a pinch.
Do not use hot chocolate mix, sweetened cocoa powder, or any other type of powdered chocolate.
Corn Syrup: This is an indispensable ingredient in candy making and you cannot skip it. You want light-colored corn syrup. Store brands are also just fine. This is basically liquid sugar so you don’t need to get fancy, but you must use it.
Flaky Sea Salt: For the absolute best caramels in my opinion, I always add a small pinch of flaky sea salt. You can skip it because I know some people don’t like salty-and-sweet desserts (my partner) but for me, it does lend a wonderful element.
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- 1 cup heavy cream (do not use whole milk nor half-and-half)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup corn syrup (cannot be substituted)
- Flaky sea salt, optional and to taste
- Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, spray with cooking spray; set aside. Tips - Do not skip the parchment paper, or your life will be very difficult getting these caramels out of the pan! Leave overhang over the sides, so that you can easily grab it and lift it out later.
- In a small saucepan, and the heavy cream, butter, cocoa powder, instant espresso (don't confuse instant with regular ground espresso because instant will dissolve and regular will not), and cook over medium high heat until the butter has melted; stir nearly constantly.
- Turn off the heat, add the vanilla, stir to combine; set mixture aside.
- In a separate high sided saucepan (Tips - nonstick is better but it's okay if it's not a nonstick but it MUST be high-sided due to the all the bubbling that will ensue so it doesn't overflow), add the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and cook over medium high heat until the sugar has dissolved; stir constantly.
- Slowly, add the melted butter and heavy cream mixture, stirring constantly while you at it.
- If you have one, clip on a clip-on digital thermometer to the side of the saucepan, and bring the mixture to a boil and allow it to cook until it reaches exactly 245°F. Tips - Do not cook it less and do not cook it more, do not leave your kitchen and it may take 20 to 30 minutes for it to reach temperature, but keep an eye on the boiling liquid the whole time. You must use a thermometer, and cannot guess.
- When the mixture reaches exactly 245°F, using potholders and extreme caution, pour the hot liquid into your prepared pan with the parchment paper.
- Wait for approximately 7 minutes, and if desired, now you can sprinkle on as much flaky sea salt as you like. Don't do it before because the salt will just melt into the hot caramel mixture.
- Wait for 5 to 6 hours before slicing the caramels. Be patient, I do not recommend trying to speed this process up by placing the pan into the refrigerator or freezer because it can affect the final quality of the caramels and they can become granular.
- When you're ready to slice the caramels, lift out the parchment, paper by the sides, place it on a cutting board, and use a very sharp buttered knife to make the cleanest cuts. You can cut the caramels any size you like, but because they are rich, I cut them fairly small.
- I recommend wrapping the caramels in wax paper or decorative wax paper wrappers. You could technically also use parchment paper however, it doesn't "seal" as well as wax paper does for this purpose.
- Caramels will easily keep airtight inside a large Ziplock bag at room temperature for 1 month. There's really no need to refrigerate or freeze them and the moisture from the refrigerator can actually do more harm than good unless you're making these in a very hot climate and your house is hot.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 55Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 14mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 0gSugar: 7gProtein: 0g
More Easy Christmas Candy Recipes:
Melt In Your Mouth Toffee – Irresistible, buttery, ADDICTIVE, and just melts in your mouth!! EASY and perfect for holiday parties, gift-giving, or cookie exchanges!!
Chocolate Covered Sponge Candy – A classic homemade Christmas candy that’s light and airy candy inside and chocolate-dipped on the outside. Easy to make! Great for cookie exchanges and hostess gifts because it keeps fresh for a long time!
Loaded Christmas Puppy Chow – This fast, easy, no-bake holiday treat is LOADED with all the good stuff! Chocolate, peanut butter, sugar, M&Ms, peanut butter cups, and pretzels for a salty-sweet, crunchy, and addictive snack! Makes great little gifts because it keeps well and everyone LOVES it!
Reindeer Chow – A holiday twist on classic Muddy Buddies that’s EASY, ready in 15 minutes, and perfect for hostess gifts or cookie exchanges!! Chex, chocolate, peanut butter, pretzels, M&M’s, and sprinkles make this dessert snack mix totally IRRESISTIBLE!!
Loaded Christmas Bark – This easy, no-bake chocolate bark is loaded with goodies! Oreos, M&M’s, peanuts, pretzels, and sprinkles! Great for holiday parties and cookie exchanges! Salty, sweet, and addictively good!
Graham Cracker Toffee (aka Graham Cracker CRACK) – Sweet, buttery, caramely, perfectly chocolaty, topped with toffee bits for extra crunch! Lives up to its name and extremely addictive! An easy holiday and party fave!
Easy Christmas Crack – A highly addictive, salty-sweet, crunchy, EASY Christmas treat that’s IRRESISTIBLE!! Great for gifts and cookie exchanges because it stays fresh and everyone LOVES IT!!
Churro Toffee (Disneyland Copycat) – This Disneyland copycat recipe might be even more delicious than the real deal! Buttery, crunchy toffee is coated in sweet white chocolate that’s dusted with a scrumptious combination of cinnamon and sugar for an irresistible churro flavor sensation! Just one bite of this homemade candy will make you feel like you’re strolling right down Main Street!
The Easiest Foolproof Fudge – Look no further than this recipe for the EASIEST and most FOOLPROOF fudge that takes less than 3 minutes to make!! Customize it with your favorite add-ins like cranberries and walnuts! Great for gifts and cookie exchanges!!