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Combine sugar, 1/2 cup water, and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until mixture turns a deep amber color, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Carefully add cream (you may want to stand back—mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir sauce over low heat until any caramel bits dissolve and sauce is smooth. DO AHEAD Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium-low heat just until pourable Let caramel sauce cool to room temperature.
Smooth and creamy, this homemade sauce is just the thing for caramel lovers, and can be customized in a number of creative ways see some ideas in the tips below.
- 1 cup (198g) sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar, optional (see "tips," below)
- 2 tablespoons (28g) water, cold
- 6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (113g) heavy cream or whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or 1/4 teaspoon butter-rum flavor or butterscotch flavor or 1 tablespoon rum
Place the sugar, salt, cream of tartar, and water in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan that holds at least 1 1/2quarts (the syrup will bubble up during cooking). Stir briefly to combine, then place over medium-high heat. From this point on, swirl the pan instead of stirring this will help prevent crystals from forming.
When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and watch carefully (no walking away!). The syrup will begin to turn golden at the edges swirl the pan gently without lifting it off the heat to even out the color.
The syrup will continue to darken to light amber as soon as you see any darker streaks, remove the pan from the heat. Don't let the sugar syrup become too dark — it'll continue to cook a bit even after it's off the heat. (The darker the syrup the richer its flavor but bitter/smoky notes start to creep in if you let it darken beyond medium amber.)
As soon as you remove the caramel from the heat, stir in the butter, a tablespoon at a time. Gradually add the heavy cream, stirring until it’s incorporated. Add the vanilla, stirring until the sauce is smooth.
Let the sauce cool for a few minutes before pouring into a heatproof container and storing the sauce will thicken as it cools.
Store in the refrigerator reheat briefly before serving.
Tips from our Bakers
Caramel is extremely versatile, making a good partner for a wide range of flavors. For salted caramel sauce, double the amount of salt in the recipe. Try flavoring the finished sauce with rum instead of vanilla, or simmer the cream in the recipe with herbs (rosemary, thyme, or lavender) or spices (chilies, star anise, juniper berries) before straining and adding to the recipe.
Looking for another delicious ice cream topping? See our recipe for Hot Fudge Sauce.
How To Make Caramel
Making homemade caramel can seem daunting. After all, boiling hot sugar and the worry of scorching can seem scary at first. But we promise you it is truly so straight forward, especially when you follow these tips (and when you check out the the step-by-step photos below).
What is caramel?
Making caramel is like making candy, which is why it can seem intimidating&mdashbut it's really not! You begin by combining sugar, salt, and water in a small saucepan and bringing it to a boil to let the sugar dissolve. This is the hands-on part: You want to whisk it occasionally until you're confident the sugar is fully dissolved. Then, keep a close eye on the sugar-water mixture as it cooks into a pretty golden color.
How do I know when the caramel is ready to turn off the heat?
Here's the easiest way to always remember when it's done: You want the mixture to be a deeply golden color that resembles a copper penny. Once you see that, turn off the heat!
How does it become creamy?
After the sugar-water mixture is cooked to the right color, remove it from the heat and stir in butter and heavy cream&mdashthis is what transforms it into the caramel you know and love. Be careful! The sugar mixture will be VERY hot and this mixture always bubbles up, so use caution.
Do I need a candy thermometer?
OK, so here's the cold hard truth: No&mdashI've eyeballed caramel many times&mdashbut it will reduce your stress. Caramel goes from a nice and silky texture to. well. toffee (!) in a matter of a minute or two, so it's super important to monitor the temperature. If you don't monitor the temperature with a candy thermometer, your other option is to do the color test.
Can I turn this into salted caramel?
Absolutely! Just whisk in 1/2 tsp of salt once your caramel is finished. Want other flavors? You can add things like a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon or vanilla extract
How long does homemade caramel last?
You can store it in a jar for up to 2 weeks in your refrigerator. You can also freeze the caramel for up to 3 months.
What should I use caramel sauce on?
Um, everything. Apple Crisp, Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake, Apple Pie. Or, TBH, we like to eat it straight from the jar with a spoon.
If you've made this recipe, we'd love to know how you liked it&mdashbe sure to leave us a comment and rating down below!
In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine water, sugar, and salt over medium heat. If you like, add an empty vanilla pod, too. Stir with a fork until syrup comes to a boil, about 4 minutes, then simmer without stirring until syrup is honey-colored, roughly 6 minutes, shaking and swirling as needed to ensure even caramelization. Continue cooking until syrup is light to medium amber, a minute more. Immediately add cream and reduce heat to medium-low.
Stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula to knock back the foam, simmer until caramel registers 225°F (107°C) on a digital thermometer, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a heat-resistant container, stir in vanilla extract (if using), and cool to room temperature. (No need to discard the vanilla bean it will continue to infuse the caramel over time.) Caramel will be runny while warm, but thicken as it cools, turning just a little chewy when cold. Refrigerate up to 1 month in an airtight container.
If I could only have one dessert sauce this—without a doubt—would be it. Caramel sauce is the most complex tasting sauce I know and it goes with every flavor in the pastry kitchen: apples, nuts, berries, stone fruit, chocolate, coffee, and pineapple. It is a staple in my kitchen. I use it to dress up store-bought ice cream, serve it alongside cake, and layer it into parfaits. Frankly, no commercial caramel sauce compares to one that's homemade. There are a few good specialty ones out there, but they are expensive. Making it at home is inexpensive—sugar, water, and cream. That's it. It keeps for weeks in the fridge and can be reheated in the microwave or double boiler.
I know a lot of cooks who are afraid to make caramel. It can be tricky business for sure. Lest I scare you off, let me reassure you that if you follow these instructions carefully, you'll soon be making it all the time.
If your first try is a light tan and the sauce is thin even after it's cooled, next time cook the caramel a little bit further. On the other hand, if the caramel has a bitter aftertaste, next time cook it a little less.
A pastry chef trick to easily clean a pot you have just made caramel in is to fill it half full of water and bring it to a boil. The hot water will dissolve any hard caramel pieces that stick to the side. Another trick, on the off chance you do burn your caramel and you want to get rid of it, is to add a couple cups of water, carefully at first, just as when you add the cream, to dilute it. Let it cool some and then it can be poured down the sink.
Caramel Sauce Recipe
Easy 3 ingredients, 10-minute Caramel Sauce. Rich, buttery, and creamy, this salted caramel sauce is a pantry staple that’s simple to make ahead of time. You’ll love how this quick caramel sauce comes together in no time at all. Serve over ice cream, apple crisp, cakes. and desserts.
I can’t tell you how many times I reach into the refrigerator or pantry to grab a jar of caramel sauce only to find that I’ve used it all. Nothing ruins the moment more than knowing that the caramel sauce you’ve been looking forward to all night, won’t be part of your decadent dessert.
Having extra caramel topping around the house is a problem I like to have. But, for the days when I’m shocked to learn that I finished my last jar, this homemade caramel sauce recipe comes in handy.
If you’ve never made a homemade caramel sauce then you’re in for a treat! Anyone can make this extra rich and delicious recipe in no time at all — and with just a few simple ingredients. I love recipes that use just a few ingredients.
First of all, I keep half & half stocked in my refrigerator pretty regularly and if you’re like me, then go ahead and reach for the carton to use in this caramel sauce recipe. If you’re feeling fancy or are looking for a recipe to use up extra heavy whipping cream in, feel free to use heavy cream in this sauce.
Homemade caramel sauce is made with butter, sugar, and cream. That’s just 3 ingredients! Plus, if you crave salted caramel sauce, just add some salt to this recipe. I like to use fleur de lis salt but any salt will do!
The most important thing to remember when making caramel sauce is to have all the ingredients on the counter ready to go. I like to add a little water to the pan at the start of cooking to help the sugar from sticking to the pan. Of course, you don’t need to use water, but if it’s your first time making this caramel sauce recipe, have a little water by your side in case your sugar isn’t melting evenly.
This homemade caramel sauce recipe isn’t hard to make and once you have your hand at your first batch, you’ll always come back to making this homemade version and skip the store-bought variety. Plus, once you’re comfortable making caramel sauce, it’s even easier to make caramel candies.
I like to make one batch at a time, then store it in the refrigerator until I’m ready to use it as a topping on ice cream, apple crisp, caramel lattes, cupcakes, and even popcorn. This recipe is perfect as a homemade holiday food gift during the holiday season. I bought these tiny jars from TJMAXX and they are perfect to gift during Christmas!
How to Make Caramel Sauce with Sweetened Condensed Milk
Now that you know what this sauce entails, let’s get to cooking! This recipe only uses 4 ingredients!
Over medium-low heat, melt the butter and brown sugar and a medium saucepan. Add the sweetened condensed and corn syrup.
Stay away from medium-high heat, as this could burn the sugar.
While the sauce thickens over the next 5-7 minutes, continue to gently whisk the mixture until it thickens and the sugar melts.
Take it off the heat, allow it to cool a bit, then stick it into your air-tight container.
There you have it—a delicious, easy-to-make sauce! Altogether, it should take no more than 15 minutes to have your final product.
Is Dulce de Leche the Same as Caramel Sauce?
There’s a common misconception that caramel sauce and dulce de leche are the same, and understandably so. They are often used interchangeably because of how similar they are.
The main difference between the two is in their ingredients. Dulce de leche means “sweet milk,” and the making of it requires heating up condensed milk. The sugar in the milk browns, giving it that caramel color.
Caramel, on the other hand, typically uses ingredients like butter, brown sugar, evaporated milk, salt, and sometimes vanilla extract. Recipes vary, however.
I have never had a problem with grainy caramel using this Caramel Sauce recipe. I believe using brown sugar is the key.
Grainy Caramel Sauce is caused by undissolved sugar crystals. This can happen when either 1) the sugar in the caramel sauce has not fully dissolved or 2) some of the crystallized sugar that forms on the sides of the saucepan as the caramel boils have been incorporated into the caramel.
- Mise en place:
- About 30 minutes ahead, cut the butter into a few pieces and set it on the counter at room temperature (65º to 75ºF/19º to 24ºC).
- Into a 1 cup glass measure with a spout, weigh or measure the cream. Heat in the microwave until hot, then cover it.
- Have ready a 2 cup glass measure with a spout, lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray, near the cooktop.
- In a heavy 6 cup saucepan, preferably nonstick, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, if using, and water until all the sugar is moistened.
- Heat, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring and let it boil undisturbed until it turns a deep amber and the temperature reaches 370ºF/188ºC or a few degrees below, as the temperature will continue to rise. Remove it from the heat as soon as it reaches temperature.
- Slowly and carefully pour the hot cream into the caramel. It will bubble up furiously.
- Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir the mixture gently, scraping the thicker part that settles on the bottom. Return it to a very low heat, continuing to stir gently for 1 minute, until the mixture is uniform in color and the caramel is fully dissolved.
- Remove the caramel from the heat and gently stir in the butter until incorporated. The mixture will be a little streaky but will become uniform once cooled and stirred.
- Pour the caramel into the prepared glass measure and let it cool for 3 minutes. Gently stir in the vanilla and let it to cool until room temperature and thickened, stirring it gently once or twice.
- Room temperature, 3 days refrigerated, 1 month.
Excerpted from Rose's Baking Basics: 100 Essential Recipes, with More Than 600 Step-by-Step Photos © 2018 by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Photography © 2018 by Matthew Septimus. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
How to Make Caramel Sauce From Scratch
Homemade caramel sauce only requires a few ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry and refrigerator. At its most basic, caramel is simply caramelized granulated sugar. (And bringing cream to the party makes for added richness.) Understandably enough, the thought of boiling-hot sugar makes many home cooks feel a little on edge𠅎ven unqualified to make caramel for themselves. But rest assured, you don’t need to be some master confectioner to tackle this simple, sweet sauce. The key to success here is this: Never walk away from your sugar as it bubbles away in the pot. It may seem like the color over your syrupy concoction may never turn to a deep golden brown, but when it does𠅋uddy, does so fast, can proceed to burn in a matter of seconds.
There are two methods for starting caramel sauce that professionals use depending on their personal preference. One way is to allow the dry sugar to melt in a saucepan on it’s own without dissolving it into water. The granules of sugar melt under the heat and turn into a pure sugar syrup. It’s said that this method is a bit faster, but it can be a little nerve-wracking given that your sugar is constantly in direct contact with the hot pan, making it more prone to burning. Just because of that intimidation factor, I would not recommend this method for first-timers.
Instead, try the other option that entails dissolving your sugar into water and bringing the mixture to a boil in a medium-sized, high-sided saucepan. My original go-to recipe for caramel was Bobby Flay’s via The New York Times. As the sugar-water mixture begins to boil, the water will slowly evaporate and the sugars will start to break down. The total time that the sugar mixture will boil is around 10 to 12 minutes. The color changes right around the 7- to 8-minute mark. If you have an experienced eye for making caramel, you can likely trust your instincts as you watch the sugar boil. But for beginners, be sure to have a candy thermometer handy so that you can gauge the temperature of the sugar. The sugar breaks down at 320ଏ and will caramelize at 340ଏ. When it reaches 340ଏ, that’s your cue to pour in the heavy cream. In Flay’s recipe, he recommends warming the heavy cream prior to adding it to your caramel. If you prefer a lighter caramel sauce, I would stir in the heavy cream as it hits the 340ଏ mark. If you like your caramel a bit more nutty and bittersweet, let the caramel brown for 30 seconds to 1 minute longer for a deeper color. Heads up, the caramel will bubble up when the heavy cream hits𠅍on’t be alarmed. Just continue whisking for about 2 to 3 minutes and the bubbling will subside.
When the mixture settles down, remove your pot from the heat and you have a pot o’ golden caramel. That said, if you wanted a hit of added richness, stir in a tablespoon or 2 of unsalted butter and a healthy pinch of salt for balance. You can also scrape the in the seeds of a vanilla bean pod for floral depth. There are some recipes out there that instruct adding the butter at the same time as the cream, however butter has the possibility of breaking down too quickly upon contact with the hot sugar, thus burning and leaving an unpleasant aftertaste. Stirring in the butter as the caramel cools ensures that you will incorporate the fatty milk solids into your sauce without the risk of scorching. This also gives the caramel sauce a glossy finish.
All it takes is making your own caramel a couple of times to get the hang of it and realize that, all in all, it’s actually pretty easy.