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Yes, I know the opposite of the usual question. I've been making candy since I was a little kid. My caramels are always smooth and creamy. My partner's father thinks they taste good but that the texture is all wrong. He liked the gritty/grainy ones his mother used to make. Everything I have ever seen listed as a way to fix grainy caramels I have tried reversing.

I have tried many things, including:

  • adding granulated sugar late in the process
  • not using corn syrup or other invert sugar
  • cooking them at high temps
  • cooking them for too short a time
  • stirring or not stirring at all the wrong times
  • switching recipes
  • varying the fat content

I guess I am wondering what makes caramels turn out grainy. It's not as far as I can tell, wholly related to the sugar dissolving/melting. If it was adding some granulated sugar as it cools should cause more crystals to form.

Is it related to the liquid content? Because sometimes after months in a cupboard even ordinarily smooth caramels will have developed some graininess.

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Awesome question. We need a set of questions on how to make dishes completely wrong. :) –  Sobachatina Aug 25 '10 at 19:36
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Next up: curdled custard and gluey mashed potatoes! –  Shog9 Aug 25 '10 at 19:37
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Why not? You learn more from failures than successes. –  Satanicpuppy Aug 25 '10 at 19:49
    
Are you trying to make a caramel or a classic southern style praline? –  Avery Wittkamp Aug 25 '10 at 21:55
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what a fantastic question. i love this. –  daniel Aug 26 '10 at 7:09
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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As you mentioned it is all about how the crystals form.

Some of the factors off the top of my head:

  • How saturated is the solution - The more sugar packed into the syrup the more easily it will crystallize.
  • How quickly it cools - The slower the bigger the crystals
  • Interference - Do you have a starch or other sugar molecules gumming up the works?

Obviously you already knew this from your question.

Not using other sugars will help. You might also try adding more sugar to the recipe at the beginning to fully saturate your solution. The fact that you add sugar at the end and it still dissolves in makes me think your solution could take a bit more. Letting the solution cool slowly with your seed sugar at the end should help.

You would think it would be easier to get it wrong. Perhaps you simply have too much experience doing it right.

Ask an amateur to try out your recipe and see if they fail properly.

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More sugar is a good idea. Generally when I am trying to get the caramels to crystallize I don't handicap myself by adding invert sugars of any sort, no starches either. Sugar, Butter, Cream or milk, some vanilla right at the end. –  Laura Thomas Aug 25 '10 at 20:01
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I wish I had time for a more complete answer, but it sounds like you are trying to make fudge. It's quite an involved process. To give a very brief outline of the process without explaining why it works, you need to,

  • Bring your candy mixture to a boil and then stop stirring.
  • Use a sugar thermometer and wait for the temperature to reach 115C (softball stage).
  • Wipe down the sides of the pan while you do this or the sugar crystals that form will be too large.
  • Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool to 43C.
  • Stir the mixture for 10-15 mins until it stiffens up.
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Hmmm. Well, I'd try stirring it after it came to a boil. That usually works for my wife =P

Do you add any acids? They can prevent crystal formation. Lot of people put some lemon juice in for that reason.

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I don't add any acids. I hadn't heard that one though. –  Laura Thomas Aug 25 '10 at 19:55
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Seeing your recipe would help. Try using only granulated sugar as your sugar. When you add other sugars to the mix (like corn syrup) you are helping ensure a smooth product by disrupting the way that a single type of sugar crystallizes.

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