Homemade caramel sauce is so easy to make and tastes 1,000,000 x better than anything store-bought, this stuff should seriously come with a warning label! It takes just 15 minutes to make and with simple ingredients that I guarantee are currently in your kitchen. You will want to put it on everything!
I honestly can't think of anything that doesn't taste better with some caramel sauce drizzled on top, and once you realize how easy it is to make at home, you will want to put it on everything! I love using it for making indulgent coffee drinks, drizzling over ice cream, or as a dip for apple slices. And if you really want to go all out, be sure to try my caramel cheesecake and chocolate caramel tart.
Ingredients for Caramel Sauce:
- Sugar: Caramel is made from caramelizing sugar. When sugar is heated it melts and then thickens, the color becomes dark and the flavor intensifies.
- Water: Caramel can be made with or without water (Dry vs. Wet Caramel). Dry caramel is made by simply heating sugar in a pot. The sugar turns into a liquid and then quickly darkens. This requires close attention because the sugar can burn easily. Wet caramel is made by dissolving the sugar in water and then bringing it to a boil. The water boils out and the sugar becomes thick and dark. The wet method cooks the sugar slower and more evenly. The slower cooking of using the wet method also allows more time for the flavors to develop and intensify.
- Heavy Cream: The difference between caramel and caramel sauce is the addition of heavy cream. To prevent the caramel from seizing, be sure to heat the cream a little in the microwave or in a pot on the stove before adding it to the caramel.
- Unsalted butter: Butter thickens the sauce and adds flavor and richness. If all you have is salted butter adjust the added salt to taste.
- Salt: For regular caramel sauce add half a teaspoon of salt, or add a full teaspoon to make a salted caramel sauce. Both are delicious!
How to Make Caramel Sauce:
- Start with a large, clean pot. Add sugar and water and place over medium-low heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Stop stirring completely and bring the heat up to medium. Watch closely as the sugar syrup turns from clear, to pale yellow, to a dark amber color. This will take about 10 minutes, while you wait, heat up the heavy cream in a separate pot on the stove or in the microwave. You want it pretty warm so it doesn't cause the caramel to seize.
- As soon as the sugar is dark amber in color, remove the pot from heat and slowly drizzle in the warm heavy cream, whisking as you do. Do this carefully because the caramel is going to bubble violently at first, and then settle as the temperature evens out. Place the pot back over low heat and add the butter and salt, cook until the butter is melted and the sauce is smooth.
- Remove from heat and allow the sauce to cool before transferring to a bowl or mason jar. The longer the sauce cools the thicker it will get.
Tips for Making Homemade Caramel Sauce:
- Start with a clean pot. If there is any debris the sugar crystals will want to cling to it, which can cause the caramel to crystallize.
- Use a large pot with high sides. While the sugar is heated it is going to bubble up quite a bit, so use a pot that is big with high enough sides to prevent it from boiling over. You definitely don't want any of the hot syrup splashing out onto your skin.
- Grease the sides of the pan with oil or spray with non-stick spray. When the sugar and water boil the sugar syrup splashes onto the sides of the pan, the water evaporates and hard sugar crystals stick to the sides. Greasing the sides of your pan stops the sugar from sticking.
- Don't stir the sugar syrup, if you notice that it is browning unevenly you can gently swirl the pot.
- Watch the pot closely. The sugar can go from perfectly caramelized to burnt in a matter of seconds. If you do burn the sugar you have to start over. Luckily sugar isn't too expensive and you haven't added any cream or butter at that point.
- If the caramel sauce seizes when you add in the heavy cream, just continue to cook and stir over medium-low heat until it smooths out.
How to Store Homemade Caramel Sauce:
Caramel sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. It also freezes well. Thaw from frozen in the fridge or in a water bath. Caramel sauce will be very thick when cold, you can reheat it in the microwave until it reaches the desired consistency.
More Caramel Recipes:
Homemade Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ tsp. salt*
- Spray the sides of a medium saucepan with non-stick spray. Place the pan over medium-low heat and add the sugar and water. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved.
- Once dissolved stop stirring completely and increase the heat to medium. Let the sugar cook until it reaches a dark amber color, this will take about 10 minutes. Don't stir the sugar as it cooks, but you can gently swirl the pan to help it caramelize more evenly. Watch the sugar carefully because it can go from perfectly caramelized to burnt in a matter of seconds. If it does burn start over with new sugar, don't try to save it.
- While you wait for the sugar to caramelize, add the heavy cream to a heat safe bowl and microwave it for 30 seconds or until lukewarm. If the cream is too cold it can cause the caramel to seize (clump up into a hard ball).
- Once the sugar reaches a nice amber color, take the pan off of the heat and carefully pour in the warm heavy cream. The drastic change in temperature will cause the caramel to bubble violently at first and then settle as the temperature evens out. If your caramel does seize, simply place it over low heat and stir until it's melted and smooth.
- Stir in the butter and salt and place over low heat until the butter is melted and the caramel sauce is smooth. If you notice any clumps of crystallized sugar, strain the sauce through a sieve and into a bowl to get rid of them.
- Allow the caramel sauce to cool to the desired temperature. The more it cools the thicker it will get. Store the caramel sauce in an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.