Caramel Sauce

how to make caramelCaramel and I have a long history. I want to be good at making it and it just wants to keep bringing me down. I have scars on my arms from caramel attempts gone wrong to prove it. There was this tart on the cover of Saveur magazine that almost killed me. It was a salted caramel tart in a chocolate base with a ganache topping. It took 3 tries to get it right, 1 sauce pan casualty, and one serious burn. But I was determined to get it right. The thing that I discovered that I was doing wrong was not trusting my instincts. Like in life, you need to trust yourself to know that you know what you are doing. I did not trust myself to know that maybe my thermometer was not calibrated anymore, or maybe there was a misprint in the recipe. Finally on the third attempt I threw the thermometer out and just watched for the signs from the stove that the sugar was ready. You need to trust your senses. Does the color look right? What does it smell like?

After a few more attempts at making caramel for different things, I am no longer afraid. The worst thing that can happen is that I am out of a cup of sugar and I need to start over. My new outlook on caramel has made making caramel an enjoyable experience instead of one where I felt like my domestic prowess was being judged. I have learned a few things that I will share with you though.

1. Have everything out and ready to go. Keep a cup of water and a pastry brush next to the stove. You can brush the sides of the pan with water if crystals start to form. Measure out your cream and have the vanilla out.

2. Once the sugar starts bubbling, do not walk away from it. Do not check email or go fold a load of laundry, you really need to keep an eye on it.

3. Do not stir the sugar. Once dissolved if you stir the sugar it will form crystals up the side of the pan. While a cool science experiment, it is not something that you want when you want a smooth and rich caramel sauce.

how to make caramel sauce1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

how to make caramelPut the sugar into a sauce pan.

how to make caramel sauceCover the pan with the water. Cook the sugar and water over medium heat.

how to make caramel sauceBring the sugar to a boil. Have your cream and everything ready to go.

how to make caramel sauceWhen it starts to get to this stage, keep a close eye on it. This takes about 10 minutes.

how to make caramel sauceWhen it turns a dark golden amber color (350 on a candy thermometer, but who needs one of those?) you are ready to pour in the cream.

caramel sauce recipeIt is going to bubble like crazy. Just keep whisking and it will all come together.

caramel sauce recipeSee, I told you so. Just like magic.

how to make caramelAdd the vanilla off of the heat.

how to make caramel sauceAllow the caramel to come to room temperature. It will thicken up as it sits. Keep it in the fridge.

caramel sauce recipesOnce you eat homemade caramel sauce, it will be hard to eat the kind from a jar. It is so smooth and rich and has that caramelized taste that is like none other.

homemade caramel sauce recipeRemember the chocolate ice cream that I made the other day? This sauce just might be amazing on it. With some crushed up pretzels. Oh. My. God.

Caramel Sauce

Caramel Sauce

Yield: 2 cups

How to make Caramel Sauce - Don't be afraid to make your own caramel sauce. It's so much better than store bought.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, warmed
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

  1. Put the sugar into a sauce pan. Cover the pan with the water. Cook the sugar and water over medium heat.
  2. Bring the sugar to a boil. Have your cream and everything ready to go.
  3. When it starts to get to this stage, keep a close eye on it. This takes about 10 minutes.
  4. When it turns a dark golden amber color (350 on a candy thermometer, but who needs one of those?) you are ready to pour in the cream. It is going to bubble like crazy. Just keep whisking and it will all come together.
  5. Add the vanilla off of the heat. Allow the caramel to come to room temperature. It will thicken up as it sits. Keep it in the fridge.
Nutrition Information:

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 0 Total Fat: 0g

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138 Comments

  • Hi Bree
    I am so glad I found your blog! First, I made your taco salad the other night….huge hit with the hubby. I did a post on it, hope you like https://www.thecottagesisters.com/2010/05/taco-salad-with-honey-lime-dressing.html. My sister just made a dessert the other night that called for caramel sauce I was going to try since I have leftover pineapple from Mother’s Day and you do this recipe just in time! I will be trying this tonight, a little nervous because I have never made caramel anything. Hopefully, it will go as easy as you made it look. Thanks! Denise@cottagesisters

    Reply
  • I love your blog…I just found it from thekitchn. I’m incredibly jealous of your natural light in your kitchen. My kitchen is at the center of the house…sort of a t-shape that acts as a hallway as well…so no windows actually border the kitchen. I’ve definitely found yet another food blog to follow now. Your format is great, clean and simple and your pictures are honestly what I’m striving for. You’ve also got a lot of lemon recipes…which is great since I have an ever-producing meyer lemon tree in the yard. Keep up the good work and I’ll keep on reading.
    Cheers!

    Reply
  • I just made caramel ice cream and I had the same problems, except mine was with a dry caramel. Eventually I realized it was the directions, not me. I did go through a few cups of sugar before I realized it though.

    Reply
  • Another tip from a long-time caramel maker. Have your cream heated to just below boiling before you add it to the hot sugar. That way, the caramel doesn’t seize as much, or doesn’t seize at all. My family’s old caramel icing recipe does it that way, and I use the method every time I make a caramel cream combination. Works!

    Reply
  • Congrats on the caramel! It looks fantastic.

    It’s totally addicting stuff isn’t it? I’ve gotten so addicted I bought a copper sugar pot just for candy making (all of my heavy pots are too dark to see the correct color so the guessing game was getting a bit too frustrating).

    Reply
  • Great post!

    Thanks for the tips! I am terrible at making caramel…

    Reply
  • I have made caramel the dry way, with just water and then with corn syrup + water. The latter method is the easiest to not screw up, but the dry method is definitely the quickest. I love making caramel! Yours looks fantastic!

    Reply
  • I recently found your blog and love it! I attempted caramel sauce last Christmas and ended up with the worst smelling kitchen I’ve ever had. The thermometer never got past like 250! You’ve inspired me to try again (after I get my ice cream maker this week – yay!).

    P.S., I’d add some salted peanuts to that chocolate ice cream with caramel. Yum!

    Reply
    • I have had some major kitchen fails while trying to make caramel. But it is so worth it in the long run.

      Reply
  • Have you ever tried making a dairy free version, using something other than cream? Great tips and step-by-step instructions.

    Reply
    • no I haven’t, but I bet that you could use soy half and half.

      Reply
  • i wish i had found your blog about 6 months ago. i was on a quest to make caramel sauce and it took me 3 times too! finally got it when i figured out that its like a controlled burn of the sugar. now it seems so easy, but those other times i was about to cry and pull my hair out. now i just use my senses-no thermometer, just like you said!

    Reply
    • I have so been there. Throw away the thermometer I say to get a great caramel sauce.

      Reply
  • Hello!
    Could you please provide exact measurements in ml/g/etc?
    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  • Oh my God is right. I’m bookmarking this and loving it forever. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Hi! I just found your blog and this was the first page that came up!

    I’m making chocolate cupcakes with a caramel drizzle… just wanted you to know that I’ve just now tried (for the first time since graduating culinary school!) to make caramel, and let me tell you – I LOVE your recipe!!!

    The way you’ve got it panned out… amazing. You’re lovely, and I’m so glad that I’ve found another blog to follow!!!

    Lots of love from Pennsylvania, Abbey

    Reply
  • Oh dear lord.
    I’ve had caramel sauce before…or at least thought I did… but this stuff… it’s the food of the gods. It was all I could do not to just sit in the kitchen with a spoon and eat the whole batch.

    BRAVO!

    Reply
    • You will never be able to eat caramel out of a squeeze bottle ever again. Homemade caramel is in an entirely different dimension than store bought.

      Reply
  • I totally should have been cleaning up my kitchen from my gingerbread house-making yesterday, but instead I was making your caramel. (I did have to add some butter, because butter is king) Thanks for such an easy, fast recipe! My kitchen is still a mess, but now I have caramel to eat with chocolate molten cakes tonight 🙂

    Reply
  • Love your recipe. Something so simple yielded something so complex and worked wonderfully on the cheesecake and chocolate molten lava cake I made for my wife’s birthday yesterday. She loved it!

    Next time, I might try to heat the cream and then maybe try adding butter, thanks to ideas from the above people. Still, this recipe stands by itself, but I bet it is versatile as well.

    You say to refrigerate it, but I would like to know if you microwave it to warm it up, or if there are other ways. This is a new area for me since I don’t like store bought caramel sauce, but I love this stuff! Thank you and Happy Holidays.

    Reply
    • I am glad that you liked this caramel sauce. I would either warm it at 50% power in the microwave or to heat it in a hot water bath.

      Reply
  • Hello, I found your website while searching for caramel tips. I keep ruining the water and sugar part of it. I have the heat on medium low trying to dissolve the sugar and water, but I think the water is starting to boil before the sugar is dissolved because even though I don’t stir, by the time the sugar water starts turning an amber color, it’s like rock candy. Please help!

    Reply
    • Turn your heat up. Also mix the sugar and water together before you put it on the heat.

      Reply
  • Hi, i love your web. The step by step picture really help me. A couple days ago i tried your caramel sauce. It goes very well with my homemade vanilla ice cream. Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  • Have made the caramel sauce twice and the whole family loves it. We use it as dipping sauce for raw apples (trying to have healthy’ish desserts and snack)!!!

    Reply
  • This is my first visit to your fantastic blog!

    Want to really knock their socks off? Just add a dash of Kahlua.

    Reply
  • I made this recipe tonight becauses I am sick of seeing the wordsd “high fructose corn syrup” on the caramel sauce jars! It is fabulous and I did not mess up even though this was my first attempt! Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • I am so glad. I am proud that it only took you one time. I did not have that luck the first time I tried caramel sauce.

      Reply
  • This looks amazing, I am just wondering how long you can keep it in the fridge for?

    Reply
  • My caramel came out great! At least until I realized it didn’t thicken. Tastes yummy! I wonder what I did wrong. I plan on using it on an ice cream cake made with ice cream sandwiches and need it to be a little thicker. This was my first time making caramel so I don’t feel bad. Perhaps my problem was a small pat of butter I added with the vanilla when I removed the pan from the stove?

    Reply
    • It will thicken after it has been in the fridge. It needs some time to set up.

      Reply
      • Thanks! You were right- it thickened just like you said it would. People were practically licking their plates! What a hit!

        Reply
        • try adding a vanilla bean and about a teaspoon of sea salt next time, I did that the other day and about died. I did not think that it was possible to make it even better.

          Reply
  • Oh, my golly. This is exquisite—just made a batch and had to come back and share the joy. 😉 I thank you. My kids thank you. My waistline thanks you.

    Reply
    • thank you Wendy! I love this sauce and make it all the time.

      Reply
  • If you ever have trouble with the sugar turning into crystals try adding about 1/8 tsp of cream of tar tar. You can also cover the saucepan with plastic wrap until it starts to get any color. This is like constantly using a brush, without actually having to use it. The condensation will do the work for you. I am going to try this recipe this weekend.

    PS. Can I leave a link on my blog for your web site?

    Reply
  • So to die for! I’ve always loved caramel…it looks like the perfect addition to some homemade chocolate icecream….yummm

    Reply
  • I used your recipe for the second time yesterday making some delicious Boom Boom Pow cupcakes (vanilla cupcakes, chocolate frosting, caramel sauce on top, and then sea salt sprinkled to add the perfect salty and sweet combination) and it turned out to die for again! I love the steps and pictures of all of your recipes and can’t thank you enough for making things so simple!

    Reply
  • Bree, I can’t tell you how great this recipe is! I have tried making caramel before and it was a complete disaster, thank you for the really helpful explanations and pictures. My caramel sauce turned out PERFECTLY.

    Reply
  • I was appalled after reading the ingredients on the label of the brand-name “caramel” sauce in our pantry. Now that I have found your recipe – with four ingredients that I can pronounce! – our family will never eat that fake stuff again. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  • Hi, Bree! Love your blog and this recipe! First time I tried to make it with the milk instead of heavy cream. It was great, but in a couple of minutes I realized that it was too thick, I couldn’t even put a spoon into it. I wonder how to make it more liquid kind of a sauce? For the next two times sugar turned into crystals before it changed the color. Please tell me what I did wrong?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • First, you cannot use milk. When are you making something like a caramel sauce, you cannot really improvise or it might not work. Did you stir the pot? That causes sugar crystals.

      Reply
  • Here I am on round 3. 1 and 2 failed. Thermometer is in the garbage. Fingers crossed, mouth drooling…..

    Reply
    • Oh no! Are you using a dark pan? If you are, you might not be able to see the color of the caramel.

      Reply
  • Great instructions and pictures! This is the same recipe I have used for years and it works great every time, now that I too trust my instincts and add the cream when the sugar mixture just looks right. I do use European vanilla essence in all my baking now instead of extract and love, love, love it… if you can find some, give it a try!

    Reply
  • Thanks for answer! I finally did caramel sauce exactly like I wanted it to be. But I improvised and used butter, milk and lemon juice so sugar didn’t turn into crystals. Good luck!

    Reply
  • Made this for the first time today and the color turned into dark brown. However, the it tasted great! Will make a second attempt tomorrow. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • I just made your caramel sauce; it only took me 4 times of doing it wrong, throwing it out, & starting
    all over again to get the perfect one! And we all love it! thank you! Think I’ll add sea-salt to this one.
    It is perfect Christmas gifts!

    Reply
  • Hi there. I tried the sauce today to make butter pecan cupcakes with your salted caramel frosting and it was an epic fail..lol. I think I let it sit too long and it crystalized and got super thick. I read through some of the other post and I think I may have done a couple of things wrong. I used a dark pan and couldnt really tell if it was getting dark or not, I walked away because my 2 year old had to have something at that moment (figures!). I didn’t stir it but it did move a little bit, do you think that might have did it or that I just cooked it too long? Unfortunatly, I used all my cream that I had (total last minute sweet need!), so back to the store I will go later and give it a try. I really want to make your frosting recipe with the butter pecan cupcakes!!

    Reply
    • You probably cooked it too long. You really have to babysit it, and follow directions carefully. I speak from experience. 🙂

      Reply
  • I found that when I added 2 TBsp of corn syrup to the sugar, it was much easier to keep the mixture from crystalizing. Don’t even have to wash off the inside of the pot with a brush.

    Reply
  • Hi Bree!

    I’m planning on handing this out to people for Christmas and I was wondering how long this will keep in the fridge. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Great recipe! I find that if I put the water in the pot first, then slowly pour the sugar in the middle of the pot (do not stir!), then turn on the heat and let it boil then I don’t get any crystals forming on the sides. It’s REALLY hard not to stir, but trust the process and it should work perfectly.

    Reply
      • Im on the 5th attempt have tried 3 brands of sugar and it necer goes brown? This lot has been cooking for 25mins and still not brown? In your pics your using white sugar right?

        Reply
        • Thats not right, what temp are you cooking it on? Maybe your heat needs to be higher? And yes, white sugar.

          Reply
    • Agh!! How do you make caramel without butter? It’s just not right. 🙂 haven’t tried it yet but I will. I made some the other day using butter, heavy cream, sea salt and organic sugar. Turned out heavenly!!

      Reply
  • I tried this last week, and it was a disaster. Today? I took your advice and tossed out the thermometer and I have the most beautiful and delicious caramel sauce I have ever tasted. I’m never buying commercially made caramel sauce again. Thanks for posting this simple to follow recipe!

    Reply
    • I will not buy it anymore either. I love making it, and the taste is amazing.

      Reply
  • I have successfully perfected the caramel sauce, thanks for your recipe. It’s a big help, seriously. I have added also 1 ingredient to this recipe. I added 1/3 cup / 75g of unsalted butter, and it turns out delicious and flavorful.

    Thank you so much.

    Reply
  • How would you recommend making this sauce in bulk?? I have an event this weekend, and I wanted to make a caramel sauce that i kept in a crock pot to put over apples. Do you for see any problems with this idea??

    Reply
    • You know what, I wouldn’t make it in bulk. Maybe double it, but sugar can be really weird. I would look for a specific recipe for a large quantity. I just would be afraid that you spent all of the money on cream and it did not work.

      Reply
  • Oh. My. Gosh! I cannot thank you enough for this recipe and the fantastic and clear tutorial. I just made this, and it really was easy — and is seriously heaven to eat! Mmm. Yummy. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Hi, I made your caramel sauce tonight. I think I did something wrong. As I was waiting for it to get to that nice amber color it got crystal like (all of it) and was getting clumpy. It was still really light. I was not sure what to do, so I just poured in the cream. maybe you could think of a good reason to what I did wrong. I would appreciate your help because this looks so good, and I want it to taste as good as your’s look!! Thank you so much!!

    Reply
    • Did you stir it? You can swirl the pan, but never, ever stir. That is usually what makes it crystallize.

      Reply
  • Weird, I’ve made this recipe many times and all were a success. Made it today in a dark non-stick pan and the sugar crystallized. I thought maybe it was because I had stirred the water and sugar together before I heated it. Tried again with no stirring before heating (or during of course) and it crystallized AGAIN. However, I did reheat the first batch just so I could get it out of the pan and decided to let it turn caramel color anyway. It took a lot of swirling but I was able to add cream and still get a caramel sauce out of it. There was just about 2 or 3 tbs worth of hard sugar I had to pitch out of it.

    Reply
  • Oh and I see people keep asking about how long it will keep. I’ve known it to easily keep for a month or more in the fridge.

    Reply
  • Used the recipe for adding to frosting, was successful…I think? Last couple of times I’ve tried to make caramel sauce, the cream has been straight out of the fridge, sitting next to stove for a few minutes, then added. I find that it seems to result in a huge clump of crystallised sugar that eventually dissolves with continued whisking – is that supposed to happen? Second of all, mine didn’t need refrigerating to thicken – pretty much started to thicken as it cooled and then developed a skin. Is there are way to not have it develop the skin? Thanks again for posting the recipe – I’m a caramel convert because of it!

    Reply
    • It is going to happen when you pour fridge cold cream into 300 degree sugar. You can warm the cream to make them combine better. I am not sure about the second part, but I would just reheat it.

      Reply
  • Hello!
    I just made some caramel and it seems pretty runny. It’s pretty much cool now, but still runny. How should I fix this?

    Reply
    • I had the same problem, because my sugar was undercooked. I just made another batch of sugar and just instead of using new amount of heavy cream I just used the runny caramel stuff and it all turned out great (though a little sweeter).

      Reply
  • Bree, will this recipe work in a chocolate fountain? For my daughters graduation reception I want to have a chocolate and caramel fountain. Thanks. Looking forward to trying it whether it works in the fountain or not.
    April

    Reply
    • I really do not know. You would have to make several batches to have enough for a fountain. I am not sure how much a fountain holds, but if I was going to add caramel, I would do it in a fondue pot on the lowest possible heat.

      Reply
  • sauce was good, mine curded when i added the cream… so i waited till it was warm and put in blender… tasted really good, was on the runny side, but guessing it will firm up when goes in the fridge…. another trick is to wait after you remove pan from stove, wait till the caramel has gone down in temperature or just pour the cream in small quantities, otherwise it might curd, like mine, but even so, you can always put in blender in case it curds… wont affect the marvelous taste…

    Reply
    • It should not have curdled, and if you keep it on the heat, it will loosen up again.

      Reply
  • I tried doing a reduction the other day and when I added the wine to the sugar it blew up in my face. You should really tell people to heat up the cream in the recipe, before adding it to the sugar otherwise they will have the same reaction and this can cause some serious burns. I don’t understand why this is not stated in more recipes.

    Reply
  • Hi, this sauce looks amazing and I’m pretty okay at making caramel but mine tends to get hard in the fridge and I’d like to keep it pretty thick but still runny, could you please advise more on the viscosity of this and if in the freezer it’ll harden slightly but still be able to bite through?

    Thanks in advance,
    Shanneen

    Reply
    • All caramel will harden. Soften it in the microwave or simmer the jar in a pot of water.

      Reply
  • About how long do you keep it on the heat once you pour in the cream and are whisking? My caramel came out pretty well but I think I may have cooked it too long.

    Reply
  • Bree
    Your pics are great.
    I am culinary trained and can make sauce caramel blind folded.
    However, trying to explain the procedure over the phone to my mother in the Midwest had rendered countless failures.
    I sent her a link to this page so she could see your pics and she now claims
    that her caramel is the hit of the neighborhood.
    I have her drop a tablespoon of butter in at the end as well. It somewhat smoothes
    out the flavor.
    On occasion, when I felt that my sauce was too thin, I have continued to keep it
    on the heat. While this does thicken the sauce, it also tends to darken the caramel
    and intensify the slightly bitter quality, which may or may not be desired.
    Thank you again for the great post.

    Reply
  • Thank you! I will never purchase store made caramel sauce again! So easy 🙂

    Reply
    • Isn’t it amazing? And simple. It also is a good base. I really like to add bourbon.

      Reply
  • I just have to say that this sauce is amazing. After figuring out the process for my altitude and climate, it turns out perfect every time. I cannot get enough.

    Reply
  • I want to drizzle this over a cheesecake. Do I have to wait untill its being served or can i do it the night before and place the cake into the refrigerator and not have to worry about the caramel getting to thick?

    Reply
    • I don’t really know? I would probably do it before you serve it if you don’t want it to set.

      Reply
  • Just made this today, came out amazing ! Thank you!

    A co-worker of my wife has given us caramel sauce twice that is to die for but she won’t share the recipe. I found this as I was trying to figure out what it was. This came out darker but taste very similar. I think maybe she cooks hers less for a lighter brown. However, the color I got is more like most pictures online.

    I failed on the first 2 attempts when it wouldn’t reach temp and dried up before browning. I think this is due to higher altitude 3500ft. On the third attempt I covered it and cranked the heat.

    Reply
  • I just made this!!! I got kind of scared when I added the cream and it started bubbling but I kept on stirring. I also added butter to mine as I love a rich flavor. I am making this so I can make your frosting to go on top of the snickers cupcakes!!! I will send you a pic of the final product!!! And thank you!!! I love a great recipe!!!

    Reply
    • I am glad that you liked it. You can warm the cream in the microwave so that it doesn’t bubble as much.

      Reply
  • Do you stir the sugar and water when you put them together at first? Until the sugar dissolves you stop?

    Reply
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  • I love this recipe! I make a lot of cheesecakes and I use this caramel in one of them. Definitely one of my most popular!

    Reply

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