Twice as Tasty

Homemade Caramel Sauce

Master this two-ingredient sauce and you’ll have a homemade upgrade for sliced fruit, ice cream and cake

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

I’ve yet to hear a complaint when I serve homemade caramel sauce over a bowl of fresh sliced peaches, vanilla ice cream or last week’s Triple Ginger Cake. You could say it’s hard to go wrong with this two-ingredient sauce – yet when it comes to making it, several things can lead to messy failure.

In essence, caramel sauce is simple: melt granulated sugar until it liquifies and then stir in heavy cream to keep it saucy. Some recipes use other ingredients, from brown or toasted sugar to corn syrup to butter, but I find just white sugar and cream work and taste best. A little salt, or a splash of vanilla or whiskey stirred in at the end, can add a hint of flavor without altering the smooth richness of the sauce.

Because the ingredients are so simple, where caramel sauce goes wrong is in the process. A three-quart or larger pan might seem excessive, but anything smaller will likely overflow with molten sugar – a mess you certainly don’t want on your stovetop or burning your skin. A stainless steel pan and balloon whisk keep the sugar melting evenly. If your pan is nonstick, be sure your silicone whisk is sturdy and highly heat resistant.

The heat source and pan you choose affect how quickly the sugar colors and thickens, so hue and smell are the best indicators of when to turn off the stove. With a heavy-bottom pan, I find it easy to melt the sugar on its own to the desired shade. Some people prefer a wet technique that heats water and then cream with the sugar, but I find hot liquid makes the sauce more likely to bubble dangerous and turn grainy.

With the dry technique, you do need to keep stirring and avoid multitasking. Premeasure the cream so that it’s ready to drizzle in before the sugar starts to harden. The room-temperature cream should be cool the caramel enough to drizzle it straight on cake or ice cream.

Homemade Caramel Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature

1/8 teaspoon sea salt (optional)

Pour the sugar into a heavy-bottomed, three-quart or larger saucepan. Over medium heat, cook the sugar for six to eight minutes, whisking constantly, until it dissolves. Once it has fully melted, continue to cook over low heat for up to six minutes, until the caramel turns amber in color. Remove the caramel from the heat when it registers 220°F on an instant-read thermometer, for a light pourable caramel, or up to 350°F, for a dark, thick sauce.

Immediately add the cream, slowly whisking in a few tablespoons at a time to control the bubbling. Stir in the salt, if desired, and serve warm. To store, let the sauce cool to room temperature, transfer it to a lidded jar and keep it in the refrigerator for up to four weeks.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.