It’s not uncommon that I find myself craving caramel, so I’m thankful that homemade renditions are a relatively simple feat. With a candy thermometer and a close eye on your stovetop, chewy, rich caramel candies can be ready in no time, and they make excellent edible presents.
This time, I reached for an array of coconut products — its sandy amber sugar, its pearly milk and oil — along with maple syrup, vanilla and salt. For complementary flavor, I added a spoonful of smoked paprika, whose essence would echo caramel’s burnt sugar base. The result is a delightfully complex, succulent caramel candy with a tempting hint of smoky spice.
These candies offer the depth and richness of traditional caramels in a surprisingly vegan form. The parade of coconut adds both a layer of creamy flavor and a tropical trace, with the full-bodied coconut sugar in luscious balance with the warm whisper of smoked paprika.
Because of the coconut oil, these caramels can melt quickly, making them a perfect cold-weather treat and an outstanding wintertime gift. Just be sure to avoid carrying them in your pocket, and don’t place them near a heat source (other than your mouth).
Makes 32 caramels
3/4 cup canned coconut milk (full fat – not light)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon water
1 cup + 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (a.k.a. coconut palm sugar)
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup
6 tablespoons coconut oil (preferably virgin unrefined)
32 toasted coconut chips (optional)
Lay a piece of parchment inside a 9×5″ loaf pan, with plenty of overhang along the longer edges. Lightly grease the exposed walls inside the pan, as well as the surface of the parchment. Set nearby. Measure out 6 tablespoons coconut oil, preferably in solid state, and leave nearby. Fit a small-to-medium saucepan with a candy thermometer; set aside. You’ll also need another, smaller saucepan with a lid; set nearby.
Open the can of coconut milk and whisk well, until consistency is even (to do so, you may have to heat it gently or bring it to room temperature if it’s very solid/cold). Measure out 3/4 cup coconut milk and place it in the smaller saucepan without the thermometer. Mix in the vanilla, salt, smoked paprika, and water. Bring to a steady simmer, stirring occasionally. As soon as the mixture bubbles up, turn off heat and cover with lid.
Meanwhile, place coconut sugar and maple syrup in the slightly larger saucepan fitted with the thermometer. Place over medium heat, and use a heatproof utensil to stir occasionally and very gently (avoid splashing), just until thermometer reaches 245 F. Turn off heat and quickly add the warm coconut milk mixture (beware: the hot mixture may froth up). Stir in the coconut oil in 3 or 4 portions, mixing each until completely melted.
Turn heat to medium, and stir occasionally, letting the spoon touch the bottom of the pan to avoid burning. Let boil until mixture reaches 245 F again (this can take several minutes), then quickly pour into prepared loaf pan. Let sit at room temperature to cool until firm.
(If the top of room temperature caramels is very oily, you may opt to gently dab it with a clean, lint-free cloth.) Place room-temperature pan in fridge for at least an hour to firm it up for slicing. While caramels chill, cut out 32 pieces of wax or parchment paper, about 3 by 4 inches a piece.
When ready to cut the chilled caramels, run a knife along the short edges of the pan, then use the parchment to lift the caramel slab. Invert on cutting board and carefully remove parchment. Cut into 32 caramels (a 4 by 8 grid); I find it easiest to cut the slab into quarters, then eighths, finally cutting each eighth into four.
If desired, top each caramel with a toasted coconut chip. Individually wrap with wax paper, twisting at ends. Stored in a sealed container, the wrapped caramels will keep in refrigerator for up to three weeks, or in a cool place for one week. (They’re rather chewy straight out of the fridge, and are at their prime texture after being set out at room temperature for about 10 minutes.)