Espresso Caramels Recipe

A favorite caramel recipe yielding dozens of generously espresso-flecked caramels that you can individually wrap. They have a deliciously subtle undercurrent of sea salt and are great for the holidays.

Espresso Caramels

I thought about waiting until the holiday season to share this recipe with you but decided against it for a couple reasons. First, I know many of you are completely intimidated when it comes to the realm of candy making. It's understandable - all that thermometer gazing and bubbling lava-like sugar could scare anyone. But I'm not-so-secretly hoping that at least a few of you will give these little treats a home in your holiday cookie/treat boxes this year, so I wanted to give you enough time to give the recipe a test run between now and then. Maybe some of you will find your inner candymaker. Secondly, because the flavor of these caramels is likely different than caramels you've tried in the past - they are generously espresso-flecked with a subtle undercurrent of sea salt- I'm dying to get this recipe out there and see if you all like it as much as I do. I did a version with nuts, and a version without.

A few things you should know. You need a candy thermometer. I paid $4 for my latest one -this is after Wayne and some friends destroyed my old one "experimenting" with a deep fryer. They are relatively easy to find and I picked mine up at Whole Foods Market. You need the candy thermometer because the key to this caramel recipe is achieving a good set, meaning you want your caramel to be able to hold a shape once it cools. To make this happen you need to heat the ingredients to a very specific temperature. I know it all sounds so precise and fussy, and to a certain extent it is, but really all you are doing here is putting a very short list of ingredients together in a pot, and bringing the temperature up, up, up into what is considered "hard ball" territory - 260F degrees. It actually took me two attempts to get the set I was after for this recipe - the first time I only brought the caramel up to about 246F degrees- firm ball stage, resulting in my nut-caramels turning into blob city when left for any length of time at room temperature. Never one to be deterred - hard ball was what I needed.

caramel recipe

Once the caramel is done cooking there are quite a few things you can do with it. I've written the recipe so you can make the little nut caramels you see right here, or skip the nuts and make the individually wrapped caramels you see in the lead photo - they both come from the same place. I didn't get around to it, but I couldn't help but think dunking an ice cream cone or frozen yogurt cone in this would be amazing. Or what about using the caramel as a bottom later in a chocolate tart - or the chocolate pudding pie a few of you mentioned a couple weeks back when I posted my chocolate pudding recipe. I'm sure you'll come up with some great other ways to use it.

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Espresso Caramels Recipe

Feel free to experiment with the type of nuts you use. I found that nuts that were chopped were easier to deal with when forming the shape of the caramels, big intact walnut halves contributed to caramels with strange shapes. When choosing honey, I went for a mild clover honey.

And as I mentioned in the post, feel free to forgo the nuts altogether. You can make individually wrapped caramels. If you do decide to roll-your-own caramels, do it assembly style. Make one "prototype" that you are happy with, it might take a few practice ones. Based on the prototype cut all the parchment paper wrappers first, next the caramel into the appropriate size squares, then roll and twist.

2 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon espresso powder / finely ground espresso beans
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup honey

Special equipment: candy thermometer

Place the nuts in a medium sized, glass or ceramic mixing bowl.

In a medium, thick-bottomed saucepan heat the cream, espresso powder, and salt until tiny bubbles start forming where the milk touches the pan - just before a simmer. Stir in the honey. Bring the mixture to a boil. Now reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 15-20 minutes minutes or until the mixture reaches 260F degrees - hard ball stage. Remove from heat.

Pour the caramel over the nuts and stir until all the nuts are well coated. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 or 15 minutes to allow the caramel to thicken before you attempt to shape it. It is easier to handle this way - not as much spread. Stir one last time and drop by tablespoonful onto a prepared baking sheet (Silpat, parchment-lined, or oiled). Alternately, skip the nut addition and simply spread the (cooled but not set) caramel out on a slab or parchment-lined pan, let it cool completely before cutting into small pieces. Wrap & twist in parchment paper.

In either case keep the caramels in a cool place (or refrigerate) until completely set.

Makes 1 1/2 dozen nut caramels, or a couple dozen individual caramels (depending on the size).

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Oh, these do look fabulous! Are these pretty soft and chewy, or somewhat hard? Is the cooked and cooled pot of caramel fairly easy to work with and shape?


Rachael, as Deb said, I have found some "unheated" honey's to be also be "unfiltered" meaning that it may have some comb remnants so it may be waxy as well as crystallized. That said I think it would work fine in the recipe - I also love to add that type of honey to herbal teas (mint/chamomile is my favorite right now). Heidi, I love making caramels - it was a Christmas tradition in my family to make wrapped caramels, fudge, and turtles every Christmas instead of cookies. I'll give these honey/espresso ones a try this year.


I used to make candy when I lived in California. Now that I'm in Colorado (6,000 feet up), my candy never works. I've tried heating it to lower temps, higher temps, slower, faster, etc. Any thoughts?


Rachael: I have some solid honey too-- mine's in a canister that I got from a friend whose father keeps bees. You can warm it up to thin it out, as Heidi suggested-- and use in tea, baking, cooking, etc. Or, you can use it as a spreadable / solid condiment on toast, pancakes, waffles, etc, which I happen to find delicious and a nice alternative to jams and syrups. The graininess is just the crystallization, though sometimes spreadable / solid honey can be a little waxy from the comb-- it shouldn't be, but it can be. On a separate note, these caramels sound fantastic. I typically make peppermint bark for friends and family for the holidays, and this might be a really nice addition. Thanks, Heidi!!


Oh yes, your inkling that now is the time to start trying out holiday recipes is so right on. This year, like most years, I offset looming holiday dread with grand plans for making handmade gifts... it looks like this year it might actually happen! I appreciate you posting this recipe now... I'd love to give some of these away as gifts.


Using this as the base in a chocolate tart sounds absolutely amazing. And, I wouldn't say I keep my candy thermometer hidden, just in a special, somewhat out of the way, "what do you mean you can'f find it, dear?" place.


Mmmmm......sounds fabulous! I love coffee! But I can't have dairy. Would I be able to use Silk Creamer instead of heavy cream?


Oh, I'm not afraid of candy making, and I definitely want to make these soon!


Hi Katie, Finely ground beans. -h


This may be a silly question, but is espresso powder just very finely ground espresso beans, or is it more akin to instant coffee?


For those of you who are curious about how sweet these are - plenty sweet. Quite sweet. And they don't taste "honey-sweetened" - I was worried about that when i opted to go with honey vs. refined sugars, but that didn't end up being one of the variables I needed to play with. Leah, I'm really not sure about substituting agave nectar, it's a great question. I'd have to look into what happens to agave when you bring it up to temperature like that - whether or not it behaves in a similar fashion. If it actually worked, it might be a great alternative. Rachael, it sounds like your honey has simply crystallized - some honeys have more of a tendency to do that than others, It'll smooth out over heat. -h


If I don't dig espresso, would it work to sub in something else powdery and delectable? Cinnamon (and a pinch of ancho chili powder)? Cocoa?


These look fantastic, I'm thinking they will be perfect for a halloween party. Epicurious has a Salted Chocolate caramel that is also to die for, not sure if you could substitute honey for the sugar in that recipe, but could be nice.


Mmm, these look so interesting!! I also would have thought more sugar but I am sure these will be delicious. Two days ago a friend gave me a gift of organic honey, titled "unheated", that is solid at room temperature and has a grainy texture and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Although I don't enjoy this honey as-is, there must be a good use for it and I'm wondering if it could work in this recipe or whether the caramels would be grainy too. Has anyone ever come across this kind of honey?


Thanks. I have another caramel recipe I've wanted to try out too. I'm going to give this a try next week. I'll let you know how it goes. Time for me to get a new candy thermometer. Mine met a similar fate as yours. Men just don't know what they are doing.


Hey Heidi , these come just in time , as i've been thinking what little sweets to make for Ramadan. Thanks.


We treated ourself to a Breton caramel with sea salt during a recent summer holiday trip - quite delicious! And now I have the recipe....

Mrs Redboots

Interesting recipe Heidi - I'd have guessed at a much higher ratio of sweet stuff to cream in caramels but I haven't made any since I was about twelve! I love the sea salt addition - a little touch tastes great in sweet stuff.


These look great. Would they set to the same consistency with agave nectar instead of honey?


Your caramels look delicious! And nice to see a recipe without sugar and/or corn syrup...


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