Easy Caramel Sauce

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Let’s learn How To Make Caramel Sauce! Our easy homemade caramel sauce recipe is great for beginners and pros alike. You’ll love it on ice cream, cake, brownies and more!

Scooping a spoonful of easy caramel sauce

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!)…

ingredients for homemade caramel sauce

Simple Ingredients To Get Started

As always, you can find the full recipe, with ingredient amounts, detailed instructions, and tips in the recipe card below!

  • Sugar. Caramel is simply caramelized sugar, so caramel sauce starts with granulated sugar (aka 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.

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 made using the dry method, 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.

preparing caramel sauce before boiling
caramel sauce turning deep amber as it boils
finishing caramel sauce and pouring it into a jar

How To Make Homemade 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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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 of the pan so there aren’t a bunch of sugar crystals on the sides. (This helps prevent crystallization.) You can also use a wet pastry brush dipped in water to brush down the sides.
  3. Boil Till Deep Amber. Paying close attention, 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 caramel is a deep amber color (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!
  4. 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.
  5. Stir In Butter, Vanilla & Salt. Add in the butter, vanilla, and salt and whisk until smooth and uniform.
  6. Cool & Store. Let caramel sauce cool a bit, then pour into a heat-proof airtight container or glass jar and store in the fridge up to 2 weeks. (Note that the hot caramel looks much thinner than it will after the caramel cools.) 
three jars of caramel sauce with different doneness-too dark, just right, and too light.

Did You Burn The Sugar Mixture? If you finish the boiling step and the sugar is burned, do NOT finish adding the other ingredients. You’ll need to start over. Burned caramel tastes acrid and deeply bitter, and can’t be fixed.

Pouring thick homemade caramel sauce into a jar

12+ Delicious Ways To use Caramel Sauce

Now that you know how to MAKE homemade caramel, let’s talk about how to USE it! (Spoiler: this is the best part)

  1. Browniescaramel brownies, turtle brownies, brownie sundaes…yes please!
  2. Pie – it’s amazing on apple pie, pear pie, and drizzling on slices of banoffee pie
  3. Ice Cream – Pour a little caramel sauce on your favorite scoop of ice cream (or ice cream sundaes!). Vanilla ice cream, chocolate, brownie, salted caramel, snickerdoodle…so many flavors! Or swirl it right into homemade ice cream!
  4. Cheesecake – It’s amazing swirled into or drizzled onto cheesecake bars, pumpkin cheesecake, apple cheesecake, and more
  5. Cake – Use as a filling in between layers over frosting, or drizzle on slices, as with this apple spice bundt cake
  6. Cookies – Use a little caramel sauce to add flair to caramel stuffed snickerdoodles, brownie cookies, etc.
  7. Cupcakes! Drizzle a bit over swirls of frosting, like we did on our pumpkin cupcakes or use it to fill your cupcakes!
  8. Drinks – Try caramel apple cider, caramel macchiatos, or garnish a cup of hot chocolate with caramel sauce and whipped cream
  9. Buttercream – Whip up a fluffy batch of caramel frosting!
  10. Dip – Use as a caramel fondue-style dessert dip for pretzels, banana slices, apples, graham crackers, etc.
  11. Bread Pudding – Drizzle over bread pudding for a gorgeous finish!
  12. Apple Crisp. Seriously. Caramel Apple Crisp is a REVELATION.
  13. On A Spoon. Just kidding! Sort of!

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!) Instead, feel free to serve it as a caramel dip for apple slices!

front view of a jar of easy caramel sauce

FAQ + Tips And Tricks For The Best Caramel Sauce

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Bonus Tip: How to Clean Caramel Or Burned 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!

Caramel Safety Tips

Hot caramel (and melted sugar in general) is EXTREMELY hot and can easily cause burns. Make sure you use a large enough saucepan or pot to avoid splatters, and use oven mitts as needed to help protect your hands. Do NOT touch hot caramel or attempt to taste it until it cools down.

Using a spoon to stir easy homemade caramel sauce

More Recipes For Caramel Lovers

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Scooping a spoonful of easy caramel sauce

Easy Caramel Sauce (For Beginners!)


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5 from 2 reviews

  • Author: Emily Dixon, Sweets & Thank You
  • Total Time: 12 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup caramel sauce 1x
  • Diet: Gluten Free
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Description

Our easy caramel sauce recipe is great for beginners and pros alike. You’ll love it on ice cream, cake, brownies and more! 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (reduce to 1/3 cup for thicker caramel sauce)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/23/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. Combine Sugar, Corn Syrup & Water. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Whisk to combine well and wipe down the sides of the pan 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.
  3. Boil Till Deep Amber. Turn the heat to medium heat to medium-high heat and WITHOUT STIRRING, let the sugar mixture come to a boil. Boil the caramel for 8-10 minutes, or until the bubbles slow down somewhat, and the color is deep amber (about the color of a penny). The caramel sauce will only be as dark as the caramelized sugar, so don’t pull it off the heat early! The exact time will vary based on your environment and stove heat, so watch for color cues.
  4. Carefully Whisk In The Cream. Remove from the heat, and carefully whisk in the cream. The cream will stop the cooking process but will immediately bubbles and steam. Whisk quickly and watch out for splatters! Whisk until it’s smooth.
  5. Stir In Butter, Vanilla & Salt. Add in the butter, vanilla, and salt and whisk until smooth and uniform.
  6. Cool & Store. Pour the caramel sauce into a heat-proof container or jar and store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Caramel sauce will thicken and turn more opaque as it cools. To loosen it up to a pourable consistency, remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before using and let it come to room temperature, or microwave in 10-20 second increments until smooth and glossy again. 

Notes

  • Resist The Urge To Stir! I know it’s tempting to try to help things along by stirring the caramel as the sugar is caramelizing, but this only increases your chances of crystallization which will cause the caramel to seize. Just prepare the pan properly (wipe down the sides), and let it do its thing while the sugar dissolves and caramelizes. 
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American
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2 Comments

  1. Made this last week when I made the apple crumble. I had to modify a bit since I didn’t have some of the ingredients and I’m dairy free. I didn’t have corn syrup, so used the agave syrup I had. Used MALK almond milk instead of the heavy cream and used ghee instead of the butter. It is delicious and decadent. And it’s amazing with the apple crumble!






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