If you haven't made homemade caramel sauce before, you need to do it as soon as possible. With this recipe, you'll be armed with all the tips you need to make a buttery treat in minutes. You'll want to eat it by the spoonful!
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Curious what you need to make caramel sauce from scratch? It doesn't take anything fancy. Let's talk about each ingredient before we get started.
- Sugar: This is the key ingredient in this recipe. Standard white granulated sugar is the best choice here.
- Water: Dissolving the sugar in water (a wet caramel) prevents crystallization, making the caramel more foolproof.
- Butter: Using unsalted butter adds to the richness of the sauce.
- Cream: This gives the caramel its rich flavor and creaminess.
- Salt: Although this is optional, it turns this sauce into a delicious salted caramel. Use fine table salt, as it dissolves quickly.
How to Make
Gather the ingredients. You'll need granulated sugar, water, heavy whipping cream, and unsalted butter. Want a salted version? Make sure to have a little table salt ready.
- Dump the sugar and water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk over medium-high heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Boil the sugar mixture over medium-high heat until the caramel turns a beautiful golden brown color (360-375°F on a candy thermometer). Immediately whisk in the butter and cream, stirring vigorously until smooth and combined.
3. Pour it into a jar and set aside to cool then cover with a lid.
4. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks and enjoy!
Caramel sauce is made from caramelized sugar that has cream and butter mixed in to it. Adding a little salt turns it into salted caramel. It’s quick and easy to make, and oh so delicious! You’ll never want to go back to store-bought again.
Caramel sauce is much thicker, and contains butter and cream in addition to sugar and water to make it rich and creamy. On the other hand, the syrup is only made from brown sugar dissolved in water, which gives it a caramel flavor with fewer calories.
No, it's not. Butterscotch sauce is made from dark brown sugar, but caramel sauce is made from white sugar that's been caramelized (cooked to 360-375°F). It will have a richer flavor and more opaque than butterscotch.
This sauce is thickened by adding butter and cream. However, if you really want a thick sauce, you'll need to chill it in the fridge for at least 2 hours. You can always thin it again by reheating it.
- Why isn’t it turning brown? You probably haven’t cooked it long enough. It needs to boil vigorously on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes before it turns the right color. It's done when it reaches 360-375°F (182-190°C).
- Why isn’t it thickening? Caramel is always thin when it’s warm. If you want it thicker, chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. An overnight chill (8+ hours) will make the it really thick.
- Why is it grainy? You probably stirred it when it was cooking. This is a big no-no, as it almost always causes crystallization.
- Why did it crystallize? Like with the grainy question above, you probably stirred the caramel while it was cooking. Never, ever stir it after the sugar has dissolved.
- Why did it separate? The butter and cream were probably too cold. Next time, let the butter and cream sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before adding it to the caramel. Also, make sure to whisk the sauce vigorously to ensure it’s well combined.
- Eat it by the spoonful. This is definitely the best way.
- Drizzle on ice cream.
- Stir into a cup of hot coffee or use it in a salted caramel mocha.
- Mix with hot apple cider.
- Add to apple pie filling to make an amazing apple pie.
- Use it for stacking layer cakes, sandwiching cookies, or filling pastry shells.
- Toss with pecan halves and make it into pecan bars.
- Serve as a dip with Granny Smith apples or saltine crackers.
- Add to buttercream icing.
Leftovers: It can keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Be sure to keep it tightly sealed in a glass jar with a lid.
Freezing: Put it in a plastic airtight container, leaving about an inch of headspace. Do not use glass containers, as they can crack as it expands in the freezer. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Defrost: Defrost in the fridge overnight and warm up briefly in a saucepan or in the microwave before using.
Reheating: Microwave the sauce in 30-second intervals until warm. Watch closely to make sure that the sauce doesn’t overflow the container, as it will bubble up with the heat.
- Take the cream and butter out of the fridge before you start. It's important that the butter and cream warm up for about 10 minutes; otherwise, the caramel may separate.
- Use a thick-bottomed pot. Thinner-bottomed pots will burn the caramel more easily.
- Make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved in the water before boiling. This will help prevent crystallization.
- Don't stir the mixture once it begins to boil; swirl the pan gently instead. Stirring can make it turn grainy or crystallized. Be careful not to burn yourself, as it is hotter than boiling water.
- Add the cream and butter as soon as it is the right color. Waiting too long will cause it to burn.
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Caramel Sauce Recipe
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup filtered water
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- ⅛ teaspoon table salt, optional
- Measure out the butter and cream and place them close to the stovetop. It's important to do this before you start.
- Pour the sugar and water into a heavy bottomed, 2-quart saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Keep the heat on medium-high and bring the sugar syrup to a boil without stirring. It's crucial that you do not stir the syrup as it boils, as this will cause the sugar to crystallize. Instead, gently swirl the saucepan occasionally if you would like. Please be careful, as the mixture is a lot hotter than boiling water.
- Watching the caramel closely, continue to let it boil, without stirring, until it turns a rich golden brown (between 360-375°F or 182-190°C on a candy thermometer). Be careful not to let it get too dark, as it will taste burnt, and watch it closely, for the color can change in seconds.
- Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the butter. Whisk it in vigorously until combined, then pour in the cream and whisk again until everything is smooth and blended. The sauce will bubble and foam up a lot when the butter is added.
- Pour the caramel into a glass jar and let it cool to room temperature. The sauce will be runny at this stage, but it will thicken significantly as it cools.
- Once it's cooled, seal with a lid and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
- Please read the full recipe before you start so you know exactly what to do.
- Let the butter and cream warm up at room temperature for 10 minutes, or the caramel may separate.
- Use a heavy-bottomed pot because thinner-based pans will burn the sauce more easily.
- Don't stir the mixture once it begins to boil. Stirring can make the caramel crystallize.
- Use an instant-read thermometer, since glass bulb ones are too slow.
This post was originally published on October 3, 2017 and was updated with new photos and expanded content on August 23, 2019. It was republished with resized images and refreshed content on September 23, 2022.