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Homemade Caramel Sauce

My homemade Thick Caramel Sauce is super easy to make. Drizzle it on cakes, pancakes or waffles. Or use thick caramel sauce to make scrumptious Caramel Swiss Buttercream , Caramel Cheese Cream Frosting or Caramel German Buttercream. Flavor it with Vanilla, Coffee, Maple or sea salt. Possibilities are endless. Let me show you how I make it.

Dark brown caramel sauce in a bowl.

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Updated post from 2011

HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE CARAMEL SAUCE

This Thick Caramel Sauce recipe is made using a wet caramel. What does it mean? Water and sugar are combined together in a non-reactive pan. Then with a gentle heat sugar is completely dissolved. After mixture is brought to boil. As sugar mixture continues to cook sugar caramelizes. Mixture takes on a beautiful amber, golden brown color and characteristic caramel flavor. That’s how wet caramel is made. Then we are going to add cream and butter.

INGREDIENTS

  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Heavy Cream
  • Vanilla Bean Paste or other concentrated flavorings (for example sea salt, coffee, maple flavorings)
Sugar, Water, Cream, Butter in bowls and Vanilla Bean Paste bottle.

WET CARAMEL

In a nonreactive 3quart pan( I used stainless steel pan) combine sugar and water. Cover pot with a lid heat the water and sugar on low heat until all of the sugar is dissolved. This can take 3-6 minutes on low heat. If you are not sure if sugar is completely dissolved gently stir the mixture with a spatula and check spatula if you see any sugar crystals sticking to it.

Sugar and water heating in a stainless steel pot covered with a lid.

PASTRY BRUSH AND WATER

After sugar is dissolved mixture will look cloudy. It’s normal. Increase the temperature to medium. Do not stir! You’ll notice mixture will gradually become clear. After sugar mixture is brought to simmer be sure you don’t stir it.

At this stage you’ll notice some sugar spots on the sides of the pan. It is important to get rid of these sugar spot. As any sugar particles left behind can crystallize. Most likely the reason why caramel sauce becomes grainy after few days.

A common method of removing sugar clinging to the sides of the pan is brushing the sides of the pan down with a pastry brush dipped in water.

Brushing sides of the pan with pastry brush dipped in water.

STEAM AND CONDENSATION

Another popular method to battle sugar crystals on the sides of the pan is to cover the pot of simmering sugar syrup with a lid for 2-3 minutes. And let the steam and condensation wash down the sides of the pan clean.

I usually use the steam method twice throughout the whole caramel sauce cooking process. Just be sure to check on sugar caramelization process. Lift the lid to be sure sugar is not caramelizing faster than expected.

Pot with sugar syrup covered with a lid to produce steam and condensation that washes down the sides of the pan.

AMBER CARAMEL COLOR

Watch sugar syrup carefully, don’t leave it cooking on the stove unattended. Not even for couple of minutes. Once you notice that sugar syrup is starting to change its color it is important not to leave its side. It takes only couple of moments for it to caramelize and become amber, honey gold, honey brown color. Don’t let it burn.

Once caramel is burned there is no salvaging it. You’ll have to start over.

Caramelized sugar syrup in a pan.

HEAVY CREAM AND BUTTER

After caramel reaches amber color turn off the heat and remove the pan from the heat. Stop the cooking immediately by pouring in about ½ of the cream. Stirring well. Mixture will foam up significantly that’s why it’s important to use a tall pan. Then stir in remaining cream. And after stir in butter. Mixture will be thin. As caramel sauce cools it thickens.

Pouring heavy cream into caramelized sugar.

FLAVOR CARAMEL

Yes, you can flavor caramel sauce. Allow caramel sauce to cool slightly before adding flavorings. I like to add Vanilla Bean Paste.

Adding vanilla bean paste into caramel sauce.

But you can also experiment with other flavors. Use sea salts, maple, coffee concentrated flavorings. Little goes a long way. Don’t add too much as it will overpower caramel flavor.

Small containers filled with sea salted caramel, maple caramel and coffee caramel sauce.

HOW TO STORE HOMEMADE CARAMEL SAUCE

Let caramel sauce cool completely at room temperature. Then pour it into a jar, plastic container, cover with a plastic wrap and a lid. Store in the fridge for up to a month.

Caramel Sauce thickens in the fridge. You can gently reheat it in the microwave to more pourable consistency.

Cooled caramel sauce in a bowl.
Pouring caramel sauce into a bowl.

HOMEMADE CARAMEL SAUCE TIPS AND TRICKS

MY CARAMEL IS VERY THICK, CAN I REHEAT IT ?

Caramel sauce thickens as it cool and when refrigerated. Yes, you can microwave it in 5 second intervals to make it more fluid. Stir well after each heating period.

WHY IS MY HOMEMADE CARAMEL SAUCE GRAINY?

This can sometime happen. Graininess is caused by sugar that crystallized. Most likely there were few crystallized sugar spots on the sides of the pan you cooked the caramel in. These when mixed with caramel sauce will cause trouble. They set of a chain reaction and cause sugar crystallization. And as a result caramel will be grainy. This doesn’t have to happen right away. It can happen in a week, 2 weeks etc. Don’t worry there are few things you can do to prevent or delay crystallization.

HOW TO PREVENT MY CARAMEL SAUCE FROM BECOMING GRAINY?

  • Dissolve all the sugar on low heat.
  • Don’t stir sugar and water mixture once it starts to simmer.
  • Make sure sides of the pan are clean, with no sugar spots clinging to them. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down the sides of the pan.
  • Or use steam/condensation method. I employ the steam method twice during the caramel sauce cooking process.

OTHER WAYS TO BATTLE SUGAR CRYSTALLIZATION

As you probably know a lot of recipes for Caramel Sauces, Candies, Marshmallows include corn syrup.  But why? Corn syrup is a great crystallization inhibitor. It can prevent or delay crystallization process. Corn syrup helps to keeps sugar crystallization at bay, keeping your caramel super silky smooth.

I’ve heard you, loud and clear you don’t want to use corn syrup. If you are still struggling making homemade caramel that is silky smooth and without the use of corn syrup try Invert Sugar Syrup. It’s super easy to make and it keeps for at least 6 months in fridge. And it can be used in place of Corn Syrup in this recipe. Just like corn syrup Invert Sugar works as crystallization inhibitor, it can prevent or delay the crystallization process.

  • Corn Syrup – it’s widely available but I know many of use are trying to avoid using it in homemade recipes
  • Invert Sugar Syrup – great substitute for corn syrup in this homemade caramel sauce (if using – use 3 tbsp in this recipe)
  • Acid : cream of tartar, citric acid, lemon juice – these can also help fight crystallization. Use tiny amounts only. As too much of it can affect the caramel taste. Use a pinch only.

HOW LONG DOES CARAMEL KEEPS?

From my experience it’s good for at least a month if stored in the refrigerator. Be sure to let it cool completely before refrigerating.

CAN CARAMEL SAUCE BE FROZEN?

Yes, freeze it in a freezer save container. Covered with a plastic wrap and a lid. Freeze for up 3 months, let it defrost on the counter.

DO I HAVE TO REFRIGERATE IT?

Yes, due to dairy content it is best to refrigerate homemade caramel sauce.

IS THIS SAUCE GOOD FOR CAKE DRIPS?

Absolutely.

WHAT OTHER FLAVORS OF CARAMEL CAN I MAKE?

You can use concentrated flavorings ( I’d recommend Lorann Oils flavoring, and use only few drops) to flavor caramel. However don’t have a heavy hand with flavors. I really like sea salt and coffee undertones. I also tried Maple which was delicious. But be sure to use only few drops as it can be overpowering.

TO MAKE HOMEMADE CARAMEL SAUCE YOU NEED

MORE HOMEMADE DELICIOUS CARAMEL RECIPES :

4.67 from 3 votes
Pouring caramel sauce into a bowl.
Homemde Thick Caramel Sauce
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Cooling
1 hr
 

Delicious, easy to make homemade caramel sauce. Use it to make caramel buttercream or drizzle it over your favorite pancakes, cakes, waffles. Or eat it with a spoon straight from a jar.

Make 2 cups

Serving Size 2 tbsp

Course: Candy, Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American, French
Keyword: caramel, caramel sauce, homemade caramel
Servings: 32
Hanielas.com: Hani Bacova
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
Instructions
  1. In a nonreactive 3 quart pan combine the sugar (1cup and 3/4cup), water (1/2cup).

  2. Stir with a wooden spoon. Cover the pot and heat sugar and water on low heat until sugar is completely dissolved. 3-5 minutes.

  3. Remove the lid, swirl the pan to see if all of the sugar is dissolved. Once sugar is dissolved increase the heat to medium and bring sugar syrup to a simmer. DO NOT STIR after mixers simmers. Mixture will appear cloudy at first. It will clear up as it starts to boil.

  4. To remove any sugar spots on the sides of the pan either brush the sides with pastry brush dipped in water or cover pot again for 2-3 minutes. Steam/condensation will wash down the sides of the pan clean. However if there are any stubborn areas use a pastry brush. It is important to keep the sides of the pan clean. This helps to prevent sugar crystallization and grainy caramel sauce.

  5. Be sure to keep an eye on the caramel. Once you see syrup is changing color it is important to monitor it closely as it can burn easily if not watched over. Continue to cook until the caramel turns amber color then remove from the heat and pour in about 1/2 of the heavy cream (1/2cup). Mixture will foam up significantly, stir it and then pour in remaining heavy cream (1/2cup). Stir in room temperature butter (3tbsp).

    Mixture will be thin. Pour it into a heat proof dish and let cool slightly, about 20 minutes, Then stir in Vanilla Bean Paste (1tsp). Flavor with other flavoring as desired. Use seas salt, coffee, maple, pecans etc.

  6. DON'T BE TEMPTED TO TASTE CARAMEL SAUCE BEFORE IT COOLS. MIXTURE IS VERY HOT.

  7. Cover bowl with cooled caramel sauce with a plastic wrap and a lid. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Recipe Notes

WHERE SHOULD I STORE THE CARAMEL?

In the fridge, it contains dairy. It’s best to keep it refrigerated.

HOW LONG DOES CARAMEL SAUCE KEEP?

From my experience it’s good for at least a month if stored in the refrigerator. Be sure to let it cool completely before refrigerating.

SAUCE IS VERY THICK, CAN I REHEAT IT?

Yes, heat it in the microwave in 5 second intervals, or very gently on the stove.

HOW TO PREVENT MY CARAMEL SAUCE FROM BECOMING GRAINY?

  • Dissolve all the sugar on low heat.
  • Don’t stir sugar and water mixture once it starts to simmer.
  • Make sure sides of the pan are clean, with no sugar spot clinging to them. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down the sides of the pan. 
  • Or use steam/condensation method. I employ the stem method twice during the caramel sauce cooking process.

OTHER WAYS TO BATTLE SUGAR CRYSTALLIZATION

  • Corn Syrup – add 3 tbsp into the pan with sugar and water.
  • Invert Sugar Syrup – great substitute for corn syrup. If using – use 3 tbsp in this recipe. Add it into the pan with sugar and water, then continue with the recipe as written.
  • Acid – cream of tartar, citric acid, lemon juice – these can also help fight crystallization. Use tiny amounts only. As too much of it can affect the caramel taste. Use a pinch only.

CAN I USE IT TO MAKE CAKE DRIPS?

Absolutely.

PIN IT for later

Pouring caramel sauce into a bowl.

This post was originally published on March 7th, 2011. On September 26th, 2019 I updated this post with new step by step photos, written text and a video.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links that earn me a small commission, at no cost to you. I only recommend products that I use and love. Learn more about my affiliate policy here.

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19 Comments

  1. I tried this recipe with raw sugar since we don’t eat processed anymore and it’s very difficult to gauge the color. Would it be possible to see a tutorial using raw, granulated sugar?

    1. Hi Sami,
      You might need to invest into candy thermometer, Sugar Caramelizes at 320-360F/160-182C so I think you can easier determine when it’s caramelized. Hope it helps. I’ll try to do some testing on raw sugar in the near future. Thank you.

  2. I made this for my son’s 19th birthday. He usually requests my hot fudge, but this year he wanted ‘thick’ caramel sauce to go on his brownies. His description: “Legendary!”

    1. Hi Matt, happy 19th to your son. I’m glad to hear he enjoyed it. Now I need to make brownies. Sounds delicious.

  3. I love not only the recipe, but the instructions given. Our granddaughters homeschool and once a month they come over for a cooking lesson. I often use your recipes and teach your methods and techniques. I would like to add…corn syrup is not our enemy. Over indulgence is the enemy. This from my corn growing farm son-in-law. 😉

    1. I had to make 2 batches. Make sure to put it somewhere in the fridge where you can’t easily see it.:-) I need to revisit my apple cider caramel, too.

    2. Haven’t tried it yet. I’m going for other ingredients tomorrow and baking on Tuesday. Had no vanilla pod paste so it is now on the list. I am new to the site but just taking a look I know I will be making for the family and friends.
      Regards Barbara

  4. Have you tried to put this on popcorn??? just an idea. I was messing around and made cracker jack by mistake.. I wanted popcorn caramel and nuts.. it was tasty anyway… just don't remember what I did.. just noticed Cristin suggested this as well..

  5. I absolutely love caramel and make it all the time from this one recipe I found in the newspaper.. this one really looks fantastic and rich.. I make caramel preztels with it.. that is where i found the recipe… this looks like it needs a bowl of french vanilla ice cream…

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