Homemade Caramel Sauce

5 from 14 votes
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Homemade caramel sauce is the perfect decadent topping for your favorite desserts. Sugar is caramelized until amber in color, then whisked with butter and cream for a smooth and velvety texture. Ready in just minutes!

Spoon scooping homemade caramel sauce out of glass jar.

Making a homemade caramel sauce may seem challenging, but the recipe is just simple science. The key is to control the heat level when cooking the granulated sugar and water together and know when to halt the reaction.

Adding cream cools the mixture and provides richness, so consistency is easy to drizzle on top of desserts and baked goods. It may take a few tries to get the technique down, but you’ll become a master in no time! Then trust me, you’ll want to add it to everything!

Measuring cup adding heavy cream into a saucepan.

Simple ingredients

This easy caramel sauce recipe combines granulated sugar, a small amount of water, heavy cream, and unsalted butter. Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream can be used interchangeably because they both contain a minimum of 36% milk fat.

This yields an ultra-rich and thick caramel sauce. Brown sugar can be used to bump up to molasses note. If you want to add baked aromas, stir in some vanilla extract.

Make the caramel sauce

Use a small saucepan for cooking sugar and water. Use medium-low heat to dissolve the granules, and increase the heat to a boil. When sugar is heated up, caramelization occurs. The heat creates a chemical reaction that breaks down glucose and fructose compounds in the sugar (sucrose) into smaller molecules. Over time the water in the syrup evaporates, concentrating the sugar solids and elevating the mixture’s temperature.

The result is a change of color, starting from honey-like to amber. Meanwhile, hundreds of new aroma and flavor compounds emerge. Using your senses is the best way to gauge when the sugar reaches the correct endpoint. Once you smell nutty, sweet, almost baked notes, you’re there! The process takes about 5 minutes, so don’t take your eyes off the stove.

Thicken the caramel sauce

Whisking melted butter in a small pot.

Very carefully and slowly add the heavy cream to the caramel. It will be hot, like molten lava, so you’ll see bubbling in the pan. The cool cream also helps to stop the sugars from continuing to cook. Burnt caramel does not taste good! Whisk in slices of butter. It helps if it’s at room temperature to melt quicker, but not required. Both of these ingredients thicken the sauce and create a super creamy consistency.

Temperature matters!

Using an instant-read thermometer or candy thermometer can help take some of the guesswork of successfully making a caramel sauce. Besides visual cues, simple sugars like glucose and fructose have temperature ranges for color and flavor transformation.

Fructose will carmelize first around 230ºF (110ºC), followed by glucose at 320ºF (160ºC). Sugar is a mixture of the two, so target 320 to 350ºF (160 to 177ºC) for the final caramelization temperature. Anything above that, and the sugar will burn. I’ve learned that the hard way!

Spoon lifted over a pot showing the consistency of caramel sauce.

Interested in a salted caramel sauce?

Adding a little bit of salt takes the flavor of the caramel to the next level! Any type of salt can be used judiciously, but I often use kosher or sea salt. About ¼ to ¾ teaspoon of salt per recipe, depending on how dominating you want the savory flavor.

Reheating the sauce

Reheat the caramel sauce in a small bowl set over simmering water, and stir until it’s heated through and warm. It can also be placed in a microwave-safe bowl, and heated in the microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring in between until warm. You don’t want to heat the sauce directly in a pan because it will continue to caramelize with burnt-off notes.

Ways to enjoy

Spoon drizzling caramel sauce over an ice cream sundae.

Recipe Science

Use temperature and color as a guide

The degree of caramelization depends on personal taste, which you can control. For a sweet, slightly nutty flavor, stop cooking when the caramel is a golden honey color and is between 320 to 335ºF (160 to 170ºC). For deeper, more intense caramel notes, go for a deep amber color when it reaches no more than 350ºF (177ºC).

Caramel Sauce

Homemade caramel sauce is the perfect topping for your favorite desserts. Sugar is caramelized until amber in color then whisked with butter and cream.
5 from 14 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time20 minutes
Servings 16 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Instructions 

  • Heat the Sugar – Add the sugar and water into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low. Allow the sugar to dissolve without stirring. If needed, use a wet pastry brush to wash any undissolved sugar on the side of the pan.
    Increase the heat to high and bring it to a boil. Allow the sugar to caramelize by stirring until a deep amber color forms, about 5 to 7 minutes to reach 320 to 350ºF (160 to 177ºC). Reduce the heat to medium-high if rapidly boiling. Remove the pan from the heat.
  • Add the Cream – Slowly and carefully whisk in the heavy cream. The liquid will bubble as the cream is added, so allow it to subside before each addition.
  • Add the Butter – Whisk in the butter until incorporated into the caramel sauce. Let the mixture cool in the pan to room temperature, then transfer to a jar.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: about 1 cup.
  • Serving: 1 tablespoon.
  • Storing: Place in an airtight container or jar for up to 1 week.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 16 servings
Calories 112kcal (6%)Carbohydrates 13g (4%)Protein 1g (2%)Fat 7g (11%)Saturated Fat 4g (20%)Cholesterol 23mg (8%)Sodium 5mgPotassium 8mgSugar 12g (13%)Vitamin A 251IU (5%)Vitamin C 1mg (1%)Calcium 8mg (1%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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4 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Amy says

    Would this work over popcorn or would the sauce be too thin? This is such a healthier, better choice vs corn syrups, etc. We are soooo excited to try this recipe!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Yes, you can use brown sugar for a molasses note in the sauce. Keep an eye out for the aroma change, as the sauce will start off darker compared to granulated sugar.