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 make a foolproof, buttery treat in minutes. Trust me, you'll want to eat it by the spoonful!
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What is caramel sauce made of?
It's 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 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?
It's simply regular caramel sauce with salt added. Add ⅛ teaspoon of regular table salt to one batch of warm caramel sauce. Be careful not to add too much; a little goes a long way.
What is the difference between caramel and butterscotch?
Although they 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.
Is caramel sauce gluten free?
Yes, it 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 sauce and utensils away from wheat products.
What can I use it for?
- 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 apples or saltine crackers.
- Add to buttercream icing.
What’s the best pot to use?
It’s essential that you use the right saucepan. 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 it begins to turn color, and swirl the pan from time to time to even out the hot spots.
Wet Caramel vs. Dry Caramel
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 methods.
- Dry: place granulated sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat. The sugar will gradually melt and eventually caramelize.
- Wet: 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 one? Dry ones always melts unevenly, and can crystallize very easily. The wet method is much more foolproof, ensuring an evenly cooked, non-crystallized sauce.
- 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. Be patient!
- 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.
What To Do When It Goes Wrong
If your batch is grainy or has crystallized, it’s best just to start over. It 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.
How do you know when caramel sauce is done?
There’s two ways to tell. 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 it's done. Cook until it is a deep amber color,
- Use a candy thermometer. It's 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 result and a burnt one.
How do you keep it from burning?
As soon as the 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, it 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 a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm, then whisk in the liquid 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, until it is thinned.
- Reheat. If it has been in the fridge, the butter will harden, making it thicker. Simply follow the reheating instructions later on in the post to soften and thin it.
Will it thicken as it cools?
It definitely does thicken as it cools. If it 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?
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 it in the fridge?
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.
Can it be frozen?
Yes, you can freeze it. 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
- 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 in the fridge overnight and warm up briefly in a saucepan or in the microwave before using.
How do you reheat it?
- 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 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 into a small crockpot. Place on the warm setting until it is the desired temperature. Make sure to stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn.
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.
Pour it into a jar and set aside to cool. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks and enjoy!
- 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. 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.
- Use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature. Glass bulb thermometers are too slow.
- Add the cream and butter as soon as it is the right color. Waiting too long will cause it to burn.
- 2-Quart Saucepan: this heavy-bottomed pot is my top choice for this recipe!
- Set of 3 Measuring Cups: measuring out the ingredients before you start is a must.
- Set of 3 Stainless Whisks: get a perfectly mixed batch with these whisks.
- Instant Read Thermometer: take the guesswork out with this device.
Recipes that Call for Caramel Sauce
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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!
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
- ½ cup filtered water (120 ml)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter (70g)
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream (118 ml)
- 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.
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Boiled
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: best caramel sauce recipe, foolproof caramel sauce, caramel sauce with white sugar
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.