You’re going to love this homemade salted caramel sauce.
When I was in culinary school, we spent days on caramel, candies, and other sugar work. It’s all very detail-oriented, and the smallest change in temperature can make a huge difference.
Don’t start making candy if you have to use the restroom, because you cannot walk away from the stove even for a few minutes! I learned that the hard way.
Luckily, there is a way to make caramel sauce that is super streamlined and simple, with no special equipment required. This caramel sauce recipe, which you can add salt to for salted caramel sauce, actually comes from my cookbook Cookies & Cream: Hundreds of Ways to Make the Perfect Ice Cream Sandwich.
I included it as a sort of bonus recipe for readers who really wanted to amp up their ice cream sandwiches. Caramel isn’t just good with ice cream though, it’s good on EVERYTHING. And knowing how to make caramel sauce is a trick that’ll always come in handy.
Seriously, this stuff is liquid gold. You’re going to want to drizzle it all over cheesecake, brownies, cinnamon rolls, apple pie, swirl it into your favorite baked good batters, or even add a spoonful to your morning coffee. You’ll probably just want to eat it straight up with a spoon. It makes a great gift for neighbors, teachers, and friends too!
What’s your favorite way to enjoy caramel?
Step-by-Step: How to Make Caramel Sauce
1. Pour the sugar into a dry, medium-sized stainless steel saucepan, and cook the sugar over medium heat.
2. Swirl the pan occasionally, until the sugar melts and begins to caramelize and turn a deep amber color.
This will take about 5 to 6 minutes, depending on your pan and stovetop.
3. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter until melted. Whisking constantly, gradually add the cream. Whisk until the mixture is smooth.
The caramel may seize. If clumps of sugar form (crystallization), continue heating on low heat until they melt back into a smooth sauce. The caramel will bubble here, so take caution not to allow your hand too close to the mixture. Use only heatproof utensils and a pot deep enough to catch any bubbles.
4. Remove from heat and pour through a fine strainer into a heatproof container. Stir in the salt if using.
Let cool until warm and thick, and then enjoy! If you want even thicker caramel, pop it in the fridge where it’ll be stored long term anyways. Pouring through a mesh strainer will prevent any potential sugar crystals from ending up in your final caramel sauce.
If you make and enjoy this caramel sauce, be sure to snap a picture and share it on Instagram, tagging #handletheheat, so we can all see your creations!
Tips for Homemade Caramel Sauce Recipe
What is Caramel?
Sugar! Caramel is simply sugar that has been melted and then cooked until it browns (caramelized). Salted caramel is the same, just with the addition of salt.
Caramel comes in a variety of different forms: from the hard-wrapped candies grandmas always seem to have in their purse, the chewy type on the outside of caramel apples, to the sauces Starbucks uses to make their caramel macchiatos and frappuccinos! This recipe is formulated to be a sauce, so you can use it to make your coffee taste deliciously decadent, top your cheesecake with it, put it on ice cream or brownies – the list is endless.
What is Caramel made of?
Only 4 ingredients to make the best salted caramel sauce:
Butterscotch vs. Toffee vs. Caramel
Butterscotch is typically made with brown sugar instead of granulated sugar. Toffee is also often made with brown sugar but is cooked to a higher temperature so it crystallizes and hardens as it cools.
Check out my Butterscotch Sauce and Homemade Toffee Bits recipes.
How to Make Caramel Sauce:
There are two basic methods of making caramel – wet and dry – the basic difference between the two methods being water. Essentially both methods are heating sugar, then adding fat (butter and cream, typically); but the wet uses water to dissolve the sugar faster. The drawback with wet caramel is that it can easily crystallize on the sides of the pan, which is disastrous for your caramel. The method I prefer is the dry method. It takes a tiny bit longer, and it can burn easily (you’ll need to watch very carefully for that!), but it’s pretty foolproof beyond that.
What is the Texture of This Salted Caramel?
When it comes off the heat, this caramel sauce will be liquidy and runny. As it cools, it will thicken. You will need to store the caramel sauce in the refrigerator, so it will harden even more once chilled. Just bring it back to room temperature and microwave before drizzling or dipping!
Note: Add 1-2 tablespoons more cream to thin it more before serving, if preferred.
Do I Need a Candy Thermometer for Homemade Caramel Sauce?
No, you do not need a candy thermometer for this recipe. I have included lots of sensory indicators throughout, so you can visually check when to add the next ingredient! My biggest tip here though is to stay put and be patient. Do not step away from the stove while the caramel is cooking, and pay close attention to the color each step of the way, so you don’t burn the sugar.
Tools for Making Salted Caramel Sauce:
- Make sure you’re using a light-colored stainless steel pot. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, it conducts heat appropriately and will ensure the caramel cooks evenly. Secondly, the light color will help you be able to tell when the sugar has cooked to the right amber color, rather than too dark or too light because you couldn’t tell in a dark pan!
- A wooden spoon or heat proof silicone spatula to mix the butter and heavy cream into the hot sugar. Don’t use something plastic that can melt, or something metal that might burn your hand!
- A whisk
- A jar or airtight container for storing leftover caramel sauce
Why did my caramel seize?
If too many bits of sugar get stuck to the side of the pan, they will harden and can cause the caramel to seize or become gritty or grainy when you add in the butter and/or the cream. Prevent this by using your hand to gently swirl the sugar around as it melts instead of using a utensil to stir it. This will help prevent sugar from getting stuck to the sides of the pan and clumping.
How to fix a seized caramel sauce:
Crystallized caramel sauce can usually be rescued! Just melt the chunks of hardened caramel back into the sauce over a very low heat, then strain with a fine mesh strainer before using.
Can I Use This for Caramel Apples?
No. This recipe won’t work for caramel apples as it’s too thin and it won’t coat the apples (though I am working on a caramel apple recipe – keep your eyes peeled!!). It is delicious though with sliced apples, drizzled on or as a sweet dip!
How to Eat Caramel Sauce:
The possibilities and flavors are endless! Here are some of my favorite treats, which you can top with this caramel sauce for even more deliciousness.
How to Store Salted Caramel:
Once cooled entirely, place the caramel sauce in an airtight glass container (a mason jar is perfect) and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Microwave for 20-30 seconds to bring back to drizzling/dipping consistency.
Can you Freeze this Caramel Sauce?
Yes, you can freeze the caramel sauce! Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using, then reheat in the microwave or on the stove top on low heat until it reaches drizzling or dipping consistency.
Recipes that use Salted Caramel Sauce:
(200 grams) granulated sugar
(71 grams) unsalted butter
plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
Fleur de Sel or flaky sea salt (optional)
In a dry, medium-sized stainless steel saucepan, cook the sugar over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar melts and begins to turn a deep golden color, about 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter until melted. Whisking constantly, gradually add the cream. Whisk until the mixture is smooth.
The caramel may seize. If clumps of sugar form, continue heating on low heat until they melt back into a smooth sauce. Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer into a heatproof container. Stir in the salt if using. Let cool until warm and thick. Use or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Let come to room temperature or warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to bring back to drizzling/dipping consistency.
This post was originally published in February 2014 and updated in June 2022 with new photos and recipe improvements. Photos by Joanie Simon.