Microwave Caramels


Every year at Thanksgiving, I end up making between 20 and 40 pounds of caramels to give away. It originally started as a recipe I was given for cooking a batch in the microwave – instead of on the stove. I suspect the intent / expectation was that the microwave would be easier and/or provide a lower level of effort. I am not sure that is really the case.

The original recipe (and several years of refinement) were based on precision timing, smell, color, and appearance of the mix as it was cooking. The result is that this was a very subjective process and there were always a few initial batches that were either too soft or too hard. In 2012, I changed the process to include an infrared laser thermometer – I bought mine at Harbor Freight, but infrared thermometers are available from many places and any of them will do. The instructions below reflect the use of the thermometer to determine “doneness”.



  • 9×13 glass pan (well buttered)
  • 3 quart glass measuring / cooking bowl (with handle)
  • large metal stirring spoon (not plastic)
  • Infrared Laser Themometer


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 sticks of butter (1 cup)
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tbs real vanilla
  • 1 – 14oz sweetened condensed milk


  1. Process Note – The mix will often be bubbly. Before measuring temperature, mix the bubbles in until mixture is smooth and bubble free, and measure near the middle of surface. Do this quickly since the temperature will drop rapidly.
  2. Put the sugar, butter and corn syrup in the bowl. butter-sugar-mix
  3. Microwave at high for about 6 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes and each minute after – Until the mix reaches about 225-230 degrees (Fahrenheit). The butter should be melted and the sugar dissolved.
  4. Gradually stir in the sweetened condensed milk, and mix thoroughly.
  5. Microwave the mixture for about 15 minutes at high. Stir after the first 2 minutes or when it boils to the top the first time, then every 2 minutes or when it boils to the top after. Watch carefully, it will boil to the top very rapidly at about 10 minutes. The final target temperature is 236 to 238 degrees.  Adjust up or down 2 degrees to adjust for personal preference or thermometer variation.bubbly-sugar-mix
  6. When done, bring it out and stir for at least 2 minutes to remix and cool – I generally try to get the temperature down to about 220. Add the vanilla and slowly stir in. Mix completely. Pour into a well buttered (and chilled) 9×13 glass pan and allow to cool. When cooled refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  7. Get the pan of caramel out of the refrigerator, and allow to warm. When the caramel cuts easily, cut into small cubes and wrap in wax paper.
  8. Store in refrigerator or freezer. It will last in freezer for about 1 months before it starts picking up flavors.

Potential Variations

There are a few variations I discovered on the internet that will be saved until I am feeling more experimental.

  • Salted Caramel – Along with the vanilla, add a teaspoon (or two) of coarse sea salt and stir in well. This seems like a low risk variation.
  • Creamier Caramels – Along with the sweetened condensed milk, adding 2 to 4 tablespoons of heavy cream. I expect this will also make the caramels softer, requiring adjustments to the final target temperature for the same firmness.
  • Brown Sugar Caramels – Use brown sugar instead of white sugar. Many recipes do this and I am not sure how the molasses will affect the flavor. Of if it does at all.

Production Notes

  • 2 oz of Vanilla will do about 5 batches
  • Each batch uses about 1 lb of sugar
  • Each batch produces about 2.5 lb of wrapped caramels
  • Standard Wax Paper (75 sq ft) will do about 3 batches
  • A gallon Zip Lock freezer bag will hold one batch
  • Precut Wrappers are available from Loranne Oils – 2000 pieces for about $35

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