Little squares of homemade melt-in-your-mouth caramel topped with crushed peppermint candy make a perfect holiday gift. I combined a traditional Swiss recipe for Caramels à la Crème—which you can find variations of made by boulangeries and confiseries year-round and throughout Switzerland —with candy canes, a typical American treat for Christmas.
Swiss caramels have a drier and sometimes granular texture—in comparison to the homemade caramels I’ve had in the United States—and typically come in a square or rectangular shape. From my experience, homemade American caramels (which I also love!) are usually very soft, contain a lot of butter and need to be individually wrapped in wax paper (for an example, see the kitchn‘s recipe for “Soft Caramel Candies“). Before this week, I had never tried making caramels at home because the recipes always seemed way too involved for me (I’m a lazy cook), with multiple steps and candy thermometers for monitoring temperatures.
This year, however, I decided to tackle a Swiss caramel recipe I found from Swissmilk. With only four ingredients, no thermometers and a helpful video (in French), I’ve made this recipe three times now, and it’s great. You need some patience, but it’s worth it—homemade caramels are really special. I made a few adaptations to Swissmilk’s recipe, and the revised version appears below, if you want to try it yourself.
Christmas Caramels à la Crème
Recipe adapted from Swissmilk.
– 500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream (vollrahm in German, crème entière in French)
– 500 grams (2 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
– 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
– 40 grams (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
– 1 candy cane or other hard peppermint candy, finely crushed
1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Crush the candy canes and set aside. (I’ve been using candy canes, but you can top these caramels with lots of other ingredients like finely chopped nuts, melted chocolate or sea salt.)
2. In a large saucepan, bring the cream, sugar and vanilla to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk. When the volume of the mixture increases to about double its size, remove the pan from the heat, if necessary, and then turn the temperature down to medium-low to maintain a constant simmer.
3. Continue to stir the mixture almost constantly for the next 30-45 minutes. When the mixture turns into a thick brown mass and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, quickly remove from the heat and stir in the butter. (Please note: This can be tricky because you can overcook the mixture if you leave it on the heat too long during this phase. I recommend watching Swissmilk’s video for guidance.)
4. Once the butter has melted and is completely incorporated into the caramel mixture, pour it into the cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
5. Sprinkle the crushed candy cane evenly on top of the caramel. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top, and then lay another cookie sheet or pan on top of the parchment paper. Let the caramel cool like this for about 30 minutes.
6. Using a thin and sharp knife, slice the cooled caramel into squares. Allow to cool overnight under the parchment paper.
7. Store in a sealed container, in a dry place for up to 1-2 months.
Updated: December 30, 2022