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.