I found a pretty simple recipe for cream caramels in my old Betty Crocker cookbook, so I decided to try my hand at candy making for the first time. Caramels are a good thing to start with, because you can't really screw them up no matter how hard you try (trust me). The mistake anyone is most likely to make is to not cook it long enough, so it won't firm up and set. I did this and then discovered that you can actually stick the partially-set caramel back in the pot after realizing it isn't setting, then melt it back down, and keep cooking it until it gets to the right temperature to set. I ran out and got a candy thermometer in between the two melting attempts, just to take a little of the guesswork out of it.
Absolute worst case scenario, you get distracted because someone comes in a turns on The Biggest Loser, and end up burning a bunch of the caramel to the bottom of your pan (which I also did). The rest is still good and edible – just don't try to scrape the burned caramel up and mix it with the rest. That burned portion simply isn't salvageable, so let it be and scrub it off later. Another possible mistake is to cook it too long or too hot (which I also did). This will make the caramels turn out hard instead of creamy. Not exactly what we're going for, but still really good. They have the consistency (and taste, actually) of Werther's if you do this.
So to recap: I undercooked, then burnt the caramel AND cooked it too hot and too long. Still ended up with something that everyone loves! A couple more useful tips to keep in mind: if your caramel isn't turning caramel-colored, don't worry. It will. Mine didn't start to turn dark until it was about 210 degrees. Also, be sure to use a pan about three times as big as you think you need. This stuff bubbles up a lot. I had it in a smaller pot to begin with, and had to switch to a bigger one.
Cream Caramels (or, perhaps not so creamy, hard-but-still-awesome Werther's-like candy if you happen to overcook it)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
2 cups half-and-half
Butter square pan, 8x8x2 inches. Combined sugar, corn syrup, butter and half the half-and-half cream in large saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Stir in the remaining half-and-half.
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, to 245 degreed on a candy thermometer (or until small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water forms a firm ball).
Immediately spread mixture evenly into pan. Cut into small squares.
Yields: About 5 dozen candies