Once upon a time there was some sugar that melted. It met up with a little bit of butter, vanilla, cream and salt. They danced and swirled around creating wonderfulness all around. And they lived happily ever after. The end.
Isn’t that one of the most special stories ever? For me it is. And thank goodness it’s no fairy tale, it’s true. Caramel is truly a glorious thing. And Salted Caramel Sauce, very much so.
In the world of sweet treats, caramel reigns. At least in my world of sweet treats it does. Seeing how popular Salted Caramel is right now, I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks so. And no wonder. Caramel is not only good on it’s own, but when made into a sauce, like Salted Caramel Sauce, it’s the perfect addition to so many treats: ice cream, pound cake, coffee, apple pie, or simply drizzled over fruit, to name a few.
While the ingredients are basic, the process can be intimidating to even the best of cooks. I’ve ruined at least as many batches as I’ve conquered. But I’m here to say, that you have to persevere to achieve the goodness of caramel. It’s worth it. Working out the kinks makes the results even more sweeter.
Tips for Making Caramel
The caramel process must be watched. Do not walk away. Do not answer the door. Do not begin to empty the top rack of dishwasher. Stay put. Keep watch. Sugar is sneaky. I’ve had the best results without using a candy thermometer, so standing watch in order to see the color change can mean the difference between a smooth result or an over-burnt sticky clump.
Have all the ingredients and tools needed ready to go. Since a watchful eye is required, and the end of the process moves quickly, there won’t be a bunch of time to calmly gather everything.
Avoid stirring. Stirring can trigger crystals to form. Crystals are the enemy of smooth caramel. The recipe below follows the wet caramel technique. Once the sugar dissolves in the water, don’t stir until it’s ready to add other ingredients.
Make sure all tools being used for cooking are clean. Crystals can be triggered by any impurities.
Make sure to use a saucepan/pot that has tall enough sides for the amount to double as it will bubble and foam up toward the end. It will get very hot! So splattering is not a good thing. A heavy-duty, non-coated saucepan or skillet with tall sides will work well.
The recipe below lists refined granulated sugar. Other sugars, like brown sugar, can be used as well, but it can be tricky to get consistent results due to impurities. If you choose to try it with something other than refined granulated sugar, be extra vigilant.
David Lebovitz is quite the expert on caramel. Check out his tips and tricks for making caramel. AND be sure not to miss his Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream recipe. Oh my … it’s worth all the effort. It’s the best!
Don’t give up. If you botch a batch, try again! You will learn with each attempt and begin to see the pattern. You’ll become a caramel making champ in no time.
- 3 cups refined granulated sugar (sift if needed to remove clumps)
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons salted butter
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Spread sugar evenly in the bottom of a clean heavy duty, uncoated 3-4 quart saucepan (stainless works great). Pour in water, and heat over medium. Do not stir.
- Bring to a boil. The sugar will begin to bubble and dissolve. If any undissolved sugar remains, a gentle swirl of the pan should help.
- Watch for the color to change from clear to a golden amber, the caramel should begin to slightly smoke then deepen to a reddish-brown color. The subtle scent of caramel should be able to be detected, but not full blown scorched. (Once the mixture begins to change in color, the process moves very quickly so be prepared with all ingredients and equipment.)
- Once it reaches the proper reddish-brown color, immediately remove from heat, and stir in remaining ingredients. Be prepared for mixture to foam up. Stir with a clean heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon until smooth. If a thinner consistency is desired, stir in more cream.
- Carefully pour in heat-safe glass container for storage and let cool, or serve right away. Once cool, cover and refrigerate.
- To rewarm heat very slowly in a saucepan stovetop, stirring occasionally, OR in the microwave in 8 second increments, stirring between each until warmed and smooth.
- Makes a little over 2 cups.