Follow this easy recipe to make homemade caramel sauce – salted or not. It only takes 10 minutes and 5 simple ingredients. Then drizzle it on ice cream, cakes, pancakes, cheesecake, stir it into iced coffee, or use as a dessert dip for apples!
Right next to my homemade chocolate sauce, this homemade caramel sauce has got to be the easiest recipe ever. And it is pure Heaven!
Sure, you can buy caramel sauce at the store, but as with most foods, homemade tastes so much better and doesn’t have any added unnecessary ingredients. Plus, in the time it would take you to drive to the market, this caramel sauce would be done!
Ingredients for this Caramel Sauce Recipe
Sugar, butter, and cream are the essence of making caramel, but I also add water, vanilla, and salt, which play important roles.
- Water helps the sugar dissolve, reduces the risk of burning, and heat more evenly.
- Salt turns caramel sauce into salted caramel, which is amazing. I do use just a pinch though for regular caramel and add more for salted caramel. Salt is such a great ingredient and gives wonderful balance to sweet foods.
- Vanilla is purely optional, but it really does elevate the flavor.
How to Make Caramel Sauce
You’ll add sugar and water to a heavy bottomed saucepan, allow it to dissolve and gently bubble for about 9 minutes until it caramelizes and turns a beautiful amber color. Then butter, cream, vanilla, and salt get blended in. The mixture is set aside to cool and then poured into a glass jar to cool completely. It will be thin and loose at first, but will thicken as it cools.
There are a few more specifics (and tips – keep reading!), but that’s the gist of it. So easy!
Do I need a Candy Thermometer?
Sometimes I use a thermometer and sometimes I don’t. You definitely don’t need one. If you have a thermometer and want to be very precise, the target temperature you’re after is between 338 and 350 degrees F. Above 350 degrees, it’ll start to smell burnt (and the finished sauce will taste bitter.) Below 338 degrees F, and you won’t be able to achieve the proper color and caramelization.
If you follow this recipe exactly, without deviation, all you really need is a good nose and set of eyeballs!
Does homemade caramel sauce need to be refrigerated?
Yep! Because it has dairy (cream and butter), it will need to be refrigerated once it cools. You’ll reheat it, as necessary.
How to Store Caramel Sauce
After the caramel cools down, you’ll pour it into a lidded glass jar or container.
Store in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, up to 3 weeks, or freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature, before using.
Caramel solidifies in the refrigerator so it needs to be reheated, either on the stove or in the microwave, until desired consistency is reached. Note: reheating the caramel will make it thinner and runnier.
Can I use this caramel sauce for caramel apples?
Unfortunately, no. This caramel is not thick enough to coat apples for caramel apples. But it sure makes a great dessert dip for apple slices!
- The utensils you use do matter. It is important to use either a wooden spoon or a heat-resistant silicone spoon to make the sauce.
- Resist the urge to stir! As the sugar and water are heated, if you stir them, you’ll cause grains to form and it will not be smooth and creamy. Instead, you can gently swirl the pan over the heat if needed, but be sure not to let the caramel go high up the sides of the pot or this will make the caramel sauce crystallize and become grainy, as well.
- What if my sauce does crystallize? Luckily, you don’t need to start over. Whew. Add a scant 1/4 cup of water and bring the sugar back to a gentle bubble. (Heating it up with the water should dissolve the crystals. Then proceed with the recipe until you get color on the sugar.
- Use unsalted butter. Even if you want salted caramel sauce, I recommend using unsalted butter. This gives you better control over the saltiness of the finished product. For salted caramel sauce, I like to add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, but I recommend starting with 1/8 teaspoon and adjust to taste.
- Stay put and be patient. Do not step about from the stove while the caramel is cooking. This sauce is super easy, but it can take anywhere from 8-12 minutes to thicken and turn that gorgeous amber color. Since you don’t know where your sauce will land in that window, you need to be paying close attention.
This caramel sauce is sweet and buttery and going to rock your world, trust me! You’ll likely never get store-bought again.
Uses for Caramel Sauce
It’s the perfect topping for so many things!
- Poor it over ice cream.
- Stir it into a Mocha Frappuccino.
- Drizzle it over brownies or angel food cake.
- Layered it in a chocolate trifle.
- Use it as a dip for fruit.
- Give it as a gift!
Watch the video for Caramel Sauce
Easy Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- pinch of salt
- Add the sugar and water to a 3-quart heavy bottomed saucepan; stir a little so it sits in a flat, even layer.
- Warm pot over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves, turns clear, and starts to bubble. (It will be cloudy at first, but will turn into a clear, bubbling liquid.) This takes about 3-4 minutes.
- (At this point, do not stir again - simply allow to bubble, swirl the saucepan occasionally and brush down the sides of the pan, as needed, to prevent crystallization.)
- Sugar will form clumps, but continue swirling and cooking until the mixture thickens and turns a deep amber color like honey (this can take anywhere from 8-12 minutes), keeping a watchful eye so the mixture doesn’t burn.
- Carefully add the butter and whisk until completely melted. (The caramel will bubble up rapidly, so be careful and continue to whisk.)
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly pour in the cream, whisking continuously until all of the cream has been incorporated.
- Whisk in the vanilla and salt.
- Set aside to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
- Then pour into a lidded glass jar and allow to cool completely. (It will thicken as it cools.)
- Read the full article for recipe tips and watch the video!
- Store in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, up to 3 weeks, or freezer for up to 2 months. (Caramel solidifies in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave until desired consistency is reached.)