November 24, 2014

Homemade Caramel Sauce

I adore caramel! I like it in sauce, as a chewy candy, as a hard candy... you name it, I love it. Of course, many of the commercial products contain all sorts of chemicals and preservatives that I don't particularly want to eat. So I thought, why not make my own?

I knew the basics, like what was in caramel sauce (mostly sugar and cream), and how to cook it (until boiling and a light amber color). This is a quick process. So one lazy day, I figured I'd take 20 minutes and test it out.

I've made this recipe several times now, and I've learned a few things. No worries, I plan to share all those tips with you. And I plan to continue making this, with some new variations (salted caramel, anyone?), and of course I'll share that when the time comes too!

Ready to try for yourself? Here's what you need to get started:

Ignore that lemon! In my first batch, I tried adding a bit of lemon juice to help prevent crystallization, but I decided it wasn't worth the odd flavor it added to the caramel. In addition to the items above, you need a large stainless steel pot. Mine is 5 liters, a good soup pot size. You'll understand why you need such a large pot soon. 

The first rule of this recipe is to have all your ingredients measured and prepped before you begin. This sauce goes fast, so you need to be ready. Gather together:

1 cup of white granulated sugar
¼ cup of water 
1 cup of heavy cream, warmed on the stove over very low heat 
2 tablespoons of salted butter, cut into pieces
A pinch of salt
Optional: ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract

You also need a wooden spoon, your large cooking pot, a pastry brush, and a small ramekin of extra water.

Let's get busy!

Add your sugar and ¼ cup of water to the pot. Turn your heat to medium/medium-high (I leave my stove around 6 out of 10). As the mixture warms, the sugar will first dissolve into the water and then it will begin to boil. DO NO STIR!! Instead, gently swirl the pan occasionally, and then use your pastry brush (and the extra water) to wet down the sides of the pan where any sugar crystals may gather. Boiling sugar is extremely hot so be careful not to get any fingers in there.

Once the sugar is boiling, the color will slowly begin to change and brown. This is the sugar caramelizing. The darker your color, the more caramel-y and bitter the flavor will become. However, sugar also burns quite easily, so don't let it get too dark! A light to medium amber color is best.

Stages of sugar boiling

Again, NO STIRRING! If "hot" spots develop (an area where the sugar is darker than others), then gently swirl your pot to distribute.

When you've reached the desired color, pull your pot off the heat and stir in your cream. The mixture will bubble fairly violently... this is why you need such a large pot for such a small amount of caramel. See:

I know, that's a terrible picture! But you get the idea.

As soon as you add your cream, start stirring immediately with your wooden spoon. Yay, you can stir now!! Also add in the two tablespoons of butter and the salt (and vanilla, if you like). Keep stirring! The mixture will be thin at first, but it thickens as it cools.

And that's it, seriously. Easy, right?? However...

I've learned from some of my mistakes, and I want to share that with you:

1. Knowing when to pull the sugar from the heat is a bit tricky. The first time I cooked too long, and the second time I cooked too little. On my stove, it takes about 6 minutes from the time the sugar begins to boil to when it is the perfect color. But that could be different for you. This is a quick recipe with basic ingredients, so if you mess up the first time just toss it and start again. You'll figure the timing out, no worries.

2. Make sure you use full fat heavy cream, none of this wimpy half-n-half stuff. The less fat, the less rich. Also, your sauce will be thinner.

3. Make sure your vanilla hasn't gone bad, or your caramel will taste like yucky alcohol (yes, this happened to me). I like the caramel both with and without vanilla, so you don't even need to use it. I'm going to test some real vanilla beans soon, and also a sea salt caramel. I'll let you know how it goes!

4. If your sugar seizes up a bit when you add the cream, don't worry! Just place your pot back over medium heat and keep stirring until it all dissolves again. This also works if your caramel is a bit too thin after adding the cream. Warm it up a little more and it will thicken. Don't forget though... this sauce thickens as it cools, so play around with it a bit first. If your sauce is too thick, you can re-warm the mix with some additional cream to thin it out.

5. Always use a wooden spoon or spatula, no plastic or metal for stirring! I do this because the cooking gods of the internet say that I should. And so far it has worked at preventing the crystallization of my sugar.

6. Cool your caramel at room temperature before covering and placing in your fridge. You don't want any condensation in your caramel. The sauce will keep in your fridge for several weeks. 

I know caramel can be a bit intimidating, but try it just once and you'll be hooked by how easy it really is! And I bet you won't be buying anymore of those chemical-laden sauces from the store anymore either. Not when you can make your own in just a few minutes. And have it taste ten times as good! I've already converted one of my friends, now I'm out to convert the world, mwahahaha.

Stay tuned this week for an awesome, quickie "apple pie" recipe that uses this caramel. It's a great recipe for Thanksgiving, especially if you like simple recipes. You're going to love it! Until then, happy cooking!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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The Standard Form: 

Homemade Caramel Sauce


1 cup white, granulated sugar
¼ cup water
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces
Pinch salt
Optional: ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Other equipment: A wooden spoon, a large stainless steel pot (5 liters), a pastry brush, and a small ramekin of water


Have all your ingredients ready before beginning the cooking process. This goes quickly, so you need to be ready.

Add the sugar and ¼ cup of water to your pot. Cook over medium to medium-high heat until the sugar begins to boil. DO NOT STIR! Let the sugar boil and change color. Gently swirl your pan to “stir”, occasionally. One the sugar turns a golden amber color, remove from heat.

Immediately stir in your cream with a wooden spoon. The mixture will bubble violently, so be careful! (This is also why we use a large pot). Stir in the butter, salt, and vanilla next.

The caramel will be a little thin, but thickens upon standing. If the sugar seized at all when the cream is added, you can return the pot to medium heat and continue stirring until all the sugar dissolves. Cool the caramel sauce to room temperature, and then refrigerate up to two weeks.

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