Salted Mexican Chocolate-Chile Caramels

The week prior to Cinco de Mayo is one of my favorites of the year; I love Mexican food, and thoroughly embrace the opportunity to try new and different recipes. Enter these amazing caramels. Salted caramels are awesome. Chocolate caramels? Even better. Chocolate caramels using Mexican chocolate? Better still. And to top it all off? A subtle infusion of red chiles. The combination initially gave me pause, but I’m so happy that I forged ahead with it. The Mexican chocolate and cinnamon provide a wonderful, sweet spice, and the red chile-infused cream leaves just a little bit of heat on the back of the tongue. Needless to say, fleur de sel makes everything and anything better, especially sweet confections like these caramels. I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the Cinco de Mayo food celebration here, than with these amazing candies.

Naturally, a key component to these caramels is the use of Mexican chocolate. I had never eaten Mexican chocolate, and was curious about the difference between “regular” chocolate and Mexican. As it turns out, Mexican chocolate has a much grainier texture than other chocolates, and is flavored with cinnamon, almonds, and vanilla. The original recipe recommended using Ibarra, Abuelita, or Taza. I took a shot at the local grocery store to see if I could find anything in the international aisle. Lo and behold, there was Abuelita in the Hispanic section. Score! They are actually a stack of individually-wrapped disks of chocolate. So cute! If you aren’t able to find Mexican chocolate, there is a substitution listed in the notes section of the recipe below.

I haven’t done much in the way of caramel-making, although I have made the Ale and Pretzel Soft Caramels and Sea Salt Caramels with Vanilla Bean. These Salted Mexican Chocolate-Chile Caramels have definitely been my most successful batch to date. I followed much of the same process as with the other recipes, but the one difference is that I used my (fairly) new Thermapen to monitor the temperature. Since caramels can be so finicky, I attribute my super-duper success with this batch to the accurate temperature gauge. No question, I’ll be using it for all of my candy-making from now on!

It takes a little bit of time to wrap each caramel individually and you might be tempted to skip it and just put them in a container for safe keeping. Trust me, though, the time and effort is well worth it. Without wrapping them, the caramels will begin to spread out if left to sit on their own. You can keep the wrapped candies in an airtight container or tin for a month or two – perfect for afternoon snacks, or for when company stops by!

Four years ago: Vanilla Cake with Hazelnut Ganache Filling and Chocolate Frosting

Salted Mexican Chocolate-Chile Caramels

Yield: 64 caramels

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream
2-4 small dried red chiles, seeds removed, broken into ½-inch pieces
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
5½ ounces Mexican chocolate (see note below)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1¾ cups granulated sugar
½ cup Lyle's Golden Syrup (light corn syrup can be substituted)
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 teaspoons fleur de sel, or other type of flaky sea salt

Directions:

1. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with two perpendicular pieces of parchment paper, so that there is overhang on all four sides. Set aside.

2. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream to a boil. As soon as it reaches a boil, add the chile pieces, give it a quick stir, remove from heat, and cover. Allow the chiles to steep in the cream for at least 30 minutes. Remove the chile pieces with a slotted spoon and discard.

3. Return the strained cream to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, add both chocolates and the cinnamon. Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Bring the sugar, syrup, water, and table salt to a boil in a 5 to 6-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling the pot occasionally, until the sugar is a deep golden color, about 10 minutes.

5. Tilt the pot slightly and carefully pour the chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture (it will bubble and steam quite a bit). Continue to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches 255 degrees F.

6. Add the butter, stirring until it has completely melted, then immediately pour the caramel mixture into the lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to the bottom or side of the pot, as these pieces will have crystallized). Let the caramel stand for 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with the fleur de sel. Allow to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours.

7. Using the parchment overhangs as handles, carefully lift the caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board. Spray a pizza cutter or large knife with non-stick cooking spray and slice the caramel into 1-inch squares. Wrap the candies individually and store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Note: Common brands of Mexican chocolate are Ibarra, Abuelita, and Taza. I found Abuelita in the Hispanic section of the international aisle in my local supermarket; you can also find all three brands online. If you want to make these and can't get Mexican chocolate easily, you can use this substitution:

1 ounce semisweet chocolate + ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon + 1 drop almond extract.

(Recipe adapted from Brave Potato)

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57 Responses to “Salted Mexican Chocolate-Chile Caramels”

  1. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on May 1, 2012 at 1:19 am

    I love mexican food too! I didn’t even know mexican chocolate existed. Looks so good!

    Reply

    • Rajeswaridhanam on May 30th, 2012 at 8:32 pm

      Well it depends what you put in them. The chceikn ones taste like chceikn, the beef ones taste like beef, of course, and so on. The Tamales Dulces or Sweet Tamales taste SWEET. My Mother used to put pineapple chuncks and Raisins in hers and the were GREAT. She used to make her own Masa though and so they were 100 percent authentic Mexican Tamales from scratch. Oh, and the singular form of Tamales is Tamal and NOT Tamale!!!

      Reply

  2. Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen on May 1, 2012 at 1:36 am

    These look awesome! I’ve never had any desserts with spicy flavors in them, but I see more and more chocolate recipes calling for chilis or cayenne. I’m definitely intrigued by the combination!

    Reply

  3. Averie @ Averie Cooks on May 1, 2012 at 2:18 am

    Mmm, I bet these have a fabulous kick! Chocolate and chili; a fun combo. TJs has a hot cocoa mix they were sampling one day this past winter pairing those two ingredients.

    Reply

  4. Brittany @ Brittany Cooks on May 1, 2012 at 3:31 am

    I LOVE abuelita. If only I could find corn syrup! Ah well…maybe when I’m back in the states. These look delicious!

    Reply

  5. Shana McLean on May 1, 2012 at 3:33 am

    I first discovered the wonders of chili and chocolate in Belgium, but many gourmet chocolate brands put them together now. Abuelita is also one of our favorites – when my husband and I were dating, we regularly stopped by the local coffee shop for a Speedy Gonzales, mexican hot chocolate, espresso, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce.

    Reply

  6. Kathryn on May 1, 2012 at 4:56 am

    A little bit sweet, a little bit salty and a little bit spicy? Definitely the perfect combination for a candy!

    Reply

  7. Katrina on May 1, 2012 at 7:12 am

    These sound delightful! Yum!

    Reply

  8. Ellen @ The Baking Bluenoser on May 1, 2012 at 7:13 am

    These are a fabulous creation! For the mexican chocolate substitute, I’m assuming you multiply the substitute recipe by 5 1/2 in order to equal the 5 1/2 ounces of mexican chocolate needed for the recipe?

    Reply

  9. Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers on May 1, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Oh man the caramels look good. I never had Mexican chocolate, but next time I’m at the Mexican Market I will check it out. I just love mexican food, it’s my total favorite!

    Reply

  10. Catalina @ Cake with Love on May 1, 2012 at 7:27 am

    I love chili chocolate, I got some when we visited Mexico one month ago and it is so delicious!

    Reply

  11. Kiri W. on May 1, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Oh wow – I love Mexican chocolatem and I love salted caramels. What a combination!

    Reply

  12. Jessica @ Portuguese Girl Cooks on May 1, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Those look great! Love the sweet, spicy, and salty combo.

    Reply

  13. Mercedes (Satisfy My Sweet Tooth) on May 1, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I love Abuelita! I brought several packages home last year when I went to Mexico because I didn’t know you could get it in the U.S.! I would love these caramels with the subtle spice! How do you like your Thermapen and how would you compare it to other candy thermometers you have used?

    Reply

    • Michelle on May 1st, 2012 at 2:26 pm

      Hi Mercedes, The Thermapen is amazing! I looooove it! I’ve started using it for everything; by far the most fast and accurate thermometer I’ve ever used.

      Reply

  14. Emilie @ Emilie's Enjoyables on May 1, 2012 at 9:45 am

    I love Mexican chocolate, the texture is great! And I agree, I love this week leading up to Cinquo de Mayo…one of the best food holidays out there!

    Reply

  15. Leann Lindeman on May 1, 2012 at 10:18 am

    WOW! These look delicious.. just printed the recipe. thanks!

    Reply

  16. Jennifer on May 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Love this recipe! I can’t wait to try it. I also love making hot chocolate in the winter using Abuelita. Hot chocolate with a kick!

    Reply

  17. Lora on May 1, 2012 at 11:08 am

    These are fantastic and I love the flavors.

    Reply

  18. Courtney @ Bake.Eat.Repeat. on May 1, 2012 at 11:51 am

    I love the little chocolate disks with the imprinted letters. How fun (and scrumptious) looking! I don’t know if I’ll get to the caramels–that Mexican chocolate looks amazing on its own!

    Reply

  19. Paula on May 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Those chocolate discs look delicious and your caramels look amazing!

    Reply

  20. Vicki @ WITK on May 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    I want to make these just for all that salt on top! :) They sound and look delicious. I’ll have to check out my grocery store and see if they have any mexican chocolate!

    Reply

  21. NerdyBaker on May 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for using the Mexican chocolate! As a Mexican girl, I tend to cringe a bit at “Mexican chocolate” recipes that have no Mexican chocolate in them. Now, I know you can still get the flavor profile similarly without it but the chocolate does have a distinct taste that I love and that people who love it, surely recognize.

    Reply

  22. Kare @ Kitchen Treaty on May 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    These look simply ahhh-mazing.

    Reply

  23. Isabelle @ Crumb on May 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Yes, yes and YES. I need to make me a batch of these caramels ASAP… I’m totally addicted to Mexican-style hot chocolate, and with the weather warming up, I was starting to think I’d be going into withdrawal come summertime. (And also, I can never pass up a good homemade caramel. It’s just impossible.)

    Reply

  24. Liz @ Tip Top Shape on May 1, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    I love this!! Do you think it could be made without a candy thermometer?? I always want to make caramel recipes like this, but don’t have one.

    Reply

    • Michelle on May 1st, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      Hi Liz, If you don’t have a thermometer, you would have to see the “soft ball test” which is an alternative method to judging the doneness of candy. I have never done it myself, but I’m sure you could Google it and find instructions. I really do recommend a thermometer, though – you can typically find them at grocery stores for less than $10.

      Reply

  25. Cheryl on May 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    These look so yummy! I love chocolate and I love anything spicy…will definitely be trying these out! Last time I made caramels though I burnt it…this is something on my list of things to master in the kitchen! Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply

  26. Tracey on May 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I have never had Mexican chocolate, but clearly I need to search for it at my grocery store next time I’m out. These caramels sound amazing!! Jealous of your Thermapen, I’m too cheap to splurge on one :)

    Reply

  27. bridget {bake at 350} on May 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Oh my gosh…those look amazing! I’ve seen that Abuelita. This might have to be the recipe where I actually give it a try!

    Reply

  28. Trouble and Squeak on May 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    The week prior to Cinco de Mayo may be one of your favourite times of the year, but my favourite time will be the week 12th to 19th May. It’s National Doughnut Week here in the UK. Bring on the doughnuts and get ready to celebrate. The US only gets a Donut Day. What good is that, fellow doughnut lovers?

    Reply

  29. Crystal @ A Lovin' Forkful on May 2, 2012 at 2:17 am

    These are amazing!

    Reply

  30. Ally on May 2, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Yes, yes, yes, this is perfection in candy form!!
    xo
    http://allykayler.blogspot.com/

    Reply

  31. Lisa T on May 2, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I made these today, and while mine aren’t as pretty as yours they are awesome! The chile is very subtle, I think maybe I could have used 4 chiles and not just 3.

    Mine are perfectly soft and the Mexican chocolate is delicious! I grew up drinking Mexican chocolate (with my abuela) so these really hit the spot. Thank you for a great recipe!

    Now I need to share with my co-workers for Cinco de Mayo!

    Reply

  32. Mary Beth on May 3, 2012 at 10:14 am

    My thermometer says the soft ball stage is 235 degrees. Is there a typo in the recipe or should I cook them to 255?

    Reply

    • Michelle on May 3rd, 2012 at 11:56 pm

      Hi Mary Beth, My apologies for the confusion; I would cook to 255, as that is what I did and the caramels were the perfect consistency. I will edit the recipe so as not to cause any more confusion.

      Reply

  33. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction on May 3, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I love making caramels… And, the flavors in these ones sound divine! This is definitely a recipe I have to try!

    Reply

  34. Meredyth on May 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    what kind of chiles did you use? there are a few small red chiles that I know of, so was curious to know which one you used.

    thanks! excited to try!

    Reply

    • Michelle on May 3rd, 2012 at 11:52 pm

      Hi Meredyth, I used dried arbol chiles. Enjoy!

      Reply

  35. Emily on May 4, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    I made these a couple days ago and they turned out perfect! I cut the recipe by a quarter becasue I only had a cup and a half of cream in the fridge. I also didn’t use any chilis (again because I didn’t have any) but threw in a pinch of cayenne. With Mexican vanilla and chocolate, these were a wonderfully complex flavor. I wrapped them in plastic, which took forever, but it guaranteed I would take them into work and get them out of the house! Thanks so much for the recipe!

    Reply

  36. RisaG on May 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I agree that fleur de sel makes everything better. I live Maldon Salt too (and the smoked version). These look so good. If I made them, they would be gone in a second flat.

    Reply

  37. Dina on May 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    oh wow does this sound good

    Reply

  38. Kevin (Closet Cooking) on May 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Chili heat goes so well in chocolate!

    Reply

  39. Adeline on June 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Hi! I love caramels and I live in Mexico!!! Perfect!
    Just one question : do you know the name or kind of plastic you use to wrap them??? I’ve never find someting very convincing here…
    Thank you for al the great recipes!

    Reply

    • Michelle on June 4th, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      Hi Adeline, I just use regular wax paper – cut it into squares and then wrap up the caramels.

      Reply

  40. Elisabeth on December 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I have a small-batch candy company called Uncommon Confections…have been making these as part of my selection of candy. I use Chipotles in adobo for the spice, which has worked well. My only problem is that sometimes they come out really hard, and I have to do a whole new batch. Is there anything you can tell me about what I might be doing wrong? I am cooking the mixture to 255 as directed…I love the flavor, but need some help with the texture, lol. Thanks for all of your wonderful recipes!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 5th, 2012 at 6:17 pm

      Hi Elisabeth, Candy can be so frustrating at times, right?! Unfortunately, without being with you when you’re making them, it’s difficult to pinpoint the problem. I will say though, be sure that your thermometer is calibrated, as they can sometimes end up off, which can affect the resulting candy textures if they’re cooked to a too high or too low temperature.

      Reply

  41. Scott Thomas on March 18, 2013 at 3:39 am

    I just made a batch of these with vegan substitutions – I used Coconut milk in place of cream and unsalted margarine in place of butter.

    Although the flavor turned out excellent – one of the best things of this type I have ever tasted – the texture at room temperature is gooey and it sticks to the wax paper I wrapped it in. Refrigerated, they are perfect.

    One issue I had when cooking – perhaps my burner runs cool, I couldn’t get the sugar/corn syrup mixture to brown at what I consider “medium heat” (5-5.5) and I ended up bumping it up to 6.5 before it finally did, which took at least 20 mins. Same thing when trying to get the mixture to 255, so I ended up cooking longer than expected. Could this have caused the room temperature issues?

    Reply

    • Michelle on March 26th, 2013 at 12:02 am

      Hi Scott, I’ve found that pretty much no two stoves were created equal and you sometimes have to play around with the settings to get the heat that you need. That being said, if it reached the correct temperature, it shouldn’t have an effect on the end texture. I’m guessing that the coconut milk and/or margarine could be to blame there.

      Reply

      • Scott Thomas on March 26th, 2013 at 2:14 am

        That’s what I thought might be the case – do you have any ideas for a vegan substitution that might not have that effect? I saw a recipe using soy milk and sunflower oil mixed together in a blender (along with vanilla and some lemon juice to make a faux creme fraiche). i might not need the lemon since I wouldn’t really want the soured creme taste.

        Reply

        • Michelle on March 28th, 2013 at 2:38 pm

          Hi Scott, Unfortunately, I’m not terribly familiar with vegan baking or appropriate substitutes. I’d hate to just throw something out there without knowing if it would work or not.

          Reply

  42. Brenda on April 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    SO excited about this recipe! The whole house smelled like dark chocolate and cinnamon. It was divine. But my “caramels” turned out like rock candy. I used a candy thermometer and cooked to 255˚ and they were still soft when I added the fleur de sel 10 min after. They taste great. Uh, if you suck on them. :(

    Reply

  43. Brenda on April 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Altitude!!! I knew that was what went wrong. check this out from about.com:
    Subtract two degrees Fahrenheit from a stated temperature for every 1000 feet you are above sea level.

    For instance, if you live at 2000 feet above sea level, your approximate conversion would be four degrees less than the stated candy temperature. So if you were making a recipe that called for the candy to be brought to 240 F, you would only boil it to 236 F.

    Another example: if you live at 6500 feet above sea level, your conversion factor would be 13 degrees less. (2 x 6 (thousand feet) + 1 degree for that extra 500 feet.) If your recipe called for 280 F, you would only cook your candy to 267 F. As you can see, the higher the altitude, the more important it is to do this conversion. Even a few degrees can make a huge difference in the successful outcome of the candy.

    I’m at 6000 ft. so I WAYYY overcooked this caramel.

    Reply

  44. Lucy on May 28, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Those look delicious! I’m mexican and i loooove chocolate abuelita, but… we just use it for hot chocolate… when we bake we use regular chocolate… i’m gonna try this recipe… yum yum

    Reply

  45. Joelle on August 14, 2013 at 7:39 am

    How big are the chiles? I know the recipe calls for “small” but how long are they approximately?
    I don’t want to throw three huge ones in!
    Thanks,
    Joelle

    Reply

    • Michelle on August 19th, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Joelle, Eek, I don’t remember the *exact* measurements, but I would guesstimate maybe 3 inches.

      Reply

  46. Arianna on January 24, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I made these twice for my daughter’s Spanish class. I have never attempted candy before and they came out perfectly both times. I used my own habanero peppers which I dried in my oven in September. I used 3 and they were as hot a typical piece of cinnamon gum.

    I converted Ghiradelli into Mexican chocolate using your substitution and it worked fine.

    They were pretty, I made them smaller the second time (so it’s unnecessary to bite them) which worked a little better.

    They are attractive, tasted authentic and were VERY good. It is not as hard to make them as you may think. Use the correct ingredients.

    Reply

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