Rich, gooey, decadent caramel sauce is the perfect addition to so many of your baking creations. Discover how easy it is to make at home with this easy method!
Easy Homemade Caramel Sauce
Caramel is truly a wonder. It’s capable of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Its buttery, sugary goodness drizzled over ice cream, layered into cakes, or even swirled into coffee can turn a basic treat into a decadent delight.
And I’m very happy to tell you that you can make it easily in your own kitchen!
I know that making caramel sauce can feel intimidating, but it’s surprisingly easy to make with this method. Below, you’ll find my best tips to ensure your caramel sauce comes out flawlessly every time!
Why You’ll Love This Caramel Sauce Recipe
- Simplicity meets decadence. With simple ingredients and an easy prep, you’ll achieve a luscious, buttery caramel sauce.
- Homemade goodness. When you make your own caramel sauce, you have control over the quality of ingredients, ensuring a pure, authentic flavor that’ll keep you coming back for more.
- Endless versatility. You’ll want to drizzle this decadent sauce over and in all kinds of treats. The possibilities are endless!
- Impress with ease. Serve it at gatherings, gift it in charming jars, or keep a stash in your fridge for spontaneous dessert upgrades. Your friends and family will be amazed by your caramel-making skills.
The Wet Method for Making Caramel
Generally speaking, there are two methods for making caramel – wet and dry. This recipe uses the wet method, which begins with sugar and liquid, which helps dissolve the sugar and yields a more even caramelization. The dry method begins with just sugar.
The wet method can be more forgiving because the presence of water helps prevent crystallization. This method typically yields a lighter-colored caramel with a milder flavor compared to the dry method. It’s a good starting point for beginners and recipes that require a lighter caramel.
What You’ll Need
See the recipe card below for ingredient quantities and full instructions. Here are some notes about the ingredients you’ll need to make your homemade caramel sauce.
- Granulated sugar – Make sure it is fresh and free of lumps.
- Water – This will help the sugar to dissolve.
- Light corn syrup – Just a small amount of corn syrup will help make your caramel smooth and free of crystals.
- Heavy cream – Don’t substitute here. You want heavy cream or heavy whipping cream. Let it come to room temperature so the caramel is less likely to seize.
- Butter – You can use unsalted or salted butter, depending on your taste preferences.
Equipment and Tools for Making Caramel Sauce
Having the right tools and equipment will make quite a difference when making your caramel sauce. You don’t need much, but it’s still important. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Heavy-bottomed saucepan – Choose a sturdy, heavy-bottomed saucepan with high sides. This helps distribute heat evenly and reduces the risk of burning the sugar. Make sure it’s large enough to accommodate the bubbling that will happen when the cream is added. Also, make sure it’s really clean to help avoid crystallization.
- Long-handled whisk or silicone spatula – You’ll need a reliable whisk or heatproof silicone spatula for stirring and combining the ingredients. A standard balloon whisk is fine, although I generally prefer a flat whisk. A silicone spatula is great for scraping the sides of the pan.
- Thermometer – While not strictly necessary, a thermometer is incredibly helpful for ensuring precise caramelization. It allows you to monitor the temperature and achieve the desired consistency. You can use a candy thermometer that clips to the side of your pan or an instant read thermometer.
- Oven mitts or pot holders – Caramel gets extremely hot, so a good pair of oven mitts or pot holders is essential for safety when handling the hot saucepan and pouring the caramel.
How to Make Caramel Sauce
Let’s take a detailed look at how to make your homemade caramel sauce.
Heat the sugar, water, and corn syrup. Combine these ingredients in a heavy saucepan. (As I mentioned above, make sure your pan is large because the caramel will get very bubbly.) Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Then continue cooking until the mixture comes to a boil.
Continue cooking. Stop stirring the sugar mixture, and allow it to cook until it’s a deep golden amber color. This can take a varying amount of time, due to variations in pans and cooking temperatures, but count on 8 to 12 minutes. If you’re using a thermometer, aim for about 350°F. While you shouldn’t stir during this step, you can gently swirl the pan if it’s not cooking evenly.
Add the cream. Remove the pan from the heat. Slowly and steadily pour the cream into the sugar mixture, whisking as you add it. The mixture will get very bubbly. If it should harden and seize, just return it to low heat and whisk it until it’s smooth before continuing.
Add the butter. Whisk the butter into the caramel until smooth. Continue whisking for another minute or two to make sure it’s mixed well and to help it cool a bit.
Cool completely. Let the caramel sauce cool completely before storing. It will thicken as it cools.
Store. If not using it immediately, transfer the caramel to an airtight container and place in the refrigerator.
Tips for Success
While caramel sauce is easy to make, there are a few things to keep in mind to help yours turn out perfectly. Also see the troubleshooting section below.
- Have your ingredients ready. This is always a good idea, but it’s especially helpful here when you’ll need to work quickly adding the last couple of ingredients. That also gives your cream time to come to room temperature.
- Use a heavy saucepan. Your caramel will cook more evenly and thoroughly.
- Don’t multi-task. This is a uni-tasking moment, as you’ll need to keep a close eye on the color and/or the temperature of the caramel sauce.
- Watch for hot spots. If one area of your caramel seems to be cooking faster than the rest, gently swirl the pan to redistribute. You can also rotate the pan to try to accommodate for a hot spot on your stove.
- Don’t over-cook. Caramel can go from perfect to burned pretty quickly, so don’t let it go too far. If you aren’t using a thermometer, then take it off the heat as soon as you see that golden amber color.
Despite our best efforts, making caramel doesn’t always go perfectly. Let’s look at some common issues and how to prevent or fix them.
- Sugar crystallization – The water and corn syrup in this recipe will help prevent crystallization, but it can still happen. Be sure your pan and whisk are very clean, don’t stir during cooking, and use a thermometer if possible. If you do see lumps in your caramel sauce, you can strain it to remove them.
- Burnt caramel – Your caramel can go from perfect to over-cooked quickly. Keep an eye on the color and temperature so you don’t let it cook too long.
- Separation – If your caramel should separate or become grainy, you can gently reheat it and stir until smooth.
- Too thick – Gently heat the thick caramel in a double boiler or the microwave. (You don’t want to boil it again.) If needed, stir in a small amount of warm cream.
- Too thin – Heat the caramel to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly. As it simmers and moisture evaporates, it will thicken. Keep in mind that it will continue thickening as it cools.
Try adding a pinch of sea salt for a salted caramel sauce. After the caramel sauce has cooled for a couple of minutes, add a splash of vanilla extract or bourbon for a wonderful flavor twist. If you’d like to add some warm spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, whisk those into the cream before adding to the caramel. You can also mix a pinch of espresso powder into the cream before adding it. For those of us who enjoy nutty desserts, stir some chopped nuts into the caramel sauce while it’s still warm.
There are so many delicious ways to use your homemade caramel! Use it simply to dress up a bowl of ice cream or stir it into your coffee. It can be used as a fruit dip or even as a topping for waffles and pancakes. And, of course, you can use it as a dessert topping. You’ll love it on caramel apple cheesecake bars, bread pudding, cheesecake, brownies, or a slice of chocolate cake.
How to Store
Place your cooled caramel sauce in an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator. It should keep up to 2 weeks. If you want to reheat it, you can do that in the microwave on low power or in a saucepan over low heat.
Can Caramel Sauce Be Frozen?
If you want to extend the shelf life further, caramel sauce can be frozen. Use a freezer-safe container, leaving some room for expansion. It can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator before reheating.