This is my mama's caramel candy recipe, originally belonging to my Grandmother Powell. It's simple with just a few ingredients like many vintage rural southern recipes. This isn't your extra chewy & creamy kind of caramel, but it is delicious, nonetheless. It has a more sugary texture kind of like the sugary Mexican candy at restaurants, which may be why I never could pass up that candy at the checkout counter of restaurants since it takes me back to this candy!
I added explanation to the recipe while retaining the character of the original as seen in the ingredients list (like butter).
I place the 1/4 cup of sugar in a large skillet, and then measure out the other ingredients and heat my milk in the microwave (being careful not to boil it over).
Turn the skillet on medium, and brown the 1/4 cup of sugar until it is the color of a new penny. I have browned it less at times, and it is still good but milder. (If you are afraid of the browned sugar flavor, you might make it the first time with less browning as some people are sensitive and turned off by browned sugar flavors.)
Add the 2 cups of sugar, the hunk of butter, and the 1 cup of HOT milk and stir constantly.
This is the scary part. The new cooler ingredients will make you think you have ruined the batch. The browned sugar will not stir in until the mixture gets hot, and it dissolves. It will eventually melt from the bottom of the pan and then from the spoon. Whew!
As the hardened brown sugar dissolves into the milk and sugar you have added, it will begin to turn caramel in color.
Boil until it becomes a soft ball. I don't own a candy thermometer, and I have never needed it with this recipe. I have been making it for more than 25 years without a bad batch. For those who don't know, for the soft ball stage, run a glass of cold water. When the candy begins to look and feel thicker as you stir it, drop a little of it off of the spoon into the cold water. If it scatters, it's too soon. If it forms a soft ball, it's ready. I usually use a large measuring cup. I reach in and feel of the ball to see that it is a nice caramel-like soft ball.
Remove from heat and let set for 15 minutes. While it sets, butter an 8 X 8 square glass dish. After 15 minutes is up, beat with a electric hand mixer until it is shiny. Add nuts and vanilla and pour into an 8 X 8 square pan that has been buttered. Place in refrigerator to cool. Once cool, cut into squares, and cover with plastic wrap. I leave mine in the refrigerator.