Soft and chewy pumpkin spice caramels are made with pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice for an autumnal twist on the soft caramel. These soft homemade caramels have a delicious pumpkin-y flavor paired with warm fall spices. When wrapped in wax paper, these caramels make great bite-sized candies to take with you to Halloween parties or fall gatherings!
I shipped some of these soft pumpkin caramels to my parents, and they couldn’t get enough. They have a delicate balance of pumpkin, spice, and everything nice for the best caramel recipe you will find! I’d pair these caramels with my pumpkin pie ice cream and pumpkin spice macarons for a pumpkin dessert menu this Thanksgiving.
While a little more tricky than something like salted caramel sauce, these pumpkin caramels are well worth the effort. I have tons of tips and tricks in the blog post and recipe to help give you the best chance of success!
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Ingredients for Pumpkin Spice Caramels
Homemade soft caramels are made with simple ingredients, but they can be a little tricky to put together. I tested this recipe numerous times to troubleshoot crystallization and get the ratios correct. Now I have success making these delicious fall caramels every time!
- Pumpkin puree. The star ingredient for pumpkin-flavored caramels—be sure to use 100% pumpkin, not canned pumpkin filling (which contains sugar).
- Salted butter. Because these pumpkin caramels are really rich, the salt in the butter helps to balance out the flavors.
- Heavy cream. A small amount of heavy cream adds a rich and creamy texture to these homemade caramels.
- Pumpkin pie spice.* This common spice mix is easy to make at home with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. (Full quantities listed in the “Notes” section of the recipe.)
- Vanilla extract. I have used both vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste with good results.
- Salt. An extra pinch enhances all the flavors.
- Water. The sugar caramelizes a bit more evenly when diluted with water.
- Light corn syrup. The corn syrup prevents crystallization, since it is an invert sugar. I tested this recipe numerous times without corn syrup, but my caramels crystallized in a matter of hours every single time. Please use corn syrup to ensure the best chance of success.
- Granulated sugar. Necessary for a good caramel, sugar takes on color and flavor through the Maillard reaction. It also hardens the caramels, which allows them to keep their shape.
- Brown sugar. This gives a more complex, sweet flavor to the caramels.
Recommended Supplies for Soft Caramels
A candy thermometer is required for foolproof soft caramels. It is possible to make soft caramels without one, but a candy thermometer is much faster than using the cold water test. My digital candy thermometer angles into the center of the pot with a silicone clip; others can clip onto the side of the pot to allow you to stir more freely.
I prefer to use nonstick pots when making caramel, as it makes cleanup a breeze, but any heavy-bottomed pot will work. You’ll also want to make sure you have parchment paper, a good spatula or silicone whisk, and a square pan.
How to Make Soft Pumpkin Spice Caramels at Home
Homemade caramel (both as candy and as a salted caramel sauce) is notorious for crystallizing. I was no exception: The first few times I made these caramels, they had great flavor but were gritty and crumbly. After testing a few troubleshooting methods, I had success with a foolproof method that results in soft, chewy, and delicious caramels every single time. Read on to find out how I made this soft caramel recipe foolproof!
Prepare the Pan
Caramel’s texture can change fairly rapidly towards the end, so it’s important to line a square pan with parchment paper before you start on anything else.
Make the Pumpkin Cream
When the sugar caramelizes, we’ll need to add the rest of our ingredients all at once. The caramel can quickly burn if we aren’t fast enough, so it’s important to have the pumpkin cream ready to go in advance.
Add the pumpkin puree, butter, heavy cream, pumpkin pie spices, vanilla extract, and a big pinch of salt to a small saucepan over low heat. Stir occasionally until the mixture is warm and steamy, then simply keep warm until needed.
How to Caramelize the Sugars
This soft caramel recipe uses brown sugar for the complementary flavor with warm spices; however, brown sugar has a tendency to crystallize. To prevent this, this recipe calls for corn syrup (an invert sugar) and a wet caramel, which is caramel made with water (as opposed to dry caramel without water).
Add water to a medium pot, followed by corn syrup, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Do not stir the sugars together.
Stirring the sugar here likely won’t result in crystallization, but using the same spatula in the pot later likely will. The corn syrup does a great job modeling for the other sugar molecules how to align once melted, but I don’t like to push it. And all stirring at this point will do is dirty a spatula and potentially crystallize your caramel—neither of which is a good thing.
Cook the sugar over medium heat until a candy thermometer reaches 315-320°F/157-160°C. Again, do not stir the sugar syrup. You may swirl the pot a few times to even out the color or temperature of the syrup, but stirring is unnecessary. I swirl the pot once when the sugar takes on color and once more when the thermometer reads 300°F/148°C to ensure an accurate reading.
Sugar typically continues cooking for a minute after being removed from heat. To be safe, I remove my caramel from heat at 318°F/159°C to prevent it from burning. It rises those last couple degrees by the time I add the pumpkin cream.
Add the Pumpkin Cream to the Caramel and Cook until Firm
Slowly pour the warm pumpkin cream into the caramelized sugar and stir together. The mixture will bubble and release a bit of steam, so be careful! Stir vigorously until the mixture has combined and is homogeneous. We don’t have to worry about crystallization anymore, so stir at your pleasure.
With the addition of pumpkin puree in these caramels, the cooking temperatures are a little different compared to normal caramels. I have had good success cooking the pumpkin spice caramels to the following temperatures:
- 250°F/121°C: The caramels barely hold their shape when unwrapped but melt deliciously quickly in your mouth.
- 255°F/123°C: Chewy caramels that hold their shape nicely but still melt in the mouth.
- 260°F/126°C: Firm caramels that require some chewing, but not hard caramel by any means.
You can also cook the caramels to a temperature in between those three for your ideal caramel candy.
Pouring and Setting the Pumpkin Spice Caramel
Pour the caramel into your parchment-lined pan. Tilt the pan gently to fill in the corners if needed, then allow the caramel to set at room temperature for at least three hours until cool to the touch. I let mine set overnight before cutting and taking pictures.
Cutting and Wrapping the Pumpkin Spice Caramels
Once the caramel has set, lift the caramel slab from the pan with the excess edges from the parchment paper. Place directly on a cutting board, then use a sharp knife to cut the caramels into individual candies. I like mine in 1″ (25 mm) squares or about ¾-1″ (19-25 mm) wide and 1 ½-2″ (4-5 cm) long.
If the caramel begins to stick to the knife, wipe it down with a damp paper towel, or spray the knife with cooking spray.
To prepare my wax paper sheets for wrapping the caramels, I cut them in half with my knife to about 3″x4″ (8×10 cm). You may use scissors, but I’ve found that cutting more than a few at a time with scissors generally results in curved lines and uneven wrappers.
To wrap the individual pumpkin spice caramels, place a caramel in the middle of a sheet of wax paper about 3″x4″ (8×10 cm). Bring the longer sides to the center over the caramel. Hold the candy in place with one hand while you twist one of the sides together. Twist the other side in the same direction, and repeat for the remaining soft caramels.
How to Prevent Crystallization with Homemade Caramels
Crystallized caramels are grainy, gritty, and crumbly. They don’t have any chew, and they lack the beautiful shine that proper caramels have.
To prevent crystallization while making homemade caramels, I recommend using an invert sugar and not stirring the sugar syrup until after it has caramelized and you’ve added butter and heavy cream.
If your batch of caramels crystallized, you may be able to salvage it. You can try reheating the caramels in a pot with a quarter cup (60 ml) of water and another dollop of corn syrup to your desired temperature. Swirl the ingredients together, but don’t stir them.
You may also repurpose the crystallized pumpkin caramels into a pumpkin spice caramel sauce. Reheat the caramel in a pot with a quarter cup of water to 212°F/100°C. Pour into jars, then store in the fridge and drizzle on top of pumpkin ice cream, vanilla ice cream, or your favorite dessert.
FAQs about Pumpkin Spice Caramels
No, you really don’t need to. And this is coming from a girl whose favorite job in the kitchen is stirring. By stirring the sugar syrup together, you have a much greater chance of incorporating undissolved sugar granules back into the batch later. It’s easier to just not stir during the first few steps.
Both times I tried this caramel recipe without corn syrup resulted in grainy, crumbly caramel that had crystallized. The corn syrup acts as an invert sugar to help the sugar molecules properly align as they cool. I understand some people don’t like using corn syrup, but it is very helpful here to ensure your caramel comes out chewy and not grainy.
The caramels will taste best within 2-3 weeks of making them when individually wrapped and stored at room temperature.
When individually wrapped, this won’t matter! However, if you want a firmer caramel, you can place the caramels back in a pot and reheat to 255°F/123°C. Pour into a parchment-lined baking pan, then allow to cool before re-cutting and wrapping.
Other Recipes You May Enjoy
This is the second recipe for Pumpkin Month 2023, and I’m adding new pumpkin recipes each week! You can find all of my recipes with pumpkin here.
My pumpkin ice cream with pie crust pieces is another delicious stovetop treat perfect for fall, especially when you want to enjoy pumpkin season but it’s still too warm to turn on the oven.
Looking for more rich pumpkin desserts? My pumpkin spice macarons have a creamy pumpkin spice filling.
Dish Cleanup: A Lil Messy
I rate my recipe cleanups on a scale of 1 to 5. 1 is only a handful of dishes, and 5 is everything including the kitchen sink.
These pumpkin spice caramels have a cleanup rating of a 3. I tried to make these fall caramels in one pot, but that resulted in gritty caramels both times. So: Make sure you use two pots for the best results. I like using a nonstick pot for caramel, as the coating makes it easy to clean off the sticky residue later.
Pumpkin Spice Caramels Recipe
- ½ cup pumpkin puree (130 g)
- 8 Tablespoons (½ cup) salted butter (113 g)
- ⅓ cup heavy cream (80 ml)
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice* (see note for substitution) (2 g)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (5 ml)
- pinch of salt
- ¼ cup water (60 ml)
- ¼ cup light corn syrup (80 g)
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200 g)
- ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed (105 g)
- Line a square 8"/20 cm pan completely with parchment paper so that excess paper hangs over the edges.
- In a small saucepan, add the pumpkin puree, butter, heavy cream, pumpkin pie spice*, vanilla extract, and a big pinch of salt. Place over low heat and stir occasionally, until the butter has melted and the mixture is steamy. Set aside and keep warm. (Do this step first to ensure this pumpkin cream is ready to add to the caramel as soon as it's needed.)
- In a medium, 3- to 5-quart pot, add the water. Then, add the corn syrup, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Do not stir. The sugars will combine on their own as the syrup starts to boil.
- Add a candy thermometer to the pot, then place over medium heat and cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 315-320°F/157-160°C. You may swirl the pot once or twice when the sugar starts taking color and again once the thermometer reads 300°F/148°C to ensure an accurate reading from the thermometer, but do not stir it with a utensil. This can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, depending on your pot and stove.
- Immediately after the caramel reaches 320°F/160°C, remove from heat and slowly pour in the pumpkin cream, then vigorously stir together. The caramel will sputter and steam as you add the pumpkin cream, but it will settle down once everything is incorporated.
- Return the pot to medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the caramel reaches your desired temperature, usually around 10 minutes. For the softest caramels that barely hold their shape, cook to 250°F/121°C. For firmer (but not hard) caramels, cook to 255°F/123°C. I typically remove the pot from heat 1-2 degrees before my desired temperature and give the caramel a good stir, as it will usually rise those last couple degrees anyway.**
- Pour the caramel into the lined pan on a trivet or hot pad, then allow to cool and set for at least three hours, or ideally overnight.
- Once the caramel has set, lift the caramel from the pan via the excess parchment paper edges, and place directly onto a cutting board. Cut the caramels into individual candies with a sharp knife. I like mine about ¾-1" (19-25 mm) wide and 1 ½-2" (4-5 cm) long. If the caramels stick to your knife too much, wipe down the knife with a damp towel or spray the knife with cooking spray.
- Wrap the caramels in small sheets of wax paper a little longer than the caramels. I like using pre-cut sheets that I trim in half to save me time.
*If you don't have a pumpkin pie spice mix, use ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice, and ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger.
**Both of these temperatures will give you soft, chewy caramels that melt in your mouth. The softest of the two will barely hold its shape and look like it's melting at room temperature. The firmer will easily hold its shape at room temperature.
Store wrapped at room temperature for 2-3 weeks, or wrapped in the fridge for several weeks.
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Serving Size:One ¾"x1 ½" caramel
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 52Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 7mgSodium: 20mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 0gSugar: 8gProtein: 0g
The nutrition facts are estimated and may vary based on specific ingredients used.
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