2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
24-karat gold leaf
Line bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper; set aside.
Split the vanilla bean in half with a small paring knife, and scrape out the seeds; discard the pod. Add the seeds to the cream in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan; scald the cream and keep the saucepan near the stove so that if the cream cools too much when needed, you can reheat it briefly. In a deep, heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan over low heat, blend the corn syrup and the sugar, stirring occasionally until the mixture becomes more fluid and most of the sugar appears dissolved.
Stop stirring, raise heat to medium-high, and gently boil until a candy thermometer registers 305 degrees F (hard crack stage), about 9 to 12 minutes.
Add the butter and salt to the sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Pour in the warm vanilla-flavored cream in a slow but steady stream without letting the boiling stop (be careful-mixture foams up and is steamy). Lower heat to medium and continue to boil gently until the thermometer registers about 248 degrees F, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, about 14 to 15 minutes.
Let the candy stand about 3 minutes to allow bubbling to subside, then pour into the prepared pan without scraping the saucepan; allow to cool at least 5 hours.
Invert onto a clean cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips; then cut across the strips to form 1/2-inch squares. To apply a patch of gold leaf to each square, use a small artist's brush. With the brush, lift a tiny patch about the size of an oatmeal flake of gold leaf and deposit it on top of the caramels for decoration.
Cut caramels tend to stick together and not hold their shape unless individually wrapped, so for easiest storage wrap the block of caramels in aluminum foil and cut off portions as needed. Store cut caramels in layers, separated by aluminum foil in an airtight metal or plastic container in a cool place for up to 3 weeks.
Recipe courtesy of Flo Braker's Sweet Miniatures (Chronicle, 2000)