These caramels are the perfect combination of salty, sweet, and acidic. The balsamic vinegar adds a pleasant tang that cuts the rich caramel and rounds the whole thing out. You won’t necessarily know it’s there, but you’ll know that something interesting is going on.
This recipe utilizes a two-step caramel process. First, you cook the sugar until it’s completely caramelized, then you add your wet ingredients and cook it one more time. This process allows you to take the sugar right up to the point of burning without actually burning it, then cooking it again to reach the desired texture. The temperatures in the recipe may be a bit higher than you’re used to, but don’t fret.
Make sure you have a candy thermometer handy before you begin, as it’s imperative that the sugar is cooked to the right temperature. Just five degrees can be the difference between caramel that’s runny, and caramel that’s perfectly taffy-like. Go slow, don’t rush the cooking process, and follow each step precisely. —Jesse Szewczyk
Line an 8x8-inch square baking tin with parchment paper (allowing some of the parchment paper to hang over the sides) and generously coat with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
Combine cream, corn syrup, vanilla extract, and kosher salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.
Add sugar and 3/4 cup water to a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan fit with a candy thermometer. Do not stir. Cook over medium heat until the mixture develops a dark amber color and the thermometer reads 370°F. If sugar starts to build up on the sides of the pot, use a wet pastry brush to dissolve the crystals. Do not stir during cooking. This process will take about 15 minutes, and you may need to brush the sides of the pot up to 10 times to remove sugar buildup.
Remove pan from the heat and slowly and carefully add the balsamic vinegar while stirring with a spoon or heat-resistant spatula. The mixture will violently bubble and temporarily seize up. Stir for an additional 30 seconds until the sugar remelts.
Add the cream mixture to the pot and stir for another 30 seconds until smooth. Cook the mixture over medium heat without stirring until a candy thermometer reaches 260°F. This can take up to 20 minutes. The sides of the pot will begin to darken, but there is no need to use a wet pastry brush to remove buildup at this point.
Pour mixture into prepared baking tin and let set at room temperature overnight. Once firm, remove the caramels from the pan by lifting the parchment paper. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and cut into a 9x6 grid resulting in 54 rectangular pieces using a chef’s knife coated with nonstick cooking spray. (If the caramel is too sticky, pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes and try again.)
Wrap each piece in a square of parchment paper slightly bigger than the caramel. Store at room temperature.