You won’t believe how easy it is to make buttery, creamy homemade caramel sauce.  Use this indulgent sauce for apples, for coffee, or for cake.  It’s quick, simple, and so good you’ll be eating it by the spoonful!

Prep Time: 10 minutes
person pouring homemade caramel sauce into a jar
Dips, Sauces, & Custards

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce

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This post was originally published on October 3, 2017 and has been greatly expanded with valuable tips you need to make this recipe a success.

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 and tricks you need to most a foolproof, buttery caramel sauce in minutes.  Trust me, you’ll want to eat it by the spoonful!

person dipping a spoon into homemade caramel sauce

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What is caramel sauce made of?

Caramel sauce is made of four simple ingredients: granulated sugar, water, heavy whipping cream, and butter.  It’s quick and easy to make, and oh so delicious!  You’ll never want to go back to store-bought caramel sauce again.

Can I use evaporated milk instead of heavy whipping cream?

Yes, you can use evaporated milk or half-and-half instead of heavy whipping cream.  Unless you’re cutting calories, I’d recommend using heavy whipping cream for the most luxurious texture and creamiest flavor.

What is salted caramel?

Salted caramel, not surprisingly, is simply regular caramel sauce with salt added.  If you’re making your own salted caramel sauce, it’s important to add the salt while the caramel is warm, or it won’t dissolve properly.  No one wants grains of salt in their caramel!

Add 1/8 teaspoon of regular table salt to 1 ¼ cups of homemade caramel to make salted caramel sauce.  Be careful not to add too much salt; a little goes a long way.

What is the difference between caramel sauce and butterscotch sauce?

Although these two dessert sauces taste and look similar, they are different!  Just remember that caramel sauce is made with white sugar, and butterscotch sauce is made with brown sugar.

person dipping an apple slice into homemade caramel sauce

Is caramel sauce gluten free?

Yes, homemade caramel sauce is gluten free, since it doesn’t contain any wheat products.  If you’re concerned about gluten cross-contamination, make sure all of your ingredients are certified gluten free and that you keep the caramel sauce and utensils away from wheat products.

What can I use caramel sauce for?

There are probably 101 different ways to use homemade caramel sauce, but here are few tasty suggestions.

  • 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 caramel 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 apples or saltine crackers.
  • Add to buttercream icing.

What’s the best pot to use for making caramel?

It’s essential that you use the right saucepan for making caramel sauce.  I recommend using a light colored, heavy-based saucepan.  My personal favorite is this stainless steel pot with a layer of copper in the base.

Why is it important to use the right pot?  Well, a thin-bottomed pot will have more hot spots than a heavy-based one, making it much easier to burn the caramel.  If you must use a thin-bottomed pot, turn the heat to medium-low once the caramel begins to turn color, and swirl the pan from time to time to even out the hot spots.

person pouring homemade caramel sauce into a jar

Wet Caramel vs. Dry Caramel (And Why Wet is Better)

There are two ways to make caramel: wet and dry.  I strongly recommend that you always use the wet method, as it is much easier.  Let’s compare these two caramel making methods.

  • For dry caramel, place granulated sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat. The sugar will gradually melt and eventually caramelize.
  • For wet caramel, dissolve the sugar in water, then bring to a boil and cook until caramelized.

Why do I recommend making a wet caramel instead of a dry caramel?  Dry caramel always melts unevenly, and can crystallize very easily.  Wet caramel is much more foolproof, ensuring an evenly cooked, non-crystallized caramel sauce.

Troubleshooting Homemade Caramel Sauce

  • Why isn’t my caramel sauce turning brown? You probably haven’t cooked it long enough. The caramel sauce needs to boil vigorously on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes before it turns the right color.   Be patient!
  • Why isn’t my caramel sauce thickening? Caramel sauce 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 caramel really thick and awesome.
  • Why is my caramel sauce grainy? You probably stirred the caramel when it was cooking.  This is a big no-no when making caramel, as it almost always causes the caramel to crystallize, spoiling it completely.
  • Why did my caramel sauce crystallize? Like with the grainy question above, you probably stirred the caramel while it was cooking.  Never, ever stir caramel after the sugar has dissolved.
  • Why does my caramel sauce separate? The butter and cream were probably too cold when you added them to the caramel.  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.

What To Do When Caramel Sauce Goes Wrong

If your caramel is grainy or has crystallized, it’s best just to start over.  Caramel only takes a few basic ingredients, so it’s not a big deal if you need to throw out a batch and try again.  Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work the first time; it happens to the best of us.

caramel sauce dripping off of a spoon

How do you know when caramel sauce is done?

There’s two ways to tell if caramel sauce is done.  I usually do it by eye, but feel free to use a candy thermometer as well.

  • Eyeball it. This is my favorite way to tell if caramel is done.  Cook the caramel until it is a deep amber color,
  • Use a candy thermometer. Caramel sauce is done when it reaches around 360-375 F (182-190 C) on a candy thermometer.  Be careful not to cook it too long, or the sauce will taste bitter and burnt.
  • A note on candy thermometers. Be sure to use an instant-read thermometer, such as this one.  Traditional glass bulb thermometers take too long to get a reading, which can mean the difference between a good caramel and a burnt one.

How do you keep caramel sauce from burning?

As soon as the caramel sauce reaches your desired shade of brown or reaches between 360-375 F (182-190 C) on a candy thermometer, remove the pot from the heat.  Immediately whisk in the butter and cream to halt the cooking process.  If you don’t add the butter and cream right away, the caramel will turn rock hard within 1 minute.

How do you fix caramel sauce that is too hard?

  • Add more liquid. Heavy cream, evaporated milk, liqueur, or even water will work.  Put the caramel in saucepan over medium-low heat until warm, then whisk in the liquid 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, until the caramel is thinned.
  • Reheat.  If your caramel has been in the fridge, the butter in the caramel will harden, making the caramel thicker.  Simply follow the reheating instructions later on in the post to soften and thin it.

jar of homemade caramel sauce with a spoon

Will caramel sauce thicken as it cools?

Caramel sauce definitely does thicken as it cools.  If your caramel sauce seems runny when you make it, don’t worry—this is totally normal.  Simply refrigerate for at least 1 hour (preferably overnight, which is 8+ hours) to thicken the sauce.

What’s the best way to clean the pot after making caramel sauce?

Nobody wants to spend forever trying to scrub off dried caramel—it’s a nightmare.  Fortunately, there’s a very simple and quick solution!

  • Fill the sticky pot with tap water and submerge any sticky utensils in the water. (Don’t boil plastic utensils, as they can melt or get deformed from the hot water.)
  • Bring the pot to a boil and let it bubble away for 5 minutes or so.
  • Pour out the water, let the pot cool, then clean with dish soap and hot water. Easy-peasy!

How long can you keep caramel sauce in the fridge?

Homemade caramel sauce can keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.  Be sure to keep it tightly sealed in a glass jar with a lid.

pouring caramel sauce into a jar

Can caramel sauce be frozen?

Yes, you can freeze homemade caramel sauce.  This is great because you can make a double or triple batch in advance and take it out at your convenience.  See the instructions below for freezing and thawing.

How to Freeze Homemade Caramel Sauce

  • Put the caramel sauce in a plastic airtight container, leaving about an inch of headspace. Do not use glass containers, as they can crack as the caramel expands in the freezer.
  • Freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Defrost in the fridge overnight and warm up briefly in a saucepan or in the microwave before using.

How do you reheat caramel sauce?

  • Microwave method. 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.
  • Stovetop method. Pour the caramel sauce into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and place on medium-low heat until warm.  Be sure to stir frequently to prevent burning.
  • Crockpot method. Pour the caramel sauce into a small crockpot.  Place on the warm setting until the caramel has reached the desired temperature.  Make sure to stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn.  

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce

Gather the ingredients for the homemade caramel sauce.  You’ll need granulated sugar, water, heavy whipping cream, and unsalted butter.  If you want to make salted caramel, make sure to grab some table salt too.

ingredients for homemade caramel sauce

Dump the sugar and water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk over medium-high heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.

dissolved sugar and water mixture in a saucepan

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.

whisking the caramel sauce in a saucepan

Pour the caramel into a jar and set aside to cool.  Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks and enjoy!

glass jar of homemade caramel sauce

Pro Tips for Making Homemade Caramel Sauce

  • Please read the recipe before you start.  Otherwise, you may be unprepared for steps coming up.
  • Take the cream and butter out of the fridge before you start the caramel.  It’s important that the butter and cream warm up for about 10 minutes before adding it to the hot caramel.
  • 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 caramel once it begins to boil; swirl the pan gently instead.  Stirring can make the caramel turn grainy or crystallized.
  • Use an instant-read thermometer to check the caramel’s temperature.  Glass bulb thermometers are too slow.
  • Add the cream and butter as soon as the caramel is the right color.  Waiting too long will cause the caramel to burn.
  • Let the cream and butter warm up a little before adding them to the hot caramel.  Otherwise, the caramel may separate.

Our Go-To Kitchen Tools for Making Caramel Sauce

Need some tasty ways to use up all this caramel deliciousness?  Check out these great ideas.

two glasses of caramel apple mocktail person holding a salted caramel mocha caramel apple pie after baking

The pleasure of a 5-star review for this homemade caramel sauce would be greatly appreciated.

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person pouring homemade caramel sauce into a jar

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce


  • Author: Emma
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1/4 cup 1x

Description

You won’t believe how easy it is to make buttery, creamy homemade caramel sauce.  Use this indulgent sauce for apples, for coffee, or for cake.  It’s quick, simple, and so good you’ll be eating it by the spoonful!


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
  • 1/2 cup filtered water (120 ml)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter (70g)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (118 ml)
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt, optional

Instructions

  1. Measure out the butter and cream and place them close to the stovetop.  It’s important to do this before you start.
  2. 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.
  3. 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, spoiling the caramel.  Instead, gently swirl the saucepan occasionally if you would like.  Please be careful when working with caramel, as it is a lot hotter than boiling water.
  4. 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 the caramel get too dark, as it will taste burnt, and watch it closely, for the caramel can burn in a matter of seconds.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Once it’s cooled, seal with a lid and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Notes

  • The pleasure of a 5-star review for this caramel sauce recipe would be greatly appreciated.
  • Want to see our latest recipes?  Subscribe to our email newsletter to get our latest recipes, fun food facts, food puns, and behind the scenes news about our blog.
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Boiled
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: best caramel sauce recipe, foolproof caramel sauce, caramel sauce with white sugar

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