Smooth and buttery, caramel sauce captivates me every time.
Caramel is one of my favorite flavors. It calls to me. Whether it’s in a caramel latte, drizzled over warm apple crisp, or swirled into brownies, I am always up for caramel. And if no dessert is present on which to drizzle said caramel? No worries. Caramel tastes just as good off a spoon. Almost better.
There are all kinds of fancy caramel sauce recipes to be tried, but this time I went back to basics. I wanted a simple but elegant, authentic caramel sauce with as few ingredients as possible. And honestly, this may be the best caramel sauce I’ve ever tasted.
True homemade caramel sauce includes melting sugar which can be finicky and dangerous, and requires serious precision. But it is WORTH it. Once that first spoonful of heavenly creamy goodness touches your tongue, you will want to make this again and again.
In caramel making, there is a wet method (adding water to the sugar) and a dry method (just melting sugar, no water necessary). I prefer the dry method when it comes to sauce, though I’ve made it both ways. I find it to be faster, and I don’t worry as much about crystallization in the final product.
I make it at nap time, after I’m sure my children have fallen asleep, because caramel requires undivided attention from the time you turn on the burner until it is done.
Distractions destroy caramel.
I prep my ingredients first. Sugar goes in the pan. Butter gets cut into small chunks. Cream gets heated to room temperature. When everything is prepped, and I am sure to be distraction-free, I start to melt the sugar over medium heat.
Some recipes tell you to whisk the sugar constantly until it is all dissolved. That doesn’t work so well for me. My electric stove doesn’t heat evenly, and neither do my pans. I find it easiest to let the sugar melt slightly, then pull the pan up off the heat and swirl it around every thirty seconds or so. Then I set it back on the heat and let it melt some more.
You can make caramel with a thermometer, but I find it far easier to do by sight. I like to use my stainless steel pans (rather than my darker pots) so I can gauge the color better. Here are the visual stages the sugar goes through while melting:
This final amber color is what we’re going for:
I have read A LOT of caramel sauce recipes. Almost all of them instruct the use of a heavy-bottomed saucepan. I don’t have one. But that doesn’t stop me! Because my saucepan isn’t heavy-bottomed, and because of my stove, my sugar is a dark amber almost as soon as it’s all dissolved. I have to be EXTRA careful not to let it burn. As the color darkens, I take it off the heat more frequently to swirl (never using utensils) and make sure all the sugar is dissolved before the caramel is done.
After it has reached the dark amber, I take it off the heat. It goes from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so it’s crucial to watch it carefully. I would rather take the caramel a little early and have a lighter flavor than have it burn.
Burnt caramel is bad. It can’t be saved. If it burns, it must be thrown out and started again. Which is a pain. So watch it carefully. 🙂
Once it’s off the heat, I immediately scoop the butter off the plate all at once into the caramel and stir vigorously with my holey spoon. Most recipes recommend a whisk, but my caramel seizes with my whisk every time! So I use a stirring utensil with a large hole in the center. It works best for me. 🙂
I add in the cream (still stirring) and continue to stir until it is smooth. (Sometimes a lump of the caramel does harden while I’m stirring in the butter and cream. If this happens, return the pan to low heat and keep stirring to melt it back together.)
This stirring process can be dangerous. The cream foams up (even more so if it’s cold), and the sugar will burn if it splatters. But there’s a simple solution!! Put on oven mitts right before you take the caramel off the heat. Then you protect your hands just in case. I did this the first few times, and now I don’t feel the need to anymore. 🙂
Allow the caramel to cool a few minutes before pouring into a heat-safe jar. (If it still contains chunks of caramel, simply pour it through a sieve. No one ever has to know.) Allow the caramel sauce to cool completely before refrigerating.
Luscious Caramel Sauce
- 1 c. sugar
- 6 TBSP salted butter
- 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
- Read all directions before proceeding. Only proceed without distractions.
- Prep ingredients: Pour sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Use a medium pan since the cream will bubble up. (If you ever need to double the recipe, use a large pan.) Cut the butter up into small chunks. If it’s room temperature, that’s even better. Heat the cream to room temperature.
- Melt the sugar over medium heat. If you get even heat on your burner, whisk the sugar constantly until it is dissolved. Then take the whisk out and gently swirl the caramel around every thirty seconds or so until it darkens to a deep amber color. If you do not get even heat on your burner, pull the pan off the heat every thirty seconds or so and swirl the pan around to help dissolve the sugar and mix more evenly. Continue this occasional swirling after the sugar melts until the caramel has reached a deep amber color. This step will take about 5-10 minutes depending on your stove and your pan.
- When the caramel is a deep amber color (reference pictures above), remove it from heat.
- Add the butter all at once and whisk vigorously. (If you prefer, you can use a flat stirrer spoon with a large hole in the center.) Add in the cream and continue to whisk. EVEN IF YOU NOTICE LUMPY CARAMEL, continue to whisk.
- If the lumpy caramel does not resolve in a minute or two, set the pan back over low heat and continue to stir until it melts back into the mixture.
- When the caramel is smooth, let it rest off the heat for a few minutes. Then pour it into a heat-safe jar. After it cools completely store it in the fridge.
- Warm caramel in the microwave 15 seconds at a time as needed to return it to drizzling consistency. Drizzle over your favorite dessert. (Or eat it by the spoonful… warm or cold… it’s delicious both ways!)
*This recipe will help you master your caramel sauce technique for you and your kitchen. This sauce shines on its own, but you can also add a splash of vanilla for flavor or a pinch or two of salt for “salted caramel sauce”. 🙂 These additions happen directly after step 6.
Happy caramel making!