You will also need:
- a large pot (the caramel mixture will boil up, so choose one with deep sides)
- a wooden spoon
- a probe thermometer
- a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat (DO NOT use waxed paper here -- the hot caramel mixture will melt the wax on contact and the caramels will be ruined)
- waxed-paper rectangles, for wrapping the caramels
In a large soup or stockpot, combine all of the ingredients except the vanilla and place over medium heat. Place the probe thermometer in the caramel mixture (a probe thermometer works much better than a candy thermometer) and place the probe so that the sensor is not directly touching the bottom of the pot.
Stir the caramel mixture regularly. First, it will boil frothily high up the sides of the pot, then gradually it will thicken and begin to look more like bubbling lava. Keep an eye on it, stirring regularly, until the mixture reaches 245 degrees (about 40 minutes), then remove it from the heat, quickly stir in the vanilla and pour the mixture out onto the parchment-lined sheet pan.
Allow the caramels to cool completely before cutting. This recipe will make over 100 caramels, each about the size of a Tootsie Roll. To wrap the caramels in the waxed paper, roll the caramels, and twist the sides to close.
For butterscotch candies, eliminate the white sugar and use 2 cups of brown sugar; omit the vanilla. For chocolate caramels, omit the vanilla and stir in 1/3 cup good quality cocoa powder at the very end.