Coconut Milk Caramels

December 23, 2010
3 Ratings
  • Makes about 100 caramels (9- by 13-inch pan)
Author Notes

I wanted to make a coconut milk-based caramel with a distinct coconut flavor. I searched for a recipe and found an interesting vegan one: I wanted to use butter, though (since I had purchased 4 lbs of unsalted butter from Costco for my caramel making extravaganza). I also wanted to use less corn syrup and increase the coconut factor. I decided to top the caramels with lightly toasted unsweetened flaked coconut, and add some vanilla and coconut extract as well. —hardlikearmour

Test Kitchen Notes

These caramels are delicious. They're velvety with a perfectly balanced coconut flavor, distinct but not overpowering. The instructions were clear and the caramels were easy to make. The toasted coconut added a welcomed crunch to a well-balanced bite. I will be making these again and again, and many family members may be getting some for Christmas! —Marcal

What You'll Need
  • 1 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk (I used Chaokoh brand)
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter (or Earth Balance vegan butter replacement)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond brand preferred)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract (or replace with an additional teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • 1 cup lightly toasted unsweetened shredded coconut
  1. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper, so the paper is only going up 2 opposite sides (essentially forming a sling to remove the caramels with later). Spray with neutral-flavored cooking spray.
  2. Combine coconut milk, butter, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat while preparing the sugar mixture.
  3. Dissolve the cream of tartar in the water in a 6-quart stockpot. Add in the sugar and corn syrup, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling, you will need to keep a pretty close eye on the pan. If you are using a candy thermometer, you will notice the mixture hovers near the boiling point for a while then starts to climb fairly rapidly. As the mixture approaches 310 degrees F, you will want to start swirling it fairly frequently as caramelization is imminent. Once the caramel color is to your liking, remove the pan from heat. The pan will retain some heat, so I like to remove the caramelized sugar mixture from the heat at about 325-330º F, or when it is a golden brown color.
  4. Slowly pour the warm coconut mixture into the the sugar mixture. It will boil violently and create hot steam, so use caution. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar syrup has completely dissolved into the cream.
  5. Return the caramel mixture to medium-high heat and bring the mixture up to 244-245º F, or lower end of firm ball stage (if you drop about a 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into a bowl of refrigerator cold water it should form a ball, that is not soft but still malleable.) Stir often, scraping the bottom of the pan. As you get close to your target temperature, you may want to turn the heat down to low if you are using a gas stove, or completely off if you are using an electric stove to slow things down. Your caramels can go from too soft to tooth-breaking within a short timeframe. You will also want to stir almost continuously as you get close to your target temperature to prevent burning.
  6. Remove from heat and quickly stir in the vanilla and coconut extracts. Pour the caramel mixture into a prepared 9- by 13-inch pan. Immediately sprinkle the surface of the caramel with an even layer of the toasted coconut; lightly press the coconut into the surface of the caramel using a pancake turner to help get maximum adherence. Allow to cool at room temperature until barely warm to the touch. Use parchment paper to remove from the pan, then cut caramel into 1-inch squares, or whatever size pieces you prefer. I find the caramels easier to cut if they are slightly warm, and I spray my knife with a little bit of cooking spray. Wrap individually with waxed paper, and store in an airtight container.
  7. Note: Caramel making is a bit trial-and-error, based on humidity and other factors. If your caramels come out too soft, modify the final temperature up 1 to 4 degrees. If they come out too hard, modify down. This recipe scales down by half to an 8-inch square pan if you want to make a smaller amount or feel like experimenting!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Laura415
  • Brooke
  • Natalie Kimble
    Natalie Kimble
  • Summer of Eggplant
    Summer of Eggplant
  • lapadia
I am an amateur baker and cake decorator. I enjoy cooking, as well as eating and feeding others. I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with my husband and our menagerie. I enjoy outdoor activities including hiking, mushroom hunting, tide pooling, beach combing, and snowboarding.

31 Reviews

Alyssa K. December 31, 2015
are there any substitutes for cream of tartar?
lapetiteoccasion June 29, 2020
Honestly if you use corn syrup you don’t need cream of tarter. I may increase your corn syrup to 3/4 a cup. You don’t need butter and I’d change the coconut milk to coconut cream. This way you have a completely vegan caramel. Trader Joe’s carries organic coconut cream.
Alyssa K. December 29, 2015
can you use coconut sugar instead of cane sugar?
Laura415 December 29, 2015
Yes you can. It's a bit different with regards to moisture content and time it takes to get to temperature so keep an eye on it. It also tastes very different. Very toasty rather than pure sweet taste. I didn't care for it. I also used coconut butter and coconut oil instead of processed spread (earth balance).
Alyssa K. January 4, 2016
thanks, Laura! We made them with the coconut sugar and we LOVED it--made caramel apples.
Laura415 January 13, 2015
Just got the urge to make caramels and then wanted to try and make a dairy free version. Have to find something else to use instead of the processed spread tho. I will use honey instead of corn syrup. Honey with a little comb makes great caramels. The comb gives you caramels that are soft but solid. I think it's the beeswax. Can't wait to try them with the coconut flavors.
Brooke December 24, 2014
I used to make caramel all the time with my grandmother, we never used a thermometer. Instead we would take a glass of ice water and drop a spoon fulls of caramel in as we cooked it. When it was a texture we liked we would pull it off the stove and pour into the prepared pans. I know this isn't as accurate as having a thermometer, but it worked well for us and might be a good alternative if you don't have a thermometer. I'll be making these caramels with both thermometer and with a glass of ice water tonight & update on how they turn out. Thanks for the recipe!
Annaliese October 25, 2014
Just made these, and found that my desired caramelization temp was ~360F. I used a 50:50 blend of Earth balance and palm kernel oil for the fat. I was hesitant to use 100% Earth Balance, just for the sole purpose that the spread is specifically formulated to be very soft (i.e. makes for a very soft, hard-to-cut caramel) at room temps (~25-26.5C). I'd personally recommend using a 50:50 blend of Earth Balance with some other oil that has a more solid fatty acid profile (i.e. saturated) at room temps. Other than that, these babies are cooling, and I can't wait to cut them and ship them off to my sis for her birthday treat!
Natalie K. May 4, 2014
Hi, I know it's been a long time since this was posted, but I wonder if you think honey would work instead of the corn syrup? I am very excited to find a dairy-free caramel recipe!! Thank you!
hardlikearmour May 5, 2014
I've only made the caramels with butter, but the recipe was based on a vegan one so I assume Earth's Balance will work. The corn syrup is just to help prevent the sugar from crystallizing, and I think honey would work instead, but have never tried it.
Natalie K. May 5, 2014
Thanks so much for your reply. I can handle butter just not cream and milk so I'll use that, and will give the honey a shot!
Annaliese October 25, 2014
See my comment above regarding using Earth Balance at 100% in this formula. I do not recommend.
Summer O. May 14, 2013
Thank you for this.
hardlikearmour May 14, 2013
You are welcome.
lapadia May 14, 2013
This is mouthwatering, love your caramels, love coconut, they are THE best ever...all flavors!!
hardlikearmour May 14, 2013
Thank you!!
Cookie16 December 15, 2011
My goodness these look good! I'm so glad I found these!
hardlikearmour December 15, 2011
Thanks, cookie16! I hope you'll try making them.
MaryMaryCulinary November 28, 2011
I can't wait to make these! How long do they keep, wrapped and airtight? i was thinking of sending some by post so I don't eat all 100 pieces myself!
hardlikearmour November 29, 2011
I'm pretty sure they'd last at least 2 weeks tightly wrapped. I hope you get a chance to make them!
wssmom November 12, 2011
So deserving of a CP!
hardlikearmour November 12, 2011
Thanks, wssmom! I was thinking the same thing about your black & white cookies.
hardlikearmour November 10, 2011
Thank you, Marcal, for such lovely testing notes!
gingerroot November 3, 2011
YUM! I love the idea of coconut milk caramels and am not sure how I've missed these before.
hardlikearmour November 3, 2011
Thanks, gingerroot! I'm a huge coconut fan so I had to make them.
boulangere April 12, 2011
I just stumbled upon this and saved it - will try it out at work next week. Looks heavenly.
hardlikearmour April 12, 2011
Let me know how you like them! I think they are a good combo of caramel and coconut flavor, but would love your opinion on them.
aargersi December 24, 2010
Your house must smell wonderful these days with all of the caramel ... love these! I have never made caramels but it may be time to start.
hardlikearmour December 24, 2010
you should give it a go, especially if you like baking and/or chemistry & don't have ADHD.
hardlikearmour December 23, 2010
Thanks! If you try them let me know how it goes, I know caramel-making can be fussy so I would like to know if my instructions are okay!
campagnes December 23, 2010
ooh, MAN, I have got to make these! They sound delicious!