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! Recipe employs the dry method utilized by professional chefs that is easily mastered and prevents crystallization. Included are plenty of tips for success. Everyone will love this classic caramel sauce!
Best Ever Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce
Calling a recipe “the best” or “best ever” in the title sounds quite lofty—that is, unless you can back it up with some serious facts as to just what makes it a total standout amongst others in the same class. But, I am here to give testament to this very fact—because, at least in my kitchen, with the recipes I have used to make Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce, this one rocks for a handful of reasons but very significant ones.
The Dry Method vs. Wet Method
First, I love how this recipe does not use water. Nope. Not a single drop. This recipe relies on simply melting and caramelizing the sugar, alone, in the saucepan before whisking in the butter, cream and salt.
Caramel is essentially melted and caramelized sugar. Because sucrose (table sugar) contains water, the crystals liquefy when heated. As the liquid cooks, it will turn dark amber. In the simplest of terms, caramalization is the “browning” of sugar.
The reason I prefer this recipe for Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce using the “dry method” to others using water, or the “wet method”, is because when using water special care must be taken to prevent crystallization. This special care consists of either brushing down the sides of the saucepan with a water-doused pastry brush or using the saucepan lid as an automatic way to wash down the sides of the pan with condensation created from the trapped steam. With the pastry brush technique, there is valid concern (it happens often) of stray pastry brush bristles falling into the “soup” which can cause crystallization.
Some recipes using the wet method may call for lemon juice that aids in preventing crystallization. However, lemon certainly does add another flavor dimension that just might not sit well with the caramel purists out there. With this recipe, the saucepan lid technique and the step of brushing down the sides of the saucepan with water are completely eliminated thus rendering the process of making caramel both simple and less worrisome as to the possibility of crystallization. In addition, the dry method caramelizes the sugar faster. In my book, simple, efficient and less worry are always better when working in the kitchen.
Second, the recipe has the perfect ratio of sugar to butter and cream. The amount of salt, of course, is left up to the cook as is the option that I have included to add a splash of pure vanilla extract. This I did for all the vanilla lovers out there, like me. 😉
Finally, the process for making Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce has been broken down providing several “visual cues” as well as timing to aid the home cook in successfully replicating the recipe to both their desired depth of color and flavor for either light, medium or dark amber caramel which is my personal favorite. In addition, this recipe offers an incredible variation for Extra-Rich Salted Caramel Sauce using more butter and cream.
On Visual Cues & Caramel Temperatures
Cooking the caramel to 338 degrees F (170 degrees C) will yield a light caramel. Light caramel is very sweet with only soft hints of caramel flavor. Caramel cooked to 345 degrees F (174 degrees C) will yield a medium caramel with nice caramel flavor while cooking to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) will yield a pleasant but dark amber caramel with bold caramel flavor notes and less of a sweet taste. Bringing caramel to about 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) will yield a very dark amber caramel which is used as a coloring agent for sauces. Cooking caramel to about 400 to 410 degrees F (204 to 210 degrees C) turns the caramel black and is known as “Black Jack”. Beyond 410 degrees F (210 degrees C), the caramel decomposes.
Quick Reference for Caramel Temperatures
338°F (170°C) – Light Caramel
345°F (174°C) – Medium Caramel
350°F (177°C) – Dark Caramel
360°F to 375°F (182°C to 190°C) – Very Dark Caramel
400°F to 410°F (204°C to 210°C) – Black Jack
Beyond 410°F (210°C) – Decomposition
Providing “visual cues” is the style of recipe writing I prefer when writing my own recipes and greatly appreciate when others do the same. In fact, when making Homemade Caramel Sauce in the past, I never used a candy thermometer to check for “doneness” at 350 degrees F (177° degrees C). Early on, I relied solely on exceptional well-written recipes as well as sheer bravery (ha!) because at the time I just didn’t own a candy thermometer. When the mood struck to whip up my first batch of Homemade Caramel Sauce, I sprinted to the kitchen. Cravings have a way of suddenly motivating us in the kitchen, don’t they? I don’t know about you, but those cravings always get the best of me!
To this day, I prefer using my senses to know when hot caramel has reached the ideal stage of caramelization. I look for those wisps of light smoke, that classic deep reddish-brown color and then turn off the stovetop heat and count 20 to 30 seconds taking note as to the scent. Then, I whisk in the butter. This ensures that not only has the caramel reached at least 350 degrees F (177° degrees C), but that it has gone just past it and a bit toward 360 degrees F (182 degrees C). After making caramel a few times (practice, practice), you will master these senses for visual and olfactory (scent) “cues” and be successful making your own Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce without using a candy thermometer.
Meanwhile, I thought it was high time that I settled on a standard, classic Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce here on the blog as a component for future recipes. Just wait until you see my next post using this recipe and, as promised, my recipe for Carrot Cake Jam! And, I simply cannot wait to share with you a cake recipe using this incredible sauce as well as several planned Fall recipes.
It is important to note that I have incorporated some of Chef John’s method and have provided a link to his helpful video over at AllRecipes.com. A viewing or two of this well executed video on How to Make Salted Caramel Sauce will inspire and give newbies total confidence to forge ahead to make their first batch successfully in their own kitchen.
What makes our recipe for Best Ever Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce wicked good?
This classic Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce is luscious, velvety smooth, buttery rich and deep amber in color making it full of robust caramel flavor. It has the ideal ratio of sugar to butter and cream, as well as the perfect amount of salt (you decide), making it taste much better than store bought. Plus, this recipe offers a variation for Extra-Rich Salted Caramel Sauce using more butter and cream. Our recipe provides “visual cues” as well as timing information making it easy to prepare. And, amazingly it’s ready in just 15 minutes!
Our Best Ever Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce keeps in the fridge for up to 2 to 4 weeks thus making it ideal for either large recipes or small when using it as a component. Use this incredibly versatile sauce to top your favorite desserts from crepes to fruit cobblers and crisps to apple and pumpkin desserts as well as breakfast and brunch sweets such as coffee cakes, French toast, pancakes and waffles or even for dipping fruit like apples and bananas for quick snack treats. Hot beverages, like coffee and cocoas, or frozen alcoholic drinks and ice cream sundaes, will suddenly become truly divine with its addition. Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce also makes a fabulous and thoughtful gift from the kitchen. The applications are truly endless! Yes, indeed. Our Best Ever Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce is sheer liquid velvet and is as wicked as wicked good gets!
For the salted caramel lovers in your life, whip up a batch of this liquid velvet soon. You will be so glad you did.
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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 g) granulated sugar
- ¾ cup (1½ sticks or 170 g) 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, optional
- 2 to 3 teaspoons (about 5 to 8 g) fleur de sel, or favorite sea salt flakes
Special Equipment & Supplies
- Large (2- to 3-quart or 1.89 to 2.84 liters) heavy-bottomed saucepan, necessary
- Instant read candy thermometer of good quality, helpful
- Stainless ball whisk, helpful (or regular balloon whisk or wooden spoon)
- Silicone spatula (heat resistant), very helpful
- Glass mason jars with lids for storing caramel, helpful
- Before starting, read through entire recipe and all tips (especially Important Safety Tips) in the Recipe 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 or 1.89 to 2.84 liters) 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 (177°C) 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 350ºF (177ºC), 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.
- Yield: Makes about 2 cups (about 480 ml).
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 350ºF or 177ºC (versus 212ºF or 100ºC 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 or 1.89 to 2.84 liters) 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 g) and cream to 2 cups (480 ml). Begin recipe by melting the butter in 3-quart (2.84 liters) 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 g) and ½ stick salted butter (about 57 g) or 1 stick of salted butter (113 g) and ½ stick unsalted butter (about 57 g). Of course, using all salted butter, 1½ sticks salted butter (170 g), is an option.
For Salt Free Caramel Sauce: Simply omit sea salt for a wonderful salt free Homemade Caramel Sauce.
Wicked Good Kitchen highly recommends selecting organic ingredients whenever possible.
For this recipe, we used and recommend regular (white) granulated sugar as it caramelizes best. We also highly recommend organic grass-fed butter and cream as well as Nielsen-Massey® Organic Pure Vanilla Extract and fleur de sel or Sea Salt Flakes by Maldon®.
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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