Old-Fashioned Soft Stovetop Caramels

A recipe for soft and chewy homemade caramels made on your stovetop.

parchment paper with cubes of homemade caramel candies

❤️ Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Super delicious: This recipe for the best homemade caramels that will leave your mouth watering. The candy is sweet and buttery, with a hint of saltiness. Homemade caramels are better than store-bought ones because they’re soft and chewy.
  • They are perfect for parties or as gifts to friends and family, especially when paired with old-fashioned fudge.
  • Simple and straightforward: You can make these delicious treats at home with just a few ingredients and steps. Like most candy recipes, you’ll need some patience and a candy thermometer. If you can handle those two things, this recipe is easy. You basically boil, cool, and cut. Totally worth it.

What are caramels and why should you make them at home?

Caramels are soft, chewy candies made with sugar and butter that can be enjoyed on their own or chopped up and added to other desserts (like oatmeal caramelitas!)

This is an overview of the ingredients. You’ll find the full measurements and instructions in the printable recipe at the bottom of the page.

butter, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, salt, brown sugar, and corn syrup

You’ll need the following

  • brown sugar
  • sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
  • light corn syrup (for boring science reasons, adding corn syrup to the recipe gives you creamy caramels because it contains invert sugars)
  • butter
  • salt
  • vanilla extract
  • 3-quart saucepan (Yes the size is important. Too small and the mixture will boil over, too large and it will scorch. Basically it’s a medium-sized pot.)
  • Candy thermometer (Yes you absolutely need it unless you’re a candy-making Jedi)
  • Wax paper (Annoyingly, parchment paper doesn’t peel off as cleanly)
  • 9×9 or 8×8 baking pan


Step One: Mix Ingredients

smalll saucepan with sugar and sweetened condensed milk

Place butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, and salt salt in a saucepan.

Step Two: Cook on stove

3 images showing how caramel looks in saucepan as it boils and comes to soft ball stage

Simmering the mixture should take about 10-20 minutes over medium heat. But it will vary depending on your stove. The temperature should be in the soft ball stage, aka 235 degrees F to 24) degrees F. If you do not have a candy thermometer, soft ball stage is when a drop of caramel dropped into cold water forms a… soft ball. This is known as the ice water test or cold water test, and you can use it at any stage of candy making.

(But please use a candy thermometer and make this easier on yourself!)

You get nice chewy caramels by cooking long enough but not too long. The sugar syrup has to reach a specific temperature, and then it starts to change. At first, you’ll have hot caramel sauce, then a mixture that will cool into smooth and creamy caramels, then hard candy type caramels. For this recipe, we need to get it right.

Step three: Pour and cut

Step FouR

pouring liquid caramel into square pan and cut squares

Line a pan with parchment paper, and line it well! The hot caramel mixture is super sticky, and you don’t want it to stick to the pan.

Once the caramel has reached temperature and you’ve added in the vanilla, quickly pour it into the prepared pan. You might need to fiddle with the paper to get everything even.

The candies will take at least four hours to set up before you can cut them. Use a lightly buttered knife to cut them, or else you’ll have to pull them off and get yourself sticky awkwardly.

And that’s it! Now go enjoy your treats.

Wrapping for gifts (Optional)

grid of 3 images showing how to wrap soft caramels in a rectangular piece of wax paper

This recipe will keep best wrapped in waxed paper. For one-inch squares, a 3 x 4-inch rectangle works well. Place the square in the center and wrap it like a boxed gift. As with most things, the first one is weird, but the next ones are better. (To save paper, cut out 12-inch squares, then cut them into strips.)

You can try placing them on layers of waxed paper, but you risk them sticking. I know individually wrapping them is a pain, but it’s worth it.

(By the way, professional candy makers use gloves when handling candies, so they don’t leave fingerprints.)

🥫 Storage instructions

Store wrapped caramels at room temperature in an airtight container, where they will remain fresh for a little more than two weeks. You can store these in the fridge if your house is warm, but let them warm up a bit on the counter before you eat them

🔍 FAQs

Can I freeze caramel candy?

Yes! They are pretty good frozen and defrosted right on the counter.

What if they are too hard?

You overcooked the syrup—no big deal. You can still eat them.

What should I do if my caramel is too soft?

If the caramel is soft, it indicates that you didn’t cook it long enough. You can heat it back up and try again (yes, this actually DOES work), or just keep this batch as a sauce and start fresh.

👩🏻‍🍳 Expert tips

  • Make these on a dry day. Humidity does weird things to homemade candy, and this caramel recipe is no exception.

📘 Related Recipes

🍅 make it along with me

Follow along step by step. The slides will turn every 7 seconds, or you can click ahead.

📖 Here’s the recipe

squares of homemade caramels on parchment

Soft and Chewy Homemade Caramels

The best homemade soft and chewy caramel candies! With simple ingredients and a little patience, you'll be enjoying gourmet, buttery caramels.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
cooling time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 35 minutes


  • 3 quart saucepan
  • Candy thermometer
  • Wax paper
  • 9×9 or 8×8 baking pan


  • 16 ounces brown sugar
  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 1 cup Butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • Line a 9 x 9 dish with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Place butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, and salt in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cook, stirring frequently, until candy thermometer reads 236 degrees (soft ball stage)
    saucepan with bubbling sugar syrup
  • Remove from heat, add vanilla, and stir until smooth and no longer bubbling, less than 1 minute. Immediately pour into your prepared dish and let it cool completely, for four hours or more.
    saucepan pouring caramel into dish
  • Cut into one-inch squares using buttered knife. Wrap in wax paper and store at room temperature.
    knife and squares of caramel


Make caramels on a low-humidity day.
Make sure to use a candy thermometer and read it at eye level.
Be careful!  The sugar syrup stays VERY hot on your skin and also stays hot while it’s cooling in the pan.  

Enjoy your buttery sugary treat.

Old-Fashioned Soft Stovetop Caramels

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  1. Can I use maple syrup instead of the corn syrup since most are gmo? Unless you know of a brand that is organic or non-gmo? Thank you.