Making your own caramel sauce 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). We love turning this into salted caramel sauce, but the addition of salt is completely up to you.
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 sea salt, plus more as needed
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 350 degrees 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 350 degrees 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 sauce 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 salt then cool to room temperature. As the caramel cools, taste 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.