Before you start, have your candy thermometer ready (digital works best because it is very responsive, but non-digital works as well). Also take a rimmed pan and line it with parchment paper. If you want to dip things into the caramel as it cools you will want a pan with a small bottom like a bread loaf pan so that the caramel pools more deeply. If you want to cup them up to eat as candy you will want one spread out, like a cookie sheet.
In a saucepan combine sugar, golden syrup, and water. Heat in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Keep the pot on the heat.
Meanwhile mix and heat double-strength rice milk (see notes), margarine and salt. I use the microwave.
Add the rice milk mixture to the sugar mixture. It will boil up like mad so I recommend adding a little bit at a time to keep the bubbles down. Stir. Add vanilla. Stir. This is the last stir you will do.
Put in a candy thermometer. Allow the caramel syrup to heat. It will go slowly up to about 220F and then will go up very quickly so watch it carefully. This process will take approximately 10 minutes but this stuff is very hot and you want to control the heat so do not wander off. Once you are within 5-10 degrees of the target temperature, lower the heat so you don’t overshoot your target. My stove loses heat rapidly once I turn off the burner, but other stove may retain enough heat that you can turn off the burner completely and “cruise” up to your target temperature.
For soft caramels heat to a final temp of 240F, for chewy ones go to 248F. If you want something more like butterscotch go to 254F.
Once you reach your target temperature, pour the caramel into the prepared pan. If you are using it to coat foods (pretzels, cookies, etc.) then you can begin coating right away. Cookies work better if you spoon the caramel on top, pretzels are best when dunked in the caramel.
If you want to have caramels for eating like candy, allow to cool completely. Oil a pizza wheel and cut the caramels in squares, then wrap each caramel in waxed paper. If left to their own devices the caramels will smoosh into one giant caramel again.
Because of the high heat, this recipe is not for young kids to do.
While old cookbooks will talk about doing this without a thermometer I don’t recommend it. It’s too easy to end up with a burnt mess.
Rice milk powder can be purchased from sources including allergygrocer.com
When I heat the rice milk powder and water I don’t bother mixing it. As the water and margarine heat I stir periodically and make sure there are no lumps as I go.