If someone on your holiday list has a sweet tooth, here's a candy that's sure to be much appreciated. Homemade caramels are more delicious and fresh-tasting than anything you can buy pre-packaged, and making them is really quite straightforward. You'll need a candy thermometer, but other than that, the recipe requires just a few ingredients and about half an hour of your time.
Fleur de sel is a prized French sea salt, and the combination of salt and caramel is really terrific. We like Maldon sea salt, which happens to come from England, but any sea salt you like will work just fine. If you prefer to leave it out and skip the sprinkled garnish, the caramels will still be buttery, chewy, and absolutely delicious. Because there are no stabilizers or emulsifiers in our homemade version, be sure to wrap each caramel in cellophane or wax paper, or they'll stick together. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 weeks.
Line a loaf pan (8-1/2 or 9 inches) with aluminum foil and lightly butter the foil. Set aside.
Combine the cream, 2 tablespoons of the butter, the vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a small saucepan. Bring to the start of a boil over medium heat, then turn off the heat and let the mixture sit, covered.
Place the sugar and golden syrup in another, larger (at least 3-quart) heavy-bottom pan and set over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth, then don’t stir again. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and cook until the caramel reaches 310 degrees F. If necessary, tilt the pan occasionally (be very careful) so that the bulb of the thermometer is submerged. Once it hits temperature, remove the pan from the heat and add the warm cream mixture, stirring with a clean spoon or rubber spatula until smooth.
Return the pan to medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 260 degrees F. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, mixing until smooth.
Immediately pour the caramel mixture into the prepared pan. Let the caramel sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to cool slightly, then sprinkle with sea salt. If you add the salt before the candy cools slightly, it will melt; if you wait too long, it won’t stick to the candy’s surface.
Let the candy cool completely at room temperature. Remove the foil and caramel from the pan, peel off the foil, and cut the candy into pieces with a sharp knife. Wrap each caramel individually and store in an airtight container.