The Perfect Caramel Sauce
Caramel can be quite intimidating to the novice baker or cook, but once you get the hang of it, you will never purchase it off the grocery store shelf again.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, heavy cream, butter, and a touch of pure vanilla extract. With such simple ingredients, how could it be so intimidating?
For starters, there are two ways (that I am aware of) for making caramel; dry caramel and wet caramel. For the longest time I was using the wet caramel method and boy did me and my pot have a few run-ins! I remember my first attempt when I was making caramel to use for our Taffy Apple cupcakes for Cupcakes for Courage. It kept recrystallizing on me over and over again before I even got to put the butter or cream in. If I was able to achieve a nice golden colored melted sugar, once I added the remaining ingredients and gave it a taste (once it cooled of course!) it was disappointingly gritty. I never gave up though, and nor should you! It wasn’t until I tried to do the dry caramel method that I realized how much less temperamental it was to do, and so will you.
Lucky for you though, through my trial and error, you can learn from my mistakes and have perfect caramel the first time. This recipe produces a nice sauce that keeps in the fridge for weeks. I store it in clear plastic squeeze bottles kind of like the ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles they have at hot dog joints. I keep the nozzle sealed with silicone decorating tip covers which happen to work beautifully for this application instead of their intended purpose. When ready to use the sauce, microwave for about 10 seconds to soften and squeeze over some vanilla ice cream or apple pie, or both together!
Dry Caramel Sauce Recipe
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 6 TBS unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a large heavy bottom sauce pan (the one I use for this size recipe is a 12 inch non-stick Calphalon pot) add the sugar and turn on the stop top to medium-low. I have an electric glass top cooking stove and the number I set it to is a 4 which is just under medium.
While the sugar starts to heat up get the remaining ingredients ready. Cut up your butter into TBS portions and set aside on a small plate. Measure out your heavy cream, add the vanilla to the measuring cup and stir to combine.
It will take quite a while for the sugar to start to do it’s thing. When I need to make caramel I do during a time when I have to work on one other project (not a million other things) because you really have to devote your attention to watching the sugar, but you can also multi-task a bit. So I don’t forget it’s on the stove, I set my timer for 8 minutes, check on it, reset the timer, go check, and so on. Each time you check on the sugar, push the sugar from the outer edge to the middle. What you are doing here is checking that if the sugar is beginning to melt. As you start to see that it’s melting, each time you check on the sugar (every 8 minutes or so) just push the sugar around a bit, I like to push from the edges to the middle. It’s going to clump up a bit, but everything will smooth out.
A strong difference between this dry method of making caramel and the wet method is that once you see that the sugar is melting, it will immediately start to look a caramel brown color. Whereas with the wet method, all of the sugar must melt and then it turns caramel brown. The key with dry caramel is that you need to find the right level of heat so that the sugar melts, but it does not burn and turn bitter.
Once all of your sugar has melted (don’t worry if there are a few large clumps of sugar left, you can strain those out, just be sure the rest is smooth and sugar crystal free) add the butter one table spoon at a time while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. After the butter and caramelized sugar is combined remove from the heat, count to three, and add slowly stream in the heavy cream, don’t stop stirring! Keep stirring even if it starts to get a little wild and clumpy like. After all of the cream is added, return the pot to medium heat. Stir every so often and bring it back to a boil just so everything is melted again and clump free. Remove from heat.
Place a strainer over a large glass bowl and pour the caramel in to strain any straggling clumps. Volah! You have caramel sauce! Store in a squeeze bottle like I do or an airtight container and enjoy over the next couple of weeks. You won’t regret it!