Now there's nothing to fear in caramel making, as long as you follow a few simple rules. Rule #1 is know your altitude. Sugar cooks quicker (which means that water evaporates faster, and that's what control's your ultimate texture) at higher altitudes, so the general rule is to subtract 2 degrees for every 1000 feet above sea level from your final temperature. For example, our basic, sea level recipe calls for a final cooking temperature of 240 F. for a soft caramel. My kitchen is around 3000 ft., so, after a bit of experimenting, I finally altered the target temperature to 238 F. It may take a few tries to find the softness that you prefer - I like my caramels a bit on the softer side.
The second rule to follow is to STIR CONTINUOUSLY while cooking the caramel. Dairy products burn really easily at high temperatures, and you don't want that. Thirdly, know your thermometer. Test it by filling a large glass with ice and enough water to separate the cubes. Let it sit for a minute, then insert your thermometer - it should read 32 degrees. If not, make a note of how far off it is, and adjust your cooking accordingly. And remember, the caramel mixture will be extremely hot, so resist the temptation to taste it until it's cooled off. I like to keep a dab on my spatula for tasting purposes, since it will cool off quickly. Follow these few rules, and you'll find yourself on the road to candy making success.
Note: To make clean up a breeze, after you pour out the caramel refill the pot with water. Cover and bring to a boil, then set aside for a few minutes. The hot water and steam will help dissolve the cooked sugars.