Luscious, velvety smooth, buttery rich and deep amber with the perfect amount of sea salt, our homemade salty-sweet caramel sauce is easy to prepare, much better than store bought, versatile in dessert making and ready in just 15 minutes!
- 2 cups (400 grams) granulated (white) sugar
- ¾ cup (1½ sticks/170 grams) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®, optional
- 2 to 3 teaspoons (about 5 to 8 grams) fleur de sel, or favorite sea salt flakes, such as Maldon®
- Special Equipment & Supplies
- Large (2- to 3-quart) heavy-bottomed saucepan, necessary
- Instant read candy thermometer of good quality, helpful
- Stainless ball whisk, helpful (or regular balloon whisk or wooden spoon)
- Silicone (heat resistant) spatula, very helpful
- Glass mason jars for storing caramel, helpful
- Before starting, read through entire recipe and all tips (especially Important Safety Tips) in the Notes section below. Pre-measure and have all ingredients prepped (at room temperature) before starting recipe.
- Place sugar in an even layer into a large (2- to 3-quart) heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat. As the sugar melts, whisk to keep the sugar from burning. Soon the sugar will begin to clump with faint glimpses of light amber liquid sugar on the bottom of the saucepan. Keep cooking and whisking in a gentle motion until the sugar is completely melted into light amber caramel, about 8 to 10 minutes. Once the sugar is completely melted, stop whisking and only swirl the caramel by carefully and gently tilting the saucepan from side-to-side. Stopping the whisking motion will keep the caramel from forming crystals (crystallizing) and seizing.
- Continue to cook, without whisking, until the caramel reaches a medium amber or deep amber color (an almost dark reddish-brown), about 5 to 7 minutes depending on level of doneness, color and taste desired. Once the caramel begins to lightly smoke, the caramel can go from perfectly cooked caramel to a burnt sugary mess within seconds. Therefore, be attentive and watch very closely. An instant read thermometer should read 350°F. when the caramel is done—meaning that the sugar has reached an ideal stage of caramelization for a deep amber caramel sauce.
- Once the caramel reaches dark reddish-brown in color, just about 350 degrees F., I like to turn off the heat, remove saucepan from heat and wait 20 to 30 seconds for an even darker amber caramel sauce. Immediately, but carefully, add all of the butter at once and whisk it in aggressively until fully melted and well combined. Following the addition of the butter, the caramel will bubble up fiercely. Do not worry. Just keep whisking.
- Slowly and carefully whisk in the cream and, if using, the vanilla extract. Again, the caramel will bubble up fiercely due to the residual heat. Just keep whisking until the caramel is smooth and the cream is fully incorporated. Add salt and whisk until completely dissolved.
- Set caramel sauce aside to cool slightly and thicken, about 10 to 15 minutes, before transferring to glass jars. Cool completely before capping jars and refrigerating.
Important Safety Tips: Keep a bowl of ice water near the cooktop or make sure you have easy access to cold running tap water. Caramel is extremely hot at 350 degrees F. (versus 212 degrees F. for boiling water) and will burn the skin should it come into contact. Always use reliable oven mitts when handling the saucepan to prevent burns. Keep head away from the boiling caramel to protect your face and eyes from any splatter. Be very careful when adding ingredients, especially liquid, to hot caramel. Slowly pour liquids into the saucepan to minimize or prevent splatter.
Other Helpful Tips
Pre-measure and have all ingredients prepped (at room temperature) before starting recipe. There is a fine line between beautiful deep amber caramel and a burnt sugar mess. Since sugar caramelizes rapidly, it is essential to have ingredients nearby and at the ready to be used at the precise moment they are needed.
Use refined white sugar when making caramel. (I prefer using white granulated cane sugar versus beet sugar.) When I bake, however, I prefer using organic granulated cane sugar. This type of sugar may contain tiny impurities, like molasses coatings as for making brown sugar, or other impurities found in such unrefined sugars. These tiny impurities will most likely prevent smooth caramelization from happening. What will result is an undesirable grainy texture to the caramel versus a silky smooth one.
Before starting, ensure that all utensils, including the saucepan and candy thermometer, are very clean. Again, any impurities (debris or food residue) can seize caramel into an unworkable crystallized mess.
It is extremely important to use a large (2- to 3-quart) heavy-bottomed saucepan when making Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce because the hot caramel will bubble up fiercely when the butter and caramel are added. Essentially, use a much larger saucepan than you think you will need.
By using the proper size pan it will prevent the hot caramel from bubbling over and using a heavy-bottomed pan, versus a thin or lightweight pan, the cooking surface will be even versus uneven which can cause hotspots that can easily burn the caramel into an unworkable mess.
A fine-quality instant read candy thermometer is highly recommended when making Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce for the first time.
Once the sugar is completely melted, do not whisk until the butter and cream are added. This will prevent the caramel from forming crystals (crystallizing) and seizing. Simply swirl the caramel by carefully and gently tilting the saucepan. Again, always use reliable oven mitts when handling the saucepan to prevent burns.
Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 4 weeks. Reheat before serving.
To Reheat Caramel: Heat in microwave using short 5-second bursts, stirring in between. Alternatively, reheat in saucepan over medium-low heat stirring often.
For Extra-Rich Salted Caramel Sauce: Increase unsalted butter to 2 sticks (226 grams) and cream to 2 cups (480 ml). Begin recipe by melting the butter in 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding the sugar and stirring until sugar has dissolved and caramelization has started. From there, continue with recipe as written and add cream, vanilla and salt as directed.
For Lightly Salted Caramel Sauce: Simply omit sea salt and use part salted butter and unsalted butter for a mild salty-sweet Homemade Caramel Sauce. This can be a combination of either 1 stick of unsalted butter (113 grams) and ½ stick salted butter (about 57 grams) or 1 stick of salted butter (113 grams) and ½ stick unsalted butter (about 57 grams). Of course, using all salted butter, 1½ sticks salted butter (170 grams), is an option.
For Salt Free Caramel Sauce: Simply omit sea salt for a wonderful salt free Homemade Caramel Sauce.
Partial Method Adapted From: Chef John via AllRecipes.com
Extra-Rich Salted Caramel Sauce Variation Adapted From: Rich Caramel Sauce in Room For Dessert (1999) by David Lebovitz.
Original Recipe Source: WickedGoodKitchen.com
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