In prep for all those sweet little fall treats, today I’m sharing a recipe for homemade caramel sauce today! Working with sugar can feel a little overwhelming, and I’ve definitely failed at a lot of caramel recipes over the years. This one is super simple though, and I have all the tips and tricks to help you out along the way.
You can put this sauce over ice cream, swirled into cakes, drizzled into your coffee, or to dip apples into. I’m hyping myself up for fall baking right now, and this is the perfect supporting recipe to have around.
How to Make the Perfect Caramel Sauce
This is a dry caramel method, which means we’re starting out with just dry granulated sugar in a pan. I have always found dry caramel methods easier, so that’s what I usually stick with. If you have a light-colored pan, it can make it a little easier to see what the sugar looks like at every stage of melting.
First thing- you really need to make sure you have your ingredients out and measured before you start. This moves really quickly once the sugar has caramelized, and you need to have everything ready to go.
Start by adding sugar straight into a cold pan, and heating it over medium heat. Over the course of about 10 minutes, the sugar will liquify and turn a deep amber color. You want to let the sugar mixture continue to melt until everything is completely melted and there are NO clumps of sugar remaining, but once it’s mostly melted, you can stir the mixture gently to help the process. Here is what it looks like before cooking, when it starts to melt, and when it’s completely melted.
Then you can start stirring in the butter one tablespoon at a time. The mixture will bubble and sizzle when you add in the butter, and you want to mix each tablespoon in completely before adding another. Here’s what it looks like before and after adding the butter in.
Remove the caramel sauce mixture from the heat and slowly add in the heavy cream while whisking to combine. When you add the cream, it will bubble pretty violently, but you want to keep the mixture moving.
If your caramel seizes up at this stage and you end up with clumps, you can put the pan back over medium heat and whisk it constantly for 2-3 minutes and it should all smooth out again.
Finally, add in some salt and vanilla extract. I’m using vanilla bean paste here which gives you those little black flecks running through the sauce. If you want to have salted caramel, add another 1/4 tsp of salt, and then let the caramel cool before tasting and adjusting the salt level.
Transfer the caramel sauce into a heat-proof jar and let it cool before using it on anything and everything! This recipe results in a pretty thick sauce at room temperature, and I have some tips below to help you adjust for the texture you want as well.
Tips and Tricks for Making Caramel Sauce
Here are all my tips and tricks to help you along the way!
- Use a light-colored pot if you have it so you can more easily see the color develop and the sugar melt completely.
- Make sure you use a big enough pot since the butter and heavy cream will make the mixture bubble up, you need to have space for this process. For this recipe, I use a medium 3.5 quart pot.
- Prep your ingredients ahead of time. I don’t do this often when I’m baking really, but it’s important here that everything is measured and ready to go ahead of time. You need to move quickly to avoid burning the sugar mixture!
- The sugar is clumping up in the first step, is that normal? Yes, the sugar melts slowly, which creates a clumpy mixture for a few minutes as it starts to melt. Just give it the occasional stir as it melts and it will eventually completely liquify.
- How do I know if I’ve let the sugar cook long enough? The sugar mixture should be completely liquid with no remaining sugar clumps running through it. It should also reach a pretty deep amber color like the photos above, but I usually find that by the time all the sugar clumps have melted, the mixture has reached a deep color and it’s ready to go.
- The mixture will bubble up when you add the butter and when you add the heavy cream so be careful during these steps!
- What if my caramel sauce seizes and looks clumpy after I add the cream? Just put the mixture back over medium heat and whisk it constantly for 2-3 minutes until everything becomes very smooth.
- This caramel sauce is thick at room temperature. If you want something with more of a drizzling consistency at room temp, increase the cream in the recipe to 3/4 cup.
- What if I want salted caramel? Double the salt in this recipe, and then once the caramel cools you can give it taste and more salt if you want a more pronounced saltiness.
- I’m at about 5,000 ft above sea level and I usually find that most people who live between about 3,000-7,000 ft above sea level do not need to make any adjustments to my recipes. That said, this caramel sauce will work without adjustment at most altitudes.
This recipes makes about 1 1/2 cups of caramel sauce
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 tbs butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
In a medium saucepan, preferably with a light-colored interior, add the sugar and heat it over medium heat. You want to stir this occasionally as the sugar melts in the pan, and it will clump up through the process. It takes about 6-10 minutes for the sugar to completely melt and turn a deep amber color. There should be no remaining clumps of sugar.
Whisk in the butter one tablespoon at a time. The mixture will bubble and sizzle up when you add the butter, just keep whisking until all the butter has been added and stirred through completely. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the heavy cream. When you add the heavy cream, it will bubble up violently, so be careful during this step! Continue to whisk until the cream is well incorporated.
If your mixture seizes up at this stage and you have clumps or big globs of caramel instead of a smooth sauce, place the pan back over medium heat, whisking constantly, for about 2-3 minutes, or until the caramel sauce smooths completely.
Finally, whisk in the salt and vanilla extract or paste until smooth, and pour the sauce into a heat-proof jar to cool completely before enjoying!
Hello and welcome! My name is Nicole, and Dough-eyed is a food blog for people who want to bake for their family and friends in high-altitude areas. Think of me as a friendly voice there with you in the kitchen, here to give you confidence when you’re baking, and to help you with the struggles of baking at high-altitude. Come back every week for new recipes, tips, and advice on high-altitude baking!