Sure, you can buy it from the store, but homemade Caramel Sauce tastes a thousand times better and is simple to make. It only takes 15 minutes!
“Fresher tastes better.”
It’s something we all hear over and over again about food.
Well, let me tell you…it’s SOOOOO true when it comes to caramel.
It’s easy to pick up a jar of caramel sauce from the grocery store, but it won’t taste nearly as good as the freshly homemade stuff.
And as much of a scary reputation that it has, it’s totally doable for cooks of all levels. There are a lot of comments below from people who have had success with this recipe, and you don’t even need a thermometer to make this homemade caramel sauce!
Caramel is a great finishing ingredient for cheesecakes, over ice cream, or for dipping with apples. I also loving using it for this Caramel Apple Crisp, one of my all-time favorite desserts.
How to Make Caramel Sauce:
To get started, place a cup of granulated sugar in a saucepan, and give it a little shake so the sugar lays flat in an even layer. Then add 1/3 cup of water, which should moisten all of the sugar:
Turn the heat to medium and cook (do not stir!) until the sugar dissolves into a clear syrup.
It will look cloudy at first, but eventually give way to a clear, bubbling liquid. You can see some spots of cloudiness below where the sugar is dissolving, as well as some clear spots:
Continue to cook the caramel, and watch as it begins to take on an amber color:
Do not leave the caramel’s side, and have 3/4 cup of heavy cream standing by.
Once the caramel has gotten a golden color, like honey, turn off the heat and immediately add the heavy cream:
This will stop the caramel from continuing to cook.
Now add two tablespoons of butter:
Continue stirring until the caramel has an even texture.
(And if the caramel seizes up when you add the cream and butter, do not worry! It should smooth out with more stirring and residual heat).
The caramel sauce will look foamy, like this:
Eventually as the heat dissipates, the caramel will settle down:
Right now the mixture will look very thin and runny, but the caramel sauce will thicken as it cools.
I find the caramel has the best drizzling consistency at room temperature.
The caramel is now ready to be enjoyed! I love using it in this Caramel Apple Crisp recipe.
For another caramel dessert, this Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache Tart is also fantastic!
Caramel sauce tips and questions:
- How long will homemade caramel sauce keep? I’ve found it will keep in the fridge for at least a month.
- Can you freeze caramel sauce? Yes, for a few months. Thaw it in the fridge or in a water bath before serving.
- Does caramel sauce need to be refrigerated? Yes, because of the cream and butter. It will get very thick as it cools, so reheat as necessary.
- Can you reheat caramel sauce? Yes, either in the microwave or on the stovetop. Heating the caramel will make it thinner and runnier, FYI.
- Why does caramel crystallize? Usually what happens is you get a few crystallized sugar spots on the sides of the pan, where water evaporated and the sugar granules turned into crystals again, and this sets off a chain reaction for the entire pan.
- How do you keep caramel from crystallizing? The easiest way off the bat is to prevent any crystallization on the sides from happening by using a wet pastry brush to wash down the sugar from the walls of the pan. An alternative is to put a lid on the pan for a minute or two when you see crystals forming, which will use steam/condensation from the lid to wash down the sides. Another option is to use a little bit of corn syrup (2 tablespoons) to prevent crystallization. However, a lot of people don’t like to add corn syrup and you don’t need it to make caramel. Finally, never stir the caramel until you’re adding the cream.
- Can you fix crystallized caramel? YES! You don’t need to start over or throw it away. Add 1/4 cup of water and bring the sugar back to a boil. Heating it up with the water should re-dissolve and moisten the crystals. Then you can proceed with the recipe and start getting some color on the sugar.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp salted butter*
- 1 tsp vanilla extract optional
- Add the sugar to a heavy bottomed saucepan, then shake it so it lies in an even, flat layer.
- Add the water to fully moisten the sugar.
- Place the pot over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves and turns clear, a few minutes.
- Raise the heat to medium high, and cook the caramel until it turns amber colored**, about 10 minutes.
- Turn the heat off and immediately add the heavy cream. It's okay if the caramel seizes up.
- Add the butter and stir everything together until the caramel smooths out. If it's still clumpy, turn the heat back on to medium, and gently stir for a few minutes until it's smooth. When finished cooking, add vanilla extract, if desired.
- Let the caramel sauce cool to room temperature, then transfer to a jar and refrigerate.
- The caramel can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 month, or in the freezer for 3 months.
Post updated from the archives with new photos, new text, and more tips in August 2018. Originally published March 2012.