Fundamentals: How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce

Today is the beginning of a new recipe series I’m dubbing Fundamentals. I get a lot of emails from new bakers asking for basic recipes, tips, and product recommendations that will get them started with their newly acquired baking addiction.

While I can’t guarantee rock star status, I can provide you with some practical tips and simple tested recipes that work for me in my kitchen. The first recipe I am going to try and demystify is caramel, more specifically homemade caramel sauce.

I have a confession. Making caramel scares me. I love caramel, whether it’s by itself, sprinkled with sea salt, covered in peanuts, enrobed with nougat…well you get point. Although my love for caramel has been present for many, many years, I just recently started to make my own.

There have been some serious failures along one of which required the disposal of a pan. Yep, I tried to clean that sucker for days, so I ended up chucking it into the trash. Bottom line, caramel is finicky, it goes from perfect to a burnt mess in the blink of eye, but when you nail it, the outcome is extraordinary. Plus, you’ll never have to buy that overly sweet jarred stuff again!

On Friday, I’ll combine this luxurious caramel sauce with my Fleur de Sel Caramels to create one heck of a dessert!

Fundamental Information:

  • Caramel is essentially melted sugar.
  • There are two basic ways to make caramel: the dry method and the wet method. The dry method involves slowly heating sugar until it melts and is deemed as a bit more difficult. The wet method is more common and is what you will find in today’s recipe.
  • In the wet method, granulated sugar is dissolved in water and then boiled until the water starts to evaporate. As the water escapes, the mixture goes through a series of stages that indicates the ratio of water and sugar.

Fundamental Gear:

  • Heat safe spatula or wooden spoon
  • Heavy bottomed pot (non-stick is easier to clean) – If using non-stick, it may be difficult to know if your caramel has reached the desired shade of amber. Simply use a heat safe utensil to remove a few drops of caramel to a white plate.
  • Reliable candy thermometer – you will risk burning your sugar if you don’t have an absolutely accurate thermometer; cheapos from the supermarket typically don’t cut it.

Fundamental Safety:

  • Give your undivided attention to the caramel sauce while you are preparing it.
  • Caramel is HOT! Be careful. For reference- Water boils at 212°F, we are taking this sugar mixture over 350 degrees, so it’s incredibly hot.
  • When you add the heavy cream to the pot of molten sugar, it will bubble violently and steam will escape. Stand back and keep your face away from the pot!
  • Avoid a caramel catastrophe by making sure your heavy bottomed pot is large enough. Trust me; you do not want this caramel sauce to boil over onto your stove. It will bring you to tears. When you’re done, be sure to soak your pot and tools with hot water to help the cleaning process.
  • Make sure your stirring utensil is heat proof. I typically use a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula.

Uses for Homemade Caramel Sauce:

  • Eat it with a spoon
  • Spoon it over your favorite ice cream
  • Drizzle it over your favorite baked goods
  • Stir it into your morning latte to create a homemade caramel macchiato
  • Use it as a dip for fresh apple slices
  • Jar these up and pass along to friends and family; just be sure to tell them it needs to be stored in the refrigerator

Homemade Caramel Sauce

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/4 liquid cup water
  • 1/2 liquid cup heavy cream, heated until warm
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a heavy saucepan (at least 5 cup capacity), stir together the sugar, syrup, and water until the sugar is completely moistened. Place your candy thermometer into the pot taking care that it is tip in immersed into the sugar mixture.
  2. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling.
  3. Stop stirring completely and allow it to boil undisturbed until it turns a deep amber (like the color of Bass Ale) (see notes below).
  4. Immediately remove it from the heat and slowly and carefully pour the hot cream into the caramel. It will bubble up furiously.
  5. Use a high-temperature heat-resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon to stir the mixture until smooth, scraping up the thicker part that settles on the bottom. If any lumps develop, return the pan to the heat and stir until they dissolve.
  6. Stir in the butter and salt. The mixture will be streaky but become uniform after cooling slightly and stirring.
  7. Allow the sauce to cool for 3 minutes. Gently stir in the vanilla extract.

Notes:

  • Keep at room temperature for up to 3 days; refrigerated, about 3 weeks. To reheat, simply place in a microwave safe container and heat for about 45-60 seconds. Stir well.
  • I have 3 thermometers and they all register different temperatures. In my opinion, it's best to rely on the color of the caramel as opposed to the temperature. You want to look for a dark dark amber color. However, dark amber goes to burnt in a matter of seconds. If using a thermometer, start paying close attention at about 340 degrees. Once the color deepens, pull the mixture from the heat.

Tempting Twist:

  • Use fresh vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract. Simply scrape the seeds from inside ½ vanilla bean. Place the seeds and pod into the cream while it’s warming. Remove pod from the cream before adding to the hot sugar mixture.
{Edited: 12/17/11}

176 Responses to “Fundamentals: How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce”

  1. Blog is the New Black — January 12, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    I am dying to try this!

    Reply

  2. YUM! Caramel, this is my favorite ice cream topping! Love your new fundamental series, what a great idea!

    Reply

  3. Jennifer @ Jane Deere — January 12, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    YUM! My mouth is watering!!! I can’t wait to make this!

    Reply

  4. Estela @ Weekly Bite — January 12, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I’ve never made caramel sauce before. You make it seem so easy :)

    Reply

  5. Robyn | Add a Pinch — January 12, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Homemade caramel is the bomb! I make it waaay too often. I mean waaaaaay.

    Can’t wait to see everything in this series. What an awesome idea!

    Reply

  6. Kristen — January 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    What a great new series, Jamie! Love it and I adore all things caramel too.

    Reply

  7. Robyn — January 13, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Awesomly set out instructions! :) Takes the fear out of it. Def gonna try this one soon

    Reply

  8. Chele — January 13, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Can’t beat a good home made caramel sauce – it goes so well with everything ;0)

    Reply

  9. Katrina — January 13, 2011 at 7:07 am

    I’m going to love your new series “Fundamentals”! This caramel sauce looks awesome. Great recipe!

    Reply

  10. alyssa - fashion fitness foodie — January 13, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Sounds like a great series!! The little girls I nanny for LOVE caramel sauce so this would be fun to make our own. Where do you find a reliable candy thermometer?

    Reply

  11. Amanda — January 13, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Why oh why did I look at the before 7:00am ??? Now I am going to obsessed with it all day long!! Gorgeous!

    Reply

  12. Sheena — January 13, 2011 at 8:03 am

    I love home made caramel, and vanilla bean sounds like such a delightful addition.

    Reply

  13. Cindy — January 13, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Now do you have one for hot fudge? I made caramel for the nieces and nephews for Christmas. The caramel crystallized after it sat overnight. WHY??? (not this recipe, but one I found on Tasty Kitchen)

    Reply

  14. SMITH BITES — January 13, 2011 at 10:25 am

    and once you make your own you will never, ever go back to buy jarred stuff again! looking forward to this Jamie!

    Reply

  15. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies — January 13, 2011 at 10:36 am

    You’ve done an excellent job of explaining this, but I’m still skerred. Can I use it as an excuse to come to your house for a lesson? :)

    Reply

  16. Shaina — January 13, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Great tips! I remember how intimidated I was the first time I made my own caramel. This is a great resource for beginners.

    Reply

  17. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — January 13, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Great post! Homemade caramel is one of my favorite things.

    Reply

  18. Alexis @ There She Goes — January 13, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    this is super helpful, thanks!

    Reply

  19. Happy When Not Hungry — January 13, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Wow this looks amazing! Caramel is so finicky, but your recipe sounds easy. Will def have to try!

    Reply

  20. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle — January 13, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Was glad to see you go with the water method. I’ve done both and even though it takes a bit longer, have never had a problem with it, which I can not say for the dry method of melting the sugar! I made caramel sauce for holiday gifts. Might have added some rum and cinnamon. There are no words…except those from gift recipients!

    Once you make homemade it’s over; nothing compares does it?

    Reply

  21. I love this! Thank you for sharing :)

    Reply

  22. Michelle Maskaly — January 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    So want to try this! But, I have to admit it’s a little intimidating!

    Reply

  23. Semalee — January 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    I just found your site and I love it! Thanks so much for helping us with our own baking addictions! :)

    Semalee @ Nailing Jello to a Tree

    Reply

  24. Tracy — January 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    The last time I tried making caramel, it didn’t turn out so well. This makes me want to give it another try!

    Reply

  25. Awent — January 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    sounds delicious! for a more simple caramel, you can also heat a can of sweetened condensed milk for about 6 hours, not boiling but not simmering…

    Reply

    • Maria — July 25, 2011 at 9:53 am

      It doesn’t need to be cooked for 6 hours. You can boil it for about 2 to 3 hours (depending on the sweetness and brand of milk) and it comes out perfectly delightful. I’ve been doing that since I was a kid. Just be sure to take the label off the can before boiling. Tip: If you have any ethnic stores in your area try getting either the Russian or Ukrainian brand of canned condensed milk. I find it tastes the best and works quicker.

  26. Wenderly — January 13, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I’ve never tried making caramel, but this looks so inciting! And I LOVE the Jadite cup by the way! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, Jadite!

    Reply

  27. Stacey — January 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    I do the following:

    take a can of sweetened condensed milk (basically sugar and milk cooked down until really thick) and WITHOUT OPENING IT, place it into a heavy pot with a well-fitting lid, and add water about 1/2 way up the can. Then bring to a boil, and let simmer for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours…the longer it simmers the darker the sauce will be….once you take it out, be very careful upon opening, but you will have a thick and beautiful caramel sauce. I do this for an hour to and hour and a half, and it gives a very light caramel sauce…I drizzle it over a pan of unbaked brownie batter, add pecans and chocolate chunks, and voila! turtle brownies!!!!

    Reply

  28. Maya @coco pistachio — January 14, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Hey !!
    I just want to say that i love your blog and I have published it on my blog in my blog roll.

    I don’t know if I have to get any sort of consent for this? Is it okay if I put it on?
    http://coco-pistachio.blogspot.com/p/collection.html

    Reply

  29. Katie — January 14, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Looks delicious and such a gorgeous colour. I can just imagine it drizzled over cheesecake – yum!

    Reply

  30. kitchen gadget — January 14, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I tried to hold back… I tried not to make these tonight – but I couldn’t… I needed them!

    Reply

  31. Holly @ Life as a Lofthouse — January 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I am printing this NOW! I cant get enough of your site! : ) LOVE IT!

    Reply

  32. PartyBabble.com — January 15, 2011 at 12:17 am

    Drizzle a little caramel over your whipped cream in your hot chocolate and you will be in heaven. I promise.

    Reply

  33. welbilt bread machine manual — January 16, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Great recipe! I can’t wait to try this and add it to my vanilla bean ice cream!

    Reply

  34. Courtney — January 17, 2011 at 6:02 am

    I just made my first caramel recently.. I couldn’t help putting it on everything :) I wonder how long it lasts.. Mine was gone within a few days.

    Reply

  35. Jacqueline Powers — January 17, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Ok so maybe Im the only one but I just made this and it tastes burnt. I just bought a candy thermometer for the recipe and I waited until it got to 380 and then promptly pulled it off and added the other ingredients. I can’t seem to figure out what I did wrong. The thermometer I bought is a Tru Temp by Taylor It had a 10 yr warranty so I thought it would be a good idea. Any suggestions about what I should do next time or what I possibly did wrong. Oh I also accidently added the vanilla at the same time I did the butter and the salt. HELP

    Reply

  36. Jacqueline Powers — January 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Ok so I made a second batch not quite as bad as the first and the third is finally consumable yummy carmel. I had to pull it about 8 degrees below the 380 and it was still a brassy color. I’m going to make a fourth batch to prove to myself it wasn’t a fluke plus I want more carmel since the majority will be going towards snickers cupcakes.

    Reply

  37. Katie | GoodLifeEats — January 19, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    The first time I tried to make caramel sauce I totally burnt it. Like had to take the pot out to the backyard because it smelled so bad burnt. I think it’s time to try again with these expert tips!

    Reply

  38. Jake — April 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I just used this recipe for my homemade cinnimon rolls. They came out sooo dank. Definately my new faveroite recipe for caramel sauce!!

    Reply

  39. Kelly — May 12, 2011 at 9:51 am

    My mom used to make homemade caramel sauce that she would serve hot over cold rice. SOOOO good.

    Reply

  40. Samantha — August 12, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Just made this! The first attempt came out burned, but the second attempt came out beautifully. I hit a few little bumps along the way but the end result was creamy, yummy caramel. Thank You!!

    Reply

  41. ntnweb — September 14, 2011 at 8:02 am

    can i replace corn syrup with maple or golden syrup? It’s hard to find corn syrup at my local store.

    Reply

    • Katie — January 21, 2012 at 10:24 am

      You can google substitutes for corn syrup (there is a good list at joyofbaking.com) but I really don’t think that any of them will work in this recipe. Corn syrup should be available at literally every grocery store in the baking section.

    • Cruchy4Life — September 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      What if you want to avoid any corn by-products (esp GMO)? There HAS to be a better substitute.

    • Amanda — October 25, 2012 at 11:49 pm

      I just used molasses. It was amazing.

  42. PJ — October 1, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I wish you had told the temperature to cook at and also how long it would take to see the Bass Ale color.

    Reply

  43. PJ — October 2, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    This is THE BEST CARAMEL SAUCE EVER! Now that I have gushed, I have to say that after letting it boil on medium for what seemed forever, I noticed that even though the thermometer was only on about 350 degrees, I was seeing some smoke, so I pulled the pan off the eye and proceeded with the recipe. Worked out perfectly. The slight saltiness is just perfect. This may be my Christmas gift to my friends.

    Reply

  44. Stephanie L — October 5, 2011 at 10:50 am

    and blending the cooled caramel sauce and some sea salt into buttercream makes a frosting that is unbelieveable amazing. Yum.

    Reply

  45. Chris — November 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I am anxious to make this cheesecake. The pictures make it look so good, These are the best instructions ever! Thanks

    Reply

  46. David J. Astorino — November 25, 2011 at 9:44 am

    OUTSTANDING recipe and directions. Made this fresh to top my french toast I served Thanksgiving morning. It was rich, creamy, buttery, it was the bomb. Oh by the way I added toasted pecans the syrup as I kept it warm while I made the french toast, added another dimension and texture, everyong loved it.

    Reply

  47. Caramel lover — December 1, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Can caramel sauce be frozen?

    Reply

  48. Ashlee — December 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Let me just say every caramel recipe I have tried ended in failure. Im going to try this one this weekend! Hoping it works well!

    Reply

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