Sea Salt Caramels with Vanilla Bean

I fell in love with making homemade caramels last fall when I found and re-created the Ale and Pretzel Soft Caramels. Those babies are incredibly addicting! I’m not sure how I stumbled upon Shawna’s recipe for these sea salt caramels recently, but I’m so glad that I found them. These are caramels laced with a hefty dose of fleur de sel (or sea salt) and speckled with gorgeous vanilla beans. Caramel has been an acquired taste for me and over the last year or so I have completely fallen in love with the flavor since making candies and sauces at home. I plan on making multiple batches of these once the holidays roll around. Some for munching, and taking a page from Shawna’s book, some for dipping in chocolate!

I buy my fleur de sel (fancy sea salt) at Williams Sonoma. I had been using regular sea salt for a long time, but I can tell you that there is definitely a difference – the fleur de sel is light and flaky. It transforms recipes. Totally magical.

Now, full disclosure – my caramels are a little light and a little flat for two reasons. First, I think I needed to let the mixture go a little longer to the “light caramel color”. I tend to be a bit light-handed when it comes to caramel because it can go from gorgeous to burnt in an instant. But in this situation, it likely needed another couple of minutes to really get the job done. Secondly, and I forgot this from my time spent with caramels last year – if the caramels are a tad soft, you need to wrap them up right after you cut them. Otherwise, they will go sort of flat on you. Case in point above.

All that being said, these are PHENOMENAL. Sweet, salty, caramel, vanilla. They really are incredible. And I highly recommend checking out Shawna’s photos – you will see what these gorgeous candies should truly look like!

And bonus – keep an eye out tomorrow because we’ll be using these candies for another awesome recipe. I couldn’t get enough of the salted caramel goodness!

One year ago: Banana Nut Bread
Two years ago: The Neiman Marcus Cookie
Four years ago: Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sea Salt Caramels with Vanilla Bean

Yield: 64 caramels

Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes


1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ tsp vanilla
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1¼ teaspoon fleur de sel (or sea salt), plus more for sprinkling
1½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water


1. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly butter parchment.

2. Bring cream, butter, vanilla, vanilla beans, the vanilla pod, and sea salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

3. Boil the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

4. Remove the vanilla pod and carefully stir cream mixture into the caramel (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248 on thermometer. Pour immediately into the prepared baking pan and cool 30 minutes. Sprinkle another pinch or two of salt over the top of the caramel and let sit until completely cooled. Cut into 1-inch pieces (a pizza cutter is perfect for this), and then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

(Recipe adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)


54 Responses to “Sea Salt Caramels with Vanilla Bean”

  1. Sasha (The Procrastobaker) on September 22, 2011 at 3:51 am

    these look truly gorgeouussss, I was wondering if there might be a substitution for the corn syrup though? The UK is seriously lacking in the stuff and i would loveeee to give these a go! 🙂


    • Michelle on September 22nd, 2011 at 10:20 pm

      Hi Sasha, You could use Lyle’s golden syrup in place of corn syrup.


  2. Lauren at Keep It Sweet on September 22, 2011 at 6:45 am

    What a wonderful recipe- vanilla bean and sea salt sounds like a great flavor combo!


  3. Jihane @Sinful Sundays on September 22, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Your caramels look delicious! Love when a sprinkle of sea salt is added. 🙂


  4. Heather (Heather's Dish) on September 22, 2011 at 7:55 am

    these sound SO delicious!


  5. Liz @ Microwave Goddess on September 22, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Ooooh these sound delicious!


  6. Katrina on September 22, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Swoooon! This sounds so lovely!


  7. Jul on September 22, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Hello- these look yummy!

    I am a little confused on the directions though. From above: Step 3

    It says to boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved- then it says to boil without stirring? I heard you aren’t supposed to stir at all while caramelizing- is there a magic “stir-safe” time frame while caramelizing?

    stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.


    • Michelle on September 22nd, 2011 at 10:21 pm

      Hi Jul, I have made other caramel-type recipes and it’s basically the same – stir until sugar is dissolved, and then leave it alone until it reaches the correct temperature.


    • Kelly on September 22nd, 2011 at 10:22 pm

      I think what it means is to stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture is boiling, then let it continue to boil without stirring any more, but occasionally swirling the pan (holding the handle and tipping from side to side to make the liquid swirl in the pan). From experience, I think this process takes awhile to reach the right temperature. I tend to be an impatient ‘cooker’ so it seems like forever. But I always say you learn by trial and error. So if it fails the first time you make it, you’ll know (and maybe it’ll still taste yummy enough to eat your failure and then try again!) Good luck! I might try these myself! We make homemade caramel each year for turtles, and end up eating the hardened caramel that’s left over. The sea salt would be a nice touch!


  8. Happy When Not Hungry on September 22, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Wow these look amazing!!! I could eat all of them 🙂


  9. sherri lynn @ life of a wife on September 22, 2011 at 9:25 am

    These sound amazing! Anything with sea salt is good. Or vanilla bean for that matter! 🙂


  10. Lynne @ 365 Days of Baking on September 22, 2011 at 10:19 am

    These look oh so good, Michelle!


  11. Rachel @ The Avid Appetite on September 22, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I have been wanting to try caramels around Christmas time for a while now. I’ll definitely be trying these out! yum!


  12. Amy @ Gastronome Tart on September 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    I have yet to make caramel’s at home myself. I can see how they can be addicting! This is a definite try.


  13. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction on September 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    These look incredible! I was actually just thinking of making some homemade caramels this weekend, and now I have the perfect recipe to try!


  14. Becca on September 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I will NOT make these. I will get fat if I make them. I will NOT NOT NOT make these even once. Oh my they look heavenly.


  15. Liz on September 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Flat or thick, light or dark, I adore caramels in all forms…and yours sound amazing!!!


  16. Cucina49 on September 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    I use that same salt! I love salted caramels–it’s a nice edge to keep them from being TOO sweet.


  17. Hester aka The Chef Doc on September 22, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing this recipe! I didn’t even notice anything wrong with them when I saw the picture. The tips are really good. I’ve never made caramel with corn syrup before so this shall be fun 🙂


  18. Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having on September 22, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    I always worry about burning caramel too, but yours look great! I’ve never made soft caramels like this, I can’t wait to try.


  19. Ann on September 22, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Delicious! I completely agree with you regarding fleur de sel! I love having wrapped caramels…but if they’re delicious – I don’t care what the shape is! Thanks!


  20. Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love. on September 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    These sound soo amazing!!!!! Even though they didn’t come out exactly like you had hoped, I bet they are still tasty!


  21. Renee & Angela on September 22, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Delicious! 🙂


  22. Paula on September 23, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Those that love caramels won’t care that these may be a little light and a little flat as you say. They just care that they taste good and they certainly look like the do. I think it’s awesome that you make your own caramels!


  23. Viviane Bauquet Farre on September 23, 2011 at 2:29 am

    Sasha, isn’t fleur de sel such a transformative ingredient? You’ve incorporated it very gracefully into your caramel recipe – beautiful!


  24. Mackenzie@The Caramel Cookie on September 23, 2011 at 8:12 am

    These look so good! I love salted caramel!


  25. Peggy on September 23, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Love the idea of adding the vanilla beans into the caramel! Genius – and I think yours look absolutely gorgeous, flat or not =)


  26. RavieNomNoms on September 23, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Ooo yes please…that looks amazing!


  27. Emily on September 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    I made caramels for Christmas last year, but wasn’t very happy with how they came out. These look great, and may be just what I was looking for.


  28. The Doll Baker on September 23, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Oooh, I’ve never made caramels before. I believe that’s about to change. The salt and vanilla bean are very enticing. I think your caramels look gorgeous! ♥


  29. Ally on September 25, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Living in residence makes it near impossible to make such delicacies, but when I’m home for the holidays, these will be MADE!


  30. Carrots & Cream on September 26, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Um yum! I’m really interested in making candies. Where can I find a candy thermometer?


    • Michelle on September 26th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      You can definitely get them at any home store like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, etc. And you could probably also find them at larger grocery stores and places like Target and Wal-Mart.


  31. Mariko on September 26, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Beautiful! I want to put these on my christmas cookie platter!


  32. RisaG on September 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I love anything salty and sweet. These look amazing. I don’t have a lot of luck making caramel but I will give this a try one of these days.


  33. Summer Simmons on September 30, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    These look devine. I ordered a gigantic packaged of vanilla beans online and having been trying to think of another way that I could use them. Will try them this weekend. Thanks so much for the recipe.


  34. Angela W. on November 17, 2011 at 3:44 am

    I’m looking forward to trying these out to add to my Christmas baking. I’m excited to try two of my new flavoured “gourmet” sea salts purchased just for this recipe: Blackberry and Chocolate Kick (chocolate and cayenne)


  35. Lindsay @ The Live-In Kitchen on December 15, 2011 at 11:15 am

    I’m wondering how long caramels will stay good?


    • Michelle on December 16th, 2011 at 12:19 am

      Hi Lindsay, At least a couple of weeks.


  36. Heather on December 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Have you tried dipping them in some chocolate? I was wondering if you think it would be good. These look delicious and I can’t wait to try making them!


    • Michelle on December 17th, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      Hi Heather, I think it would be FABULOUS!!


  37. Patricia Miller on January 10, 2012 at 6:15 am

    I included these in my Christmas goodie bags this year and got rave reviews. Quite a few people told me it was their favorite thing in the bag! Thanks for the post!


  38. Emily on February 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    These look great!!

    If I want to make these, but don’t have any vanilla beans around, can I still follow the entire recipe and just leave out the vanilla bean??


    • Michelle on February 21st, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      Hi Emily, Absolutely! Just add another teaspoon or so of vanilla extract to the recipe to bump up the flavor. Enjoy!


  39. Ellimac on September 23, 2012 at 8:15 am

    This is the BEST caramels recipe I have ever tried. EXCELLENT!!! Definitely a keeper.


  40. elisemarie on December 14, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    I just made these the other night and, while they taste absolutely amazing, I had a terrible time getting them unstuck from the wax paper. I used wax paper because I didn’t have any parchment paper on hand. Was this my mistake or is there another trick I should know for getting them not to stick? This was my first time making caramels, so despite this setback I was very impressed with how they turned out! Your recipe reads very well with easy to follow instructions!


    • Michelle on December 14th, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Hi Elisemarie, Wax paper can definitely “fuse” to hot items, which is why you had trouble with it sticking. If you use parchment paper next time, you shouldn’t have any problem at all.


  41. Clemens on December 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Hm… I tried this and after a few hours in the fridge it’s still very liquid… what went wrong? Thank you!


    • Michelle on December 17th, 2012 at 10:38 am

      Hi Clemens, The only thing I could think of is to make sure you cooked it long enough – ensure it comes to a light golden color first, and then make sure your thermometer is properly calibrated and that it reached 248 degrees.


  42. Angie on December 30, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    These looked so good I had to try making them. I followed recipe almost exactly: I omitted the sea salt on top because I did not have good quality sea salt. Mine turned out darker than yours but they are delicious. This was my first ever attempt at making caramels. Thank you for posting the recipe.
    I wish I knew how to insert a picture so you could see them.


  43. Melissa on January 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I made these and sent them to work with my husband and they were a huge hit!! I made one small change, instead of using a vanilla bean I used vanilla bean paste and it still came out beautiful and delicious!!


  44. Della Teagle on November 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    I can’t find vanilla beans!!!! Can pure vanilla be used instead? And if so how much do I use? Thank you so much


    • Michelle on November 11th, 2013 at 10:13 am

      Hi Della, Most grocery stores sell vanilla beans, and you can always order them online from places like Amazon, Penzeys or Beanilla. If you are going to substitute vanilla extract, 1 vanilla bean = 2.5 teaspoons of extract. The extract should be stirred in at the very end, however.


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