Homemade Caramel Sauce tastes a thousand times better than any version you’d buy at the store, and is simple to make. It only takes 15 minutes! Use it for dipping apple slices, or topping ice cream sundaes, cheesecake, banoffee pie, coffee drinks like caramel macchiato, and more. No thermometer needed!

Caramel Sauce In a Glass Jar with Caramel Dripping Down the Side

“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. Here we will use only four simple ingredients: sugar, cream, butter, and optional vanilla extract.

It’s easy to pick up a jar of caramel sauce from the grocery store, but it won’t taste nearly as good as your own caramel sauce, freshly homemade from scratch. 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 easy recipe, and you don’t even need a candy thermometer to make this homemade caramel sauce!

Tips for Best Results

Use a quality heavy-bottomed pan – Cookware varies wildly in quality. If you have a thin and cheap pan, the heat will be less consistent and the caramel will be more prone to problems. Use a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Shake the sugar flat before adding the water – Once you add liquid to the sugar, you won’t want to touch or move anything, in order to prevent crystallization. So shake the sugar flat in the pan before adding the water, so it all moistens evenly.

Don’t touch the pan! – Until you add the cream, the pan should not be touched at all once the sugar has been moistened with the water. No stirring, no swirling, no movement at all. This prevents crystallization.

Caramel Recipe Served in a Glass Jar with Apple Slice Dipped In

How to Avoid Crystallization

If you follow the below instructions precisely, you should not have any issues with crystallization. The biggest cause of crystallization is from stirring or swirling the pan. The pan should not be touched AT ALL once the water has been added, and until the cream is added to stop the cooking.

Why does caramel crystallize? It’s almost always triggered by some kind of early agitation before the sugar has been fortified with fat, like cream and butter. First you’ll 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? If you properly shake the sugar to flatten in the pan, then do not touch or move the pan after adding the water, crystallization should not happen. However, if for whatever reason it does, use a wet pastry brush to wash down any 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 sugar crystals forming, which will use steam/condensation from the lid to wash down the sides. Another preventative option is to use a little bit of light 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. Most importantly, never stir the caramel until you’ve added 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 mixture 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.

Step by Step Overview:

To get started, place a cup of granulated sugar in a medium 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:

Pouring Water Into Saucepan with Granulated Sugar

Turn the stove to medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves into a clear syrup. Remember, do not stir, and do not touch!

Can you use brown sugar?

I do not recommend swapping brown sugar in here. First, know that using brown sugar will give you quite a different flavor from white sugar, due to its molasses content. But additionally, you are supposed to use less brown sugar, as they are not a 1:1 swap. If you want to use brown sugar, I recommend searching for a specific recipe designed for its use.

The sugar mixture will look cloudy at first, but eventually will 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:

Boiling Sugar Syrup in Saucepan

Continue to cook the caramel over medium-high heat, and watch as it begins to take on an amber color:

Caramel Sugar Syrup Boiling in saucepan

Pay close attention, do not leave the caramel’s side, and have 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream standing by.

Once the hot caramel has developed a golden color, like honey, turn off the heat and immediately add the heavy cream:

Pouring Cream Into Caramel Sugar Syrup in Saucepan

This will stop the caramel from continuing to cook.

What temperature is needed?

A thermometer is not needed for this recipe, as I’ve found it very reliable to go off color, and a thermometer can risk crystallizing the sugar if it moves around too much. However, if you insist on measuring, a temperature between 338 and 350F is your target. Above 350F, you’ll start to smell (and later taste) a burned, bitter quality. Below 338, and you won’t have proper color and caramelization.

Now add two tablespoons of salted butter. Or, you may use unsalted butter, and season to taste with sea salt. I recommend starting with 1/8 teaspoon, and adding more if desired. I would not add more than 1 teaspoon of kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon of regular table salt. Those amounts will turn this into more of a salted caramel sauce, so be mindful of that.

Stirring Butter Pat Into Foaming Homemade Caramel Sauce

Continue stirring until the caramel has an even texture.

What if the mixture seizes?

If the caramel sauce seizes up when you add the cream and butter, do not worry! This is normal and there is nothing wrong. It should smooth out with more stirring and residual heat, in about a minute or two. If for whatever reason it doesn’t, turn the heat back to medium low and stir for a couple minutes more.

The caramel sauce will look foamy upon adding the cream and butter, like this:

Homemade Caramel in Saucepan Foaming and Bubbling As it cooks

Eventually as the heat dissipates, the caramel will settle down:

Caramel Sauce Recipe In saucepan Fully Cooked

It needs to cool to thicken

Right now while the mixture is hot, it will look very thin and runny, but the sauce will thicken as the caramel cools. I find the caramel has the best drizzling consistency at room temperature. If you refrigerate it, it may become too thick to drizzle, and you’ll need to warm it slightly. You can do this gently in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove.

spoon drizzling homemade caramel sauce into a jar

To keep your delicious caramel sauce from absorbing off flavors from the fridge, make sure to store your finished sauce in an airtight glass container or mason jar.

Suggestions for Serving

Caramel is a great topping or finishing ingredient for elevating all of your favorite desserts, but it can also be mixed into lots of different recipes.

Drizzle over cheesecake like Mini Cheesecakes with Gingersnap Crust and Raspberry Sauce, or your favorite ice cream (try my Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream Without An Ice Cream Machine).

Serve as a dip for cut apples, or incorporate it into any apple dessert like this Caramel Apple Crisp or Apple Tarte Tatin.

Bread Pudding is also great with a drizzle of fresh caramel, or add a few spoonfuls to the blender of your favorite milkshake, like this Toasted Marshmallow & Malt Milkshake or Apple Pie Milkshake.

Caramel In a Jar with Spoon and Apple Slices on Side

Tips and FAQ

How long will homemade caramel sauce keep?

It will keep in the refrigerator for at least one month. Store in an airtight container so it does not absorb any off odors from the fridge.

Can you freeze this homemade caramel sauce recipe?

Yes, for up to 3 months. Store in an airtight container so it does not absorb any off odors from the freezer. Thaw it in the fridge overnight or in a water bath before serving.

Does homemade caramel sauce need to be refrigerated?

Yes! The cream, butter, and sugar all need refrigeration. It will get very thick as it cools, so reheat as necessary to achieve a drizzling consistency again.

How do you reheat caramel sauce?

In a microwave-safe container, microwave in 15 second intervals until warm and able to be drizzled. Or, heat over medium low heat in a saucepan on the stove, until warm. Heating the caramel makes the consistency thinner and runnier.

How do you keep caramel from crystallizing?

Do not stir, swirl, or even touch the pan once you’ve added the water. If you run into crystallization somehow, use 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 preventative 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. Most importantly, never stir the caramel until you’ve added 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.

Can you use this recipe for coating caramel apples?

No, this will not work, as it’s not thick enough. This is too much of a fluid and creamy caramel sauce for that. I recommend looking up caramel recipes that are specifically designed for dipping whole apples.

Did you enjoy the recipe? Please leave a 5-star rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page.

Homemade Caramel Sauce in Jar with Apples

Homemade Caramel Sauce

This Homemade Caramel Sauce tastes a hundred times better than what you can buy from the store, and it’s simple to make.
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp salted butter*
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract optional

Instructions 

  • 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. Do not stir or agitate the sugar in any way once the water has been added. It's okay if a few spots didn't moisten, don't touch it.
  • 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 (and expected) if the caramel seizes up when adding the cream.
  • Add the butter and stir everything together until the caramel smooths out. If it's still clumpy, turn the heat back on to low, 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.

Notes

If you want to add salt to the caramel, stir in 1/2 tsp at the end along with the vanilla extract.
Yield: about 1 cup caramel sauce.
*You can also use unsalted butter, then salt to taste. Start with 1/8 tsp.
**If you have a thermometer, the temperature target window is between 338 and 350F. Above 350 and you’ll start to smell (and later taste) a burned, bitter quality. Below 338, and you won’t have proper color and caramelization.
Storing leftovers: Keep in the fridge for 1 month, or in the freezer for 3 months. Store in an airtight container so the caramel sauce doesn’t absorb any off odors.
Freezing: Keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. To thaw, leave in the fridge overnight, or to quick thaw, place into a warm water bath until it thaws.
Reheating: In a microwave-safe container, microwave in 15 second intervals until warm and able to be drizzled. Or, heat over medium low heat in a saucepan on the stove, until warm. Heating the caramel makes the consistency thinner and runnier.
Crystallization: See the blog post for in-depth discussion on crystallization. It is absolutely essential to not stir or move the pan at all once the sugar has been moistened with water, and before the cream is added. Once the cream is added, its fat will fortify the mixture and allow the mixture to be stirred without risk of crystallization.
How to fix crystallized caramel: 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 200kcal, Carbohydrates: 25g, Fat: 11g, Saturated Fat: 6g, Cholesterol: 38mg, Sodium: 34mg, Potassium: 16mg, Sugar: 25g, Vitamin A: 415IU, Vitamin C: 0.2mg, Calcium: 14mg

Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.

Post updated from the archives with new photos, new text, and more tips in August 2018. Originally published March 2012.