Can we tell you a secret?
Caramel sauce is ridiculously easy to make at home. It really, truly is. All you need is a few ingredients, a saucepan and a candy thermometer. Then, in just about 30 minutes you can make it at home — yourself. No fancy expensive store-bought jars of sauce needed.
This caramel sauce is addictive, especially when drizzled over butter pecan ice cream, brownies or whatever else you can get your hands on. We even show you how to turn it into salted caramel sauce — all you do is add salt. Simple!
Caramel Sauce Recipe – Just Five Ingredients + 30 Minutes
You will need sugar, water, lemon juice, heavy cream and vanilla extract.
If you love the combo or salt and sweet, you will also need salt.
How to Make Caramel Sauce
Add the sugar, water and lemon juice to a large saucepan over low heat. Stir just to combine, but be careful not to slosh the sugar up the sides of the pan. Cook over low heat until the sugar has dissolved into the water. This would be a good time to add a candy thermometer to the pan, too!
What’s the lemon juice for? When making caramel you risk something called crystallization. Not good. You see, we want the caramel to be smooth and silky. If crystallization occurs, the sauce can be grainy or worse — unusable! Lemon juice is our little failsafe to prevent crystallization. You can make the sauce without it, but we like throwing it in there for good measure. Oh, and in case you were worried, we haven’t noticed a huge difference in flavor with lemon juice added.
Now, go ahead and increase the heat, stop stirring the mixture and bring the sugar to 350° F. This step takes around 10 minutes, but stay close. Remember, you are working with very hot sugar, so be careful. If you need to, gently swirl the pan carefully to disperse any hot spots.
At 350° F, the caramel will look like this, dark amber.
Turn off the heat, then add the cream and vanilla. It will bubble violently, so stand back a bit.
Now, place the pan back onto the heat and stir until smooth. Don’t worry if the caramel is lumpy at first, any lumps will melt into the caramel after a minute or two. Then, allow the caramel to cool. You could give it a taste at this point… just be careful and blow on the spoon before trying — remember it is crazy hot right now.
Once cooled, you can store the sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for two weeks! Although, we doubt it would last that long. When you want to use it, throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds and pour over whatever you desire… me? I went for butter pecan ice cream.
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- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- Make Caramel Sauce: Combine cream and vanilla, set aside.
- Add sugar and water to a very clean medium heavy bottomed saucepan. Gently stir so that the sugar is just moistened by the water.
- Cook the sugar, water and lemon juice over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear, about 10 minutes. Do not stir while the sugar cooks.
- Cover the pot with a lid for one minute. (This adds steam to the pot and washes any sugar clinging to the sides of the pan down into the sugar syrup, preventing crystallization).
- Remove lid and attach a very clean candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Increase heat to medium and cook, without stirring, until the sugar reaches 350º F, 5 to 10 minutes. (You can occasionally and gently tilt the saucepan from side-to-side to distribute any hot spots, but do not use a spoon).
- Once the caramel reaches 350º F, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the vanilla cream. The caramel WILL splatter and bubble violently, just stand back and be careful during this step. Don’t worry if the caramel hardens, it will melt back into a silky smooth caramel in a minute.
- Place the caramel back onto the burner over low heat and cook for 2 minutes, constantly stirring until the solids have dissolved and the caramel is silky smooth. Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon of salt then cool to room temperature. As the caramel cools, taste it to see if you need to add additional salt — be careful, though, it might still be very hot! Check that it’s cooled enough first.
- To Store: Cover tightly and keep in the refrigerator up to two weeks. It will drizzle cold, but is even more wonderful warmed slightly.
It is essential that everything used when making caramel is clean. We’re talking the pan, thermometer, measuring cups and even the water-sugar mixture. Impurities can turn perfectly good caramel into a crystalized mess. So disheartening! Double check before you start - it’s worth it.
Once the sugar dissolves don’t stir until the cream is added in the end — the most you want to do is to gently tilt or swirl the pan from side-to-side to ensure everything cooks evenly.
Use lemon juice. This is optional, but we highly recommend it. You see, if you add lemon juice to the water and sugar in the beginning of the caramel making process, it can help prevent crystallization. Not everyone uses this, but we do — it’s a little failsafe we’re happy to include. No one wants a failed caramel, right?