Homemade Caramel Sauce – Yes You Can

I promised in my post on vanilla ice cream that I would cover homemade caramel sauce – and what better time than right before the weekend? You probably already have sugar, you just need butter, cream and vanilla extract, and a little confidence, and you are set.

I watched umpteen cooking shows about caramelizing sugar before I tried it. The first time I did it, I had no idea of the science behind it, stirred too much and ended up with recrystallized sugar. I gave up on it as too hard for probably ten years. Then I found a recipe for caramel sauce from King Arthur flour. This followed closely on the heels of watching Alton Brown make caramel sauce on “Good Eats,” explaining how heat breaks apart the sugar molecules, and what happens if you reintroduce a grain of sugar when you are making caramel. Hint: you recrystallize the whole thing and end up with a pan of sugar like I did. That information, combined with ten more years of experience in the kitchen added up to a resolution to try making caramel sauce again.

I followed the directions in the recipe and ended up with the most luscious, beautiful caramel sauce, good enough to rival any you have ever had, whether from a restaurant or store. And good enough to make you swear off Smucker’s caramel syrup forever.

I have since made this sauce several more times, with only one fail. That was the last time I made it, and I didn’t re-familiarize myself with the directions. I forgot to lower the heat when specified and ended up with a pan of burned black caramel – absolutely black and smoking. Remember when you are working with sugar that hot water and a little soaking take care of even the stickiest, smelliest mess. Fifteen minutes after my mistake, I was back at it with the same pan (and new sugar), after re-reading the directions. Lesson here is not that making caramel is hard, but that we all make mistakes, and you can always start over. You can do this – trust me. And, with pictures and clear directions, you will do it right the first time.

I am not posting the recipe, as I used it almost verbatim from King Arthur Flour. Here is the link to their Pair of Sundae Sauces. We love the caramel sauce, and that is what we were making in the pictures below. We didn’t like the chocolate sauce as much as one that we make out of “Joy of Cooking.” Guess I’ll have to make that this weekend so I can have pictures and post about it next week.

Start with the sugar and water, over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally, until it starts to bubble.

Use this time to measure out your cream and melt your butter. My butter isn’t fully melted here, but it was by the time I needed it.

Lower the heat to medium (this is the step I forgot last time) and watch carefully. The syrup will start to turn golden after a few minutes. It might take longer than you think, but be patient and it will happen.

Only stir if the top starts to look dry like this. And do not try to scrape the crystalized sugar off the sides or you might end up with a pan of granular sugar.

After about 7 minutes, depending on your stove, you should start to see the syrup turning golden. Stir (carefully) or swirl the pan to help the syrup to darken all over.

It took 10 minutes on our stove from the first bubbles to a medium amber color.


When syrup is a medium amber, the color of caramel ice cream syrup (of course), remove from the heat and add the butter. The mixture will bubble furiously – keep stirring.

After the butter is incorporated, add the cream. The sauce will bubble again – again, keep stirring.

Once the mixture is smooth, add the vanilla, or flavoring of your choice from the recipe. We stuck with vanilla, but upped it to 3 teaspoons from 2.

Make sure your container is heatproof. We use a wide-mouth pint canning jar, or a Pyrex bowl. It’s best to make this early in the day, or at least several hours ahead of time so it has time to cool and not melt your ice cream into a puddle. It is also heavenly on spice cake, carrot cake or a spoon.

17 thoughts on “Homemade Caramel Sauce – Yes You Can

  1. Your sauce is such a gorgeous dark color! And you’re right, the homemade stuff is way way better than the grocery store version (which is also filled with lots of weird ingredients – not that caramel sauce is at all healthy anyway, but still!).

    • I do have a good recipe for spice cake! I’ll try to do a post on it soon.

      Do you have your mother’s recipe? Sounds like a good post for you to do, or at least a cake to make!

  2. Hi Sarah! Mary helped and I finally got registered for your blog! Loved reading bout the caramel sauce – my favorite sauce for everything. Do you, by chance, have a Caramel Cake recipe? LOVE YOUR BLOG! Keep cooking! Connie

    • So glad you are following now! I don’t have a tried-and-true caramel cake recipe, though I have a couple of recipes in the to-try file. I’ll try to make one soon and post about it if it is good! Thanks for the compliments! 🙂

  3. Oh – almost forgot – another variation is to start with the basic caramel sauce and when you get to the point where you add your butter you add dark rum and butter – but no cream. Excellent on fresh apple cake – bet would be good on spice cake too. We always have the butter-rum sauce during holidays and cold weather. Yum – I need a snack! Connie.

  4. I made caramel for the first time last night–I probably should have read your post first! Luckily it all worked out and only some of it stuck to the bottom of the pot forever (where forever = until I soaked the pot in water). 🙂

  5. OK. I finally summoned the courage to make a batch of caramel sauce. About half-way to where I thought it should be, the molten sugar crystallized. I haven’t worked with molten sugar much, It looked like it was too dry, so I threw in another ounce of water. Instantly transformed back to liquid. Beginner’s luck? I don’t think I cooked it long enough (note to self – dummy! Next time use stainless not black non-stick!!) – the caramel sauce is light brown, soft and far too good. There’s some vanilla bean ice cream in the freezer…….

    • Congratulations!!!

      I crystallized mine the first time I made caramel sauce (20 years ago). I was too inexperienced and clueless. I tossed the whole thing and didn’t try again until a couple of years ago. Water was the key to fixing it, I guess! I imagine a sugar crystal got into the mix and was the seed for it all to recrystallize. Don’t scrape the sides, and try not to stir too much. But obviously, you can fix it with more water, as you proved! Way to go!

      It is a fine line on how long you cook it. My latest batch was perfect, but the one before that was just a tiny bit bitter. I took it too far. And too far is just a matter of seconds, sometimes.


  6. I tried your recipe a couple of times and, while very good, I had trouble with it granulating. I found another recipe at 52 Kitchen Adventures, and made a batch last night. No granulation! Very easy!

    From 52 Kitchen Adventures:
    Easy 7 Minute Salted Caramel Sauce


    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1 cup brown sugar, packed
    1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract


    In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together butter,
    brown sugar, heavy whipping cream, and salt.
    Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 6 minutes, whisking occasionally.
    Whisk in vanilla (be careful, it will bubble up) and cook 1 more minute.
    Pour caramel into a jar, then refrigerate until cold.
    Store in refrigerator. To serve, microwave briefly until sauce is pourable.

    • Tom, sorry you were having trouble with crystallization. I think the secret for me is not stirring too much. But who knows with sugar sometimes. Glad you found a recipe that works better for you.

      Thanks for sharing the recipe. I will try it soon! Does it taste like caramel sauce, or is it more butterscotchy. I have seen several recipes like this one and wondered if they tasted like caramel sauce or more like brown sugar.

      • I think it tastes like very rich, salted caramel. The sauce was really good on vanilla ice cream! (which is a bad thing for my waist-line)

        I make my own vanilla with fresh beans and 51 proof rum. 🙂

        Who knows why I was having with crystallization? Perhaps I wasn’t cooking it long enough for the sugar crystals to completely melt. Molten sugar still makes me uneasy so I find I hurry the process.

        • Caramel sauce is such a bad thing for the waistline! I like it on ice cream, over cake and just on a spoon. I am going to try the brown sugar recipe soon – I am intrigued.

          I need to make my own vanilla extract again. I tried it once, but I didn’t have high enough proof alcohol. Another project…. 🙂

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