Rich, buttery, and creamy salted caramel sauce is made with a few simple ingredients and only takes 15 minutes to make! Drizzle it on your ice cream, use it as a filling for chocolate caramel candies, use it as a drip for your cakes, or even mix it into easy buttercream frosting for a cake filling! Caramel sauce also stores really well and makes an excellent gift.
Super smooth, rich in flavor, and incredibly cream, you won't ever want to buy store-bought caramel sauce again after you try this recipe!
Making your own caramel sauce is so much easier than you'd think, and you really only need a few ingredients that you most likely may already have in your home. My favorite thing about this recipe? You can store it in the refrigerator for up to one whole month! Truly, this recipe is so versatile and you can get multiple uses out of it.
What's in this blog post?
Caramel Sauce Ingredients
If you've never made caramel sauce before, it might be surprising to find out it is nothing more than hot sugar, cream, butter and salt that make the delicious and unique taste of caramel. The real trick to making caramel sauce is letting the sugar get a nice deep golden brown before you add in the butter. Most people under-cook their caramel.
How to make caramel sauce step-by-step
You don't need a thermometer to make caramel sauce but if you're nervous about knowing exactly how long to cook the sugar for and you have a candy thermometer on hand, it's nice to have.
- Place the water, sugar, and corn syrup into a medium saucepan (larger is better than smaller) and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Brush the sides of the pot with a clean and oil-free pastry brush dipped in water (preferably one you only use for water or sugar) to make sure all the grains of sugar are dissolved in the water.
- Cover the pot for 5 minutes while the mixture is simmering to further dissolve all the grains of sugar.
- Uncover the sugar mixture and attach your candy thermometer if you are using one.
- Continue to let the sugar mixture boil continuously until it starts to deepen in color. This will take about 10 minutes. No need to stir your sugar, just let it do its thing. Once it starts getting golden in color don't walk away! It goes from golden to burned very quickly towards the end.
- Once your sugar reaches a deep amber color or 350ºF, remove it from the heat.
- Add a little cream (about 2 Tablespoons) to your hot caramel while whisking slowly (it will bubble up and that is normal). Then add in the rest of your cream in a slow stream while whisking to combine.
- Add in your butter, salt, and vanilla extract and whisk to combine until smooth and shiny.
- Allow your caramel to cool to room temperature before you use it. It will thicken as it cools.
How to get a richer caramel flavor
If you want a caramel sauce that is rich in flavor, the best method to improving your homemade caramel sauce is to let it sit overnight. Letting your sauce sit overnight really allows the flavor to mature, and just one day of letting the ingredients sit together will make all the difference!
If you want to add additional flavors to your caramel sauce, you can infuse your caramel sauce with ingredients like bourbon or vanilla bean. After you have added in all of your required caramel sauce ingredients, you have the option to add 1-2 tablespoons of bourbon to get a whisky flavor, or even 1 vanilla pod's worth of vanilla seeds to get a vanilla bean flavor.
Storing caramel sauce
After the sauce cools down, carefully pour the caramel sauce into a container and cover it tightly (using a lid, an air-tight canister, etc). Keep in mind that the caramel sauce will harden once it reaches a cooler temperature, so be sure that the container you pour your caramel sauce into is microwave-safe if you plan on reheating it. When you reheat it, heat it for no more than a few seconds at a time and repeat this process until it's warm.
Caramel sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 30 days after it is made. If you want to save your caramel sauce for more than 30 days, it can be stored in the freezer for up to 90 days in an airtight container (and you will want to use a microwave-safe container as well).
Tips to avoid crystallization
When you work with sugar, you may experience crystallization. When you boil sugar, the molecules inside move closer together resulting in a change of shape, texture, and color. This is the process used to turn sugar into caramel sauce. The problem you may encounter is when you over boil the sugar and the molecules move too close together, this results in crystallization. The longer you boil your sugar, the more water that evaporates leaving an opportunity for crystallization. This is where a candy thermometer can make your life a lot easier, and will help you ensure you do not over boil your sugar and you can create your desired caramel sauce.
What is the difference between caramel sauce and dulce de leche?
While both caramel and dulce de leche are both cooked sugar and milk, the main difference between the two is true caramel sauce is made by cooking sugar until it's a deep brown and then mixing it with cream and butter.
Dulce de leche is made by boiling sweet milk until the water evaporates and the mixture browns and thickens. Dulce de leche stays in a soft sauce-like state at room temperature but the caramel sauce will get thicker and firmer as it cools down.
Can you use this recipe to make caramel candy?
Although similar, caramel sauce and caramel candy are prepared differently. Caramel candy used inside candy bars or on caramel apples is typically cooked by combining the sugar, cream, corn syrup, butter, and salt all together and once and letting it cook until it's thick and golden brown.
Should you stir caramel?
Stirring caramel while it cooks is not necessary. In fact, you really should NOT stir caramel while it's cooking at all.
If you stir and agitate the caramel too much while it's wet, this will result in clumpy caramel that starts to recrystallize (which will give you those pesky jagged edges and become more solid than liquid).
How do I make my caramel sauce thicker?
The key to thicker caramel sauce is adding more butter.
Extra tips for making caramel sauce
- Use a super clean pot and utensils. Using items that are not completely clean can contaminate your sauce and cause it to crystallize.
- Make sure you allow the sugar to get that deep brown color but don't burn it.
- Get all your ingredients ready before you start so you can move to the next step right when you need to. The sugar will be too pale one minute and too dark the next so keep your eyes on it! Don’t be tempted to add your ingredients too soon. You want a nice dark color but not burned. A darker color means a richer flavor.
- I always have a batch of salted caramel in my fridge ready to go. It’s a decadent flavor that is well-loved by pretty much everyone and a little bit goes a long way.
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- Medium saucepan with a lid
- candy thermometer (optional)
- 14 ounces granulated sugar
- 2 ounces water
- 4 ounces corn syrup
- 6 ounces unsalted butter
- 8 ounces heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a medium to large sized saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. No need to stir.
- Brush the sides of the pot down with a clean and oil-free pastry brush (preferably one only used for water or sugar) to make sure all the grains of sugar are dissolved.
- Cover the pot with the lid for 5 minutes and allow the condensation to continue to dissolve all the grains of sugar on the sides of the pot that might cause your caramel to crystalize.
- Remove the lid and attach a candy thermometer if you are using one.
- Continue cooking the sugar until it's a deep golden amber color or the candy thermometer reads 350º (hard crack stage) This can take from 5-10 minutes so keep an eye on it to avoid burning.
- Remove the sugar from the heat from heat and slowly whisk in a couple Tablespoons of the cream (it will bubble and steam) then continue whisking in the rest of the cream in a slow stream.
- Add in your butter, salt, and your vanilla. Stir until creamy and smooth.
- The sauce will thicken as it cools down. Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator for up to a month or freeze for 6 months or more.