Caramels are actually my favorite food-related gift to give people during the holidays. One batch goes a long way, and homemade caramels just feel like an extra special treat. You can flavor caramels a crap ton of different ways (see also: Beer Caramels, Bourbon Vanilla Caramels, Pumpkin Spice Caramels), but I always find that a classic combo of caramel, vanilla, sea salt, and a little booze is the way to go. 

There are LOTS of ways to package these guys up, but some favorites include: (a) using empty paper towel, wrapping paper, or TP rolls, cutting them to the desired size, filling them with caramels, and then wrapping them up with cellophane wrap or wrapping paper (they're like those popper things you can find around the holidays that have a toy and a paper crown inside!); (b) using kraft paper bags and sewing them shut with bakers twine; and (c) filling mason jars and tying them with festive ribbon or fabric.

Vanilla-Rum Caramels

nonstick spray
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1  14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 1/2 TB dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
good quality flaky sea salt


  1. Lightly coat a 8 x 8″ baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2″ overhang on 2 sides.
  2. Bring sugar, corn syrup, 1/4 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until mixture turns a deep amber color, 8 - 15 minutes. You don't want to walk away from this, as once it starts to darken, it'll move pretty quickly and you don't want a pot of burnt sugar on your hands.
  3. Remove pan from heat and whisk in sweetened condensed milk and butter (mixture will bubble vigorously) until smooth. Fit pan with candy thermometer and return to medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until thermometer registers 240F.
  4. Remove from heat and whisk in the rum, vanilla, and kosher salt. Pour into prepared pan; let cool.
  5. Sprinkle caramel with sea salt, cut into 1 inch pieces and wrap individually in parchment paper. Don't use foil wrappers. Sticky nightmare.
  6. Caramels can be made a few weeks in advance. Store in an airtight container at room temperature (if you're using immediately) or in the fridge (if you're looking to keep them around for a while). I keep mine in the fridge, for the most part, but leave a handful at a time in the candy dish.