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Irresistible Caramel Sauce Recipe

by on February 1, 2012 · 26 comments

Seriously Irresistible Caramel Sauce Recipe

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.

Salted Caramel Sauce-1

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.

Salted Caramel Sauce-2

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.

Salted Caramel Sauce-4

Turn off the heat, then add the cream and vanilla. It will bubble violently, so stand back a bit.

Seriously Irresistible Caramel Recipe 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.

Seriously Irresistible Caramel RecipeOnce 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.

You May Also Like

Have you seen our simple salted caramels? You might also want to check out The Pioneer Woman’s easy caramel sauce recipe.

5.0 from 5 reviews
Irresistible Caramel Sauce Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Making your own caramel is not difficult at all. You will need a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan for this. (Lightweight and thin pans heat up unevenly and can create hotspots). It’s also best to use a candy thermometer. You could go by your gut and the color of the caramel, but a thermometer makes the process more precise and much less stressful (for us, anyway).
Yield: 2 cups
You Will Need
  • 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
Directions
  1. Make Caramel Sauce: Combine cream and vanilla, set aside.
  2. Add sugar and water to a very clean medium heavy bottomed saucepan. Gently stir so that the sugar is just moistened by the water.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. To Store: Cover tightly and keep in the refrigerator up to two weeks. It will drizzle cold, but is even more wonderful warmed slightly.
Notes and Tips
Keep a bowl of ice water near or make sure you’ve got access to cold water from the sink. Caramel is very, very hot and will burn you if it gets on your skin. It’s also a good idea to use oven mitts when moving the pot around, just in case some caramel spits or splashes in your direction.

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?

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About the Author

Joanne

I'm Joanne Gallagher and alongside my husband, Adam, I develop, test and share favorite recipes from our kitchen. I'm completely in love with food and you'll most likely find me covered in flour, chocolate or both.

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26 Comments

1 Katie February 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm

oh my… how i love thee caramel! I really need to buy a candy thermometer ASAP!

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2 Joanne February 2, 2012 at 9:16 am

yes you do :)
-joanne

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3 Simply Tia February 2, 2012 at 8:04 pm

This looks great. Pity I don’t have a candy thermometer but as soon as I get one, I’ll be making this!

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4 Mercedes February 2, 2012 at 8:29 pm

This looks so yummy and the step-by-step photos are so helpful!

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5 Jess @ littlegirlbigappetite February 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm

This looks awesome! Great step by step instructions too :)

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6 Whitney Pannell February 9, 2012 at 7:50 am

this looks easy an delicious. Can’t wait to try it!

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7 Alia Balindong June 5, 2012 at 2:46 am

Thank you for this.

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8 Ralph Crosson September 25, 2012 at 11:51 am

It is wonderful.

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9 Sara September 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Can you use dark brown sugar instead of white?

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10 Joanne October 2, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Hi Sara, We’ve never tried it. It should work fine, the caramel will just be darker.

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11 Jim January 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I’ve been making peanut brittle for years and never bothered making caramel or caramel sauce, having read these two excellent recipes I will most certainly be giving them a go – would you mind if I posted my results on my blog?

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12 Adam January 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm

So glad you liked them. We would love for you to post your results on your blog!

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13 Jim January 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Thanks Adam, I’ve just made the salted caramel and they are very tasty – probably post tomorrow – thanks so much for a simple yet delicious recipe

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14 Lauren July 18, 2013 at 8:08 pm

This is my favorite easy caramel sauce recipe. I put it over ice cream, spiced apples, and love it in my coffee in the morning, so I make it A LOT…. and wanted to share a few tips. 1. Make sure the cream is room temperature. The first time I put cold cream in the hot mixture it curdled. 2. Use the candy thermometer, even if you think you know what the sugar mixture looks like when it’s ready. I tried to cut corners one day and added the cream too soon. The sugar had not quite caramelized yet, even though it was bubbly and starting to brown, and I ended up with a milky simple syrup. Waiting that extra minute or two was the difference between (almost) disaster and perfection (I still used my concoction for sweetener in my coffee – no point in wasting sugar!)

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15 Ivana August 17, 2013 at 3:27 am

Just one word: BEAUTIFUL. Rich flavor of caramel will melt in your mouth. I didn’t have a candy thermometer, but the pictures were very easy to follow so I had no problem in guessing the right temperature. I made turtle cake with it and I know it will be delicious. I will keep you posted. Thank you!

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16 Joanne August 17, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Oh, a turtle cake … Yum! So glad you enjoyed it.

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17 Emily November 13, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I was super excited to try this… and I did… and I burned sugar… really bad. For some reason my candy thermometer failed to let me know I had passed 350 until the caramel started smoking… My house smells like burned sugar and I almost got molten sugar everywhere. Make sure your thermometer actually works correctly before attempting this.

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18 Joanne November 18, 2013 at 11:19 am

That stinks, Emily. Sometimes, even with the right equipment, it is best to keep an eye and trust your gut when cooking. Next time, if you start to smell burning or if you think the caramel looks too dark, take it off the heat. It should smell sweet and a little nutty and should be amber in color.

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19 Terri November 28, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Thank you for this recipe! I’ve tried numerous caramel sauces trying to find the right blend of flavors and ease of preparation. This one is great! I wanted an extra salty sauce to top a cheesecake, so I upped the salt to one tablespoon. It might sound like a lot, but if you like sweet/salty this is decadent!

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20 Isabelle December 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I followed exactly the steps, and it DID NOT WORK! So disappointed! when i added the cream, it ended being just a big ball of hardened sugar, and some diluted cream. Really frustrated about wasting so much cream and sugar.

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21 Joanne December 30, 2013 at 11:17 am

Bummer – so sorry it didn’t work. When you add the cream, the sugar will come into a ball at first, but then should melt back down into a caramel sauce after a minute or so.

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22 Naiyya June 25, 2014 at 3:35 am

Hi Joanne,
I happened to chance upon your blog and am so so glad I did.
I love the one bowl concept you work with-it completely agrees with me. Your write-ups, videos and illustrations are very constructive. Please do keep up the great work you are doing. I am now hooked to your blog so the impeaching!
Looking forward to your updates.
Naiyya

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23 Joanne August 8, 2014 at 11:30 am

Thank you so much!

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