How To Make Caramel Sauce – Our easy caramel sauce recipe is great for beginners and pros alike. You’ll love it on ice cream, cake, brownies and more!
Do you have a baking nemesis? Some recipe or technique that’s doggedly hard for you to get just right? Maybe it’s bread, maybe it’s a fancy pie crust, maybe it’s decorating cakes.
Mine used to be caramel.
It felt like 9/10 times *something* would go wrong–the sugar would crystalize, the caramel would seize, it either wouldn’t cook it long enough or cook it too long, etc. I lost count of how many batches I ruined over the years. It got to the point where I felt like it was never worth it to try to make my own.
Then, I discovered a secret that changed EVERYTHING.
One little trick–just ONE little ingredient(!!!)–basically guarantees caramel success. Now, I can make homemade caramel sauce with 100% success, every single time. (Take THAT baking nemesis!)
If you’ve ever scorched, or undercooked, or crystallized a batch of caramel sauce in the past, I really think this easy caramel recipe will change the game for you, like it did for me. And once you give it a try, a whole new, deliciously caramel-filled world will open up to you.
Ready? Here’s what you need to make our homemade caramel sauce recipe (no candy thermometer needed!)…
Here’s What You Need To Make Homemade Caramel:
- Sugar. Caramel is simply caramelized sugar, so caramel sauce starts with regular white sugar. We’re big fans of organic cane sugar for quality & taste. (Costco even sells it in bulk!)
- Corn Syrup. Next is the magic ingredient that makes this easy caramel sauce practically fool proof. Corn syrup is an invert sugar that helps prevent sugar crystals in the caramel. You can use glucose syrup if you prefer, but corn syrup is easy to find and gives me consistent results every time. (Note: corn syrup isn’t the same thing as high fructose corn syrup used in packaged goods!)
- Water. Easy! This helps dissolve the sugar before you caramelize it.
- Heavy Whipping Cream. Cool cream helps stop the cooking process and gives this caramel sauce a creamy finish. I don’t recommend substituting milk or anything lower in fat, or your sauce will be quite thin.
- Butter. A little butter rounds out the flavor and texture. I prefer salted butter here, but if unsalted butter is what you have on hand or prefer, consider adding a few extra flakes of salt.
- Vanilla. Then a splash of vanilla extract deepens the color even more, and plays up the sweet caramel notes of the sauce.
- Kosher Salt. I prefer my caramel sauce in the salted caramel sauce family, so I’ve given a range for the salt. If you prefer your caramel sweeter, you can reduce the salt to 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or even a pinch of salt.
How To Make Caramel Sauce, Step By Step:
There are two methods to making caramel. The first is the dry method, where no liquid is added to the sugar before it melts and caramelizes. The second (and, in my opinion, easier) method is the wet method, where you add liquid to the sugar before boiling. We’ll be using the wet method today!
- Get Everything Ready First. Things will move quickly once you get started, so measure & set aside all your ingredients close by so you can easily reach and add things as needed.
- Combine Sugar, Corn Syrup & Water. In a medium saucepan or pot, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Whisk to combine well and wipe down the sides so there aren’t a bunch of sugar crystals on the sides. (This helps prevent crystallization.) You can also use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down the sides.
- Boil Till Deep Amber. Turn the heat to medium-high and WITHOUT STIRRING, let the sugar mixture melt and come to a boil. Boil the caramel for about 8-10 minutes, or until the bubbles slow down somewhat, and the color is deep amber (about the color of an old penny). The caramel sauce will only be as dark as the caramelized sugar, so don’t pull it off the heat early!
- Carefully Whisk In The Cream. Remove from the heat, and immediately whisk in the cream. The cream will stop the cooking process but will immediately bubble and steam. Whisk quickly and watch out for splatters! Whisk until it’s smooth.
- Stir In Butter, Vanilla & Salt. Add in the butter, vanilla, and salt and whisk until smooth and uniform.
- Cool & Store. Pour the caramel sauce into a heat-proof airtight container or jar and store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
10+ Delicious Ways To use Caramel Sauce:
- Brownies – caramel brownies, turtle brownies, brownie sundaes…yes please!
- Pie – it’s amazing on apple pie, pear pie, and drizzling on slices of banoffee pie
- Ice Cream – Pour a little caramel sauce on your favorite scoop of ice cream. Vanilla ice cream, chocolate, brownie, salted caramel, snickerdoodle…so many flavors!
- Cheesecake – It’s amazing swirled into or drizzled onto cheesecake bars, pumpkin or apple cheesecake, and more
- Cake – Use as a filling in between layers over frosting, or drizzle on slices, as with this apple spice bundt cake
- Cookies – Use a little caramel sauce to add flair to caramel stuffed snickerdoodles, brownie cookies, etc.
- Cupcakes! Drizzle a bit over swirls of frosting, like we did here, or use it to fill your cupakes!
- Drinks – Try caramel apple cider, or garnish a cup of cocoa with caramel sauce and whipped cream
- Buttercream – Whip up a fluffy batch of caramel frosting!
- Dip – Use as a caramel fondue-style dessert dip for pretzels, banana slices, apples, graham crackers, etc.
- Bread Pudding – Drizzle over bread pudding for a gorgeous finish!
- On A Spoon. Just kidding! Sort of!
FAQ + Tips And Tricks For The BEst Caramel Sauce
CAN I MAKE THIS CARAMEL SAUCE WITHOUT THE CORN SYRUP? Yes, but it will drastically increase the level of difficulty. Corn syrup acts as a solution that prevents the formation of crystals and keeps your caramel sauce smooth. Classic caramel, which is more difficult, does not use corn syrup, but is trickier. If you omit the corn syrup, use an additional 2 tablespoons of water.
WHY DID MY CARAMEL SAUCE CRYSTALLIZE? The most common culprits are stirring during boiling and not dissolving the sugar in the water properly before increasing the heat. This causes the sucrose molecules in the sugar to pile up and turn into crystals. If you want to get into the chemical structure & science of why, Bake School has the most comprehensive article on crystallization I’ve ever read.
HOW TO PREVENT CRYSTALS IN CARAMEL SAUCE? So now that you know what causes crystals, how do you prevent caramel sauce from crystallizing? These are my best tips:
- Use corn syrup (invert sugar) along with water. The glucose and fructose of corn syrup/invert sugars helps prevent the sucrose molecules in the sugar from piling up and forming crystals.
- Dissolve the sugar in the corn syrup & water before turning on the heat. Before you turn up the heat, stir or whisk the sugar into the liquids to help it start dissolving. Wipe down any extra sugar crystals on the size of your pan before you turn on the heat.
- Do NOT stir once you turn on the heat. Once you’re actually cooking and boiling the caramel, DO NOT STIR. Just let it do its thing.
HOW TO CLEAN CARAMEL OR CRYSTALLIZED SUGAR OFF A SAUCEPAN: Ok, just throwing this out there. Sometimes you still get burned sugar or crystals on your pan. The easiest way to clean a pan with burned sugar or crystals is with hot water. Pour hot water in and let it sit for a few minutes, or put the pan on low heat with hot water in the pan, stirring regularly to dissolve the sugar. It sometimes takes a few minutes, but it always works for me!
CAN I USE THIS TO MAKE CARAMEL APPLES? No. This recipe isn’t the same as the thick, candy-like caramel you need to make caramel apples. But this caramel apple recipe is!