Caramel Dipped Potato Chips
Yield:   1 regular bag (about 12 oz.) of potato chips (or more, depending on amount of caramel used on each chip).
Cook Time:   30-40 minutes
Tips:   For small pieces of broken chips, you can gather a few and dip them in the caramel while holding them together. Once the caramel sets, the pieces will hold together. If you have any caramel leftover, you can line a small heat-proof bowl or pan with waxed paper, then pour the caramel into the bowl (or pan). Allow the caramel to cool completely and set, then cut it into small squares and wrap with little pieces of waxed paper. The caramel can also be briefly heated (in the microwave or in a saucepan) and served over ice cream.
Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a medium saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Continue cooking 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches firm ball stage* (248° F). (Note: During the last few minutes of cooking, watch caramel mixture closely to ensure it does not begin turning dark in color, as this will result in a tough caramel.) Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Allow caramel to cool for a minute or two, then one-by-one, begin dipping 1/3 or 1/2 of each chip into the caramel, trying to only coat one side. (Coating only one side of each chip will provide enough caramel for flavor and will help to prevent the caramel on the chips from sticking to one another when storing or serving.) Place each dipped chip on a sheet of wax paper
caramel side face-up, making sure caramel portions do not touch each other. Allow to sit until cooled and caramel sets (lightly touching with a finger is a good way to test the firmness of caramel).

To store, place chips in one single layer on the bottom of an airtight container, avoiding allowing caramel to touch other caramel. then place some wax paper over the layer and create another layer. Repeat process as necessary. Store at room temperature.

*"Firm Ball Stage" is a term used to refer to a certain temperature range when cooking sugars and/or syrups. The common temperature range is between 245-250°. To test doneness without a candy thermometer, simply drop a small amount of hot caramel mixture into a bowl of very cold water. Place your fingers in the bowl and gather the syrup, forming it into a ball. Once a ball is formed, lift it from the water. If caramel has reached the "firm ball stage," it will feel firm and pliable, yet still slightly sticky, and will retain its shape when removed from the water, but will quickly lose its shape when it returns to room temperature.