How to make salted caramel sauce that's luxuriously rich, smooth and the perfect balance between sweet caramel, salt and vanilla.
This no-fail recipe uses just 5 ingredients to make a salted caramel sauce that is silky smooth, never grainy, and keeps well in the refrigerator for months.
"Wow-oh-wow! This stuff is GOOD! Having never made caramel sauce before, I found this recipe easy to follow and crazy delicious."-Amy
A good friend of mine told me recently that she keeps a jar of this salted caramel sauce in her refrigerator at all times, to which I admitted that I do the same. The thing is...
Salted Caramel Sauce keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 6 months and having it on hand means you can serve up a ridiculously delicious dessert at a moment's notice.
What to Pour Salted Caramel Sauce On:
- Pour it over thick slices of ultra creamy New York-Style Cheesecake
- Spoon it over ice cream
- Use it to make a Caramel Apple Pie
- Drizzle it over a store bought pound cake, angel food cake, cupcakes, brownies, or pie
- Pour it over roasted fruit with a crumble of something sweet, salty and crunchy like honey roasted almonds, for a super easy "cheater" fruit crisp
- Quickly make the most delicious caramel frosting ever by whipping it into whipped cream or 10-minute American Buttercream
- Take your buttercream game up to a whole new level by beating salted caramel sauce into a batch of luxurious Italian Meringue Buttercream
- Stir a couple of teaspoons into coffee or dessert cocktails
- Drizzle it over pancakes or waffles with a few slices of banana for the most delicious morning ever
Basically, there is very little on which I don't want to drizzle salted caramel sauce. Take that however you wish. 😉 This stuff is liquid gold.
What is Caramel?
Caramel is nothing more than sugar that's been heated long enough to melt and caramelize, turning from clear to a rich golden brown color. It's the caramelization process that gives caramel its flavor.
In fact, the chemical breakdown of caramel is completely different from the chemical breakdown of sugar. Take some sugar, apply heat, and it becomes something totally new. It's kind of magical.
As you heat sugar, the molecules break down and rearrange themselves into totally new compounds. The new compounds give caramel its characteristic brown color and contribute a variety of complex flavors and aromas. Flavors that weren't there before are created as the sugar cooks.
To transform caramel into caramel sauce, butter and/or cream is added after sugar caramelizes. The butter and/or cream contribute their own flavors, deepening as the caramel sauce cooks, so that the end result tastes nothing like the humble ingredients you started with.
Why This Caramel Sauce Recipe Uses All Heavy Cream Instead of Butter
Fat content in the form of butter, cream, or a combination of butter and cream, is essential to caramel sauce. For years, I made this salted caramel sauce using a both butter and heavy cream, a combination that's standard to most caramel sauce recipes.
But then, after testing several ratios of butter and cream, I found more consistent results with using all cream and no butter. Why is that?
Using butter in caramel sauce can result in a slightly oil consistency, rather than a perfectly smooth, homogenous sauce. It's also more likely that your caramel will split when using butter in caramel sauce rather than all cream.
Butter can also sometimes cause caramel sauce to curdle. This is a rare occurrence caused by using butter with a lower than normal fat content. Most commercial butter is roughly 80% butterfat and 15% water. But, it is possible to inadvertently pick up a package of butter that has only 65% fat and 30% water.
Proponents of using butter in caramel sauce say that butter improves the flavor. But, I made two batches of caramel sauce - one using all cream and the other using a combination of butter and cream - and asked a handful of people to taste them and tell me which they liked better. No one could detect any difference between the two at all.
So, there you have it. Using all cream creates a consistently smooth, creamy caramel sauce that's rich and flavorful, and never oily.
Is Homemade Caramel Sauce Difficult to Make?
Absolutely not. Caramel sauce has a reputation for being difficult to make, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you're amongst those who feel intimidated at the thought of making caramel, let me give you the secret right off the top: Don't take your eyes off it.
Making caramel sauce is not difficult. But, you gotta pay attention to it. It does not like to be ignored.
If you forget this piece of advice and turn away to answer the phone, or pour yourself a cocktail, or just take care of this one little thing really quick - that's when your caramel is going to burn.
It's practically a law of nature. Water won't boil if you stare at it and caramel will burn if you don't.
But, commit to keeping an eye on it and homemade salted caramel sauce is a cinch. Just follow the instructions in the recipe and be patient for 20 minutes.
And, if your sugar burns, it's OK. It happens. Don't sweat it. Just channel your inner Julia and start again.
When adding cream to caramel, it's very important that the cream NOT be cold. Pouring cold cream into hot, melted, caramelized sugar will cause the sugar to instantly harden up. If this happens, you can usually recover it by continuing to cook the caramel until it melts again.
But, it's a whole lot easier to just use hot cream in the first place.
So, before you do anything else, heat a saucepan of cream to the boiling point and then keep it warm while you get your caramel going.
How to Keep Caramel Sauce from Crystalizing
Sugar has a strong tendency to crystalize. If this happens, you'll end up with caramel sauce that's grainy and gritty instead of luxuriously smooth. Corn syrup simply helps prevent the granulated sugar to crystalize.
Besides adding corn syrup, you can prevent crystallization by not stirring the caramel during the beginning stages of cooking. One thing to note is that most burners have "hot spots" that will cause some areas of the bottom of the pan to get hotter than others.
If you notice that the syrup is quickly turning brown in one particular spot, grip both sides of the pan and swirl the syrup around to distribute the caramelizing sugar around in the pan. This will prevent the sugar in the "hot spot" from burning.
Once the sugar starts to color, crystallization is less likely. At this point, add more sugar, stirring as you do.
This two-stage process for caramelizing sugar gives you the best of both worlds: Letting some of the sugar caramelize without stirring prevents the sugar from crystallizing. Adding the rest of the sugar while stirring makes it less likely that your caramel will burn.
Add the Cream to the Caramel Slowly
After all the sugar has been added and the caramel is a gorgeous deep amber color, it's time to add the cream.
It's important to add the warm cream in three additions, rather than all at once. Even though the cream is hot, pouring it into the hot sugar will cause the caramel to bubble up significantly. If you add it all at once, you could run the risk of the mixture boiling over the sides of your pan and/ or creating so much steam that it burns your hand.
The other reason to add the cream in three additions is to encourage excess water in the cream to evaporate before adding more. This will help ensure that your caramel sauce is thick and rich, rather than thin and watery.
How do you Know When Caramel Sauce is Done?
After adding the cream, cook the caramel sauce, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and rich.
You'll know it's done when the color of the caramel sauce is a deep amber and if you lift the spoon from the caramel sauce and draw through the caramel on the back of the spoon using another spoon, the caramel will hold the line.
At this point, you can remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Get a spoon and dip it in the caramel sauce so you can taste it. Please, please, please be sure to patiently blow on it first so you don't burn your tongue! (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience here.)
If you like, add more salt and vanilla. It's your caramel sauce. You make the rules. Make it as salty or vanilla-y as you like.
How to Store Salted Caramel Sauce
Pour the caramel into a container, let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate. The caramel will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
This recipe makes a generous 3 cups and keeps in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. So give this sauce 20 - 30 minutes of your undivided attention and reap the rewards for months. Sounds like generous trade off to me.
More Dessert Sauce Recipes
Salted Caramel Sauce is a Building Block Recipe
Building block recipes are tried-and-true recipes that I consider foundational to great home baking. They are the kind of recipes I come back to over and over again, sometimes baking them as is, but often using them as a jumping off point to create something new. > Scroll through all Building Block recipes.
- 3 cups (710ml/ 681g) heavy cream
- 2 cups (396g) granulated sugar
- ¾ cup (177ml/ 234g)corn syrup
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt (more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (more to taste)
- In a medium, heavy bottom saucepan, heat the cream to almost boiling - bubbles will start to appear around the side of the pan and the surface will get a bit "rumbly". Turn down the heat to low and keep warm.
- In a large heavy bottom saucepan, add 1 cup (198g) of the sugar, the corn syrup, and salt. Stir to moisten the sugar and then cook without stirring over medium high heat just until the sugar starts to turn golden. If you notice that the syrup is quickly turning brown in one spot, but the rest is not browning at all, grip both sides of the pan and swirl the syrup around to distribute the caramelizing sugar before it burns. Cook until all the syrup is light amber in color.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the remaining cup of sugar in three additions, stirring constantly, allowing each addition to melt before adding more. The sauce will continue to darken in color. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is a deep amber color. Watch the heat in order to prevent the sugar from burning. The sauce should steadily darken in color, but if it begins to smoke at all, immediately remove it from the heat, stirring vigorously, and lower the burner heat. Return the pan to the burner and continue. If the sugar does turn black and burn, there's no other option except to start over.
- Turn the heat up to medium and add the warm cream in three additions. The cream will cause the syrup to bubble up significantly - stir constantly and be very careful to not let the hot steam burn you. Simmer for a minute or two between each addition of cream to reduce slightly. Once all the cream has been added, continue to cook, stirring constantly, until it forms a thick syrup. To know when it's done: If you lift the spoon from the caramel sauce and draw through the caramel on the back of the spoon using another spoon, the caramel will hold the line.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Taste and add more salt and vanilla if desired. Pour into a container and let cool completely. The caramel will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
How long can you store Salted Caramel Sauce?
To store this caramel sauce, pour the sauce into a container, let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate. This recipe makes a generous 3 cups and keeps in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 24 Serving Size: 2 tbsp
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 196Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 34mgSodium: 120mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 0gSugar: 26gProtein: 1g