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The Single Best Way to Make Caramel and Caramel Sauce

Once you've made caramel sauce, you're only a a step away from making salted caramel sauce.

Caramel may at first seem too tricky to make yourself, but that couldn't be further from the truth. As long as you're willing to focus and follow the technique exactly, you can't mess it up.

Caramel is just melted sugar, and you can make it in any saucepan quite easily—by patiently melting sugar in some water on medium heat. However, to get the dreamy, creamy caramel sauce you like to drizzle on apple pie and ice cream, you'll incorporate heavy cream and butter into the melted sugar as a last step. You'll need a larger saucepan and a long-handled spoon or whisk—when the cream hits the hot sugar it bubbles up quickly.

Once you've finished your caramel, transfer it to a heat-proof container with a lid and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks; alternatively, you can freeze the sauce for months. But with all the desserts you'll want to smother in caramel, it's unlikely it'll even last that long.

Makes about 1 cup caramel and 1 1/2 cups caramel sauce

Ingredients

For the caramel:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
Kosher salt

For the caramel sauce:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp butter, cut into 4 chunks
1 Tbsp kosher salt (optional)

How to Make It

1

Combine the sugar and water

mixing sugar and water in a pot
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Combine the sugar, water, and a big pinch of kosher salt in a 2-4 quart saucepan (or larger). Stir sugar and water together just to combine (it will look like wet sand), then stop stirring and place saucepan over medium high heat.

2

Melt the sugar

brushing water on side of pot while making caramel
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

If you have a candy thermometer, place it in the pot. Let the sugar dissolve; you may swirl the pan every few minutes to encourage this. To prevent the sugar that swirls onto the sides of the pot from burning, dip a pastry brush in water and paint along the sides of the pot.

3

Let the mixture come to a boil

boiling sugar and water in a pot
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Let the mixture come to a boil. Once it does, it will start to turn a dark amber color. Gently swirl the pot to encourage even cooking.

4

10 minutes to caramel

cooked sugar and water in a pot
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

When the mixture is quite dark, or reaches 325ºF on the candy thermometer (this could take up to 10 minutes depending on your stove), remove the pot from heat. At this point, you've made caramel. Keep in mind that caramel will thicken the longer it sits, so if you're making caramel sauce, move onto the next step right away.

5

Make caramel sauce

Whisking cooked sugar and water for caramel in a pot
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Using a long-handled whisk or wooden spoon, quickly mix in the heavy cream. It will bubble up, so be careful, but keep stirring. Stir in the butter until melted and smooth.

6

Add salt for salted caramel sauce

adding salt to caramel in a pot
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

For salted caramel, stir in kosher salt (there's already a pinch of salt in this recipe, but that's only to offset the sugar; to taste the salt, you need a bit more.)

Full Caramel Sauce Recipe

  1. Combine the sugar, water, and a big pinch of kosher salt in a 2 to 4 quart saucepan (or larger). Stir to combine (it will look like wet sand), then stop stirring and place saucepan over medium high heat.
  2. If you have a candy thermometer, place it in the pot. Let the sugar dissolve; you may swirl the pan every few minutes to encourage this. To prevent the sugar that swirls onto the sides of the pot from burning, dip a pastry brush in water and paint along the sides of the pot.
  3. Let the mixture come to a boil. Once it does, it will start to turn a dark amber color. Gently swirl the pot to encourage even cooking.
  4. When the mixture is quite dark, or reaches 325ºF on the candy thermometer (this could take up to 10 minutes), remove the pot from heat.
  5. Using a long-handled whisk or wooden spoon, quickly mix in the heavy cream. It will bubble up; keep stirring. Stir in the butter until melted and smooth.
  6. For salted caramel, stir in the additional kosher salt.

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Rebecca Firkser
Rebecca Firkser is a food writer and recipe developer. Read more
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