What can you say about caramel sauce besides “Yum!” Smooth, creamy caramel sauce makes even simple food really special! Add rum or bourbon for a really special treat.
Why you’ll love it: Caramel sauce is surprisingly easy to make and it’s good on everything, from apples to ice cream.
How long it takes: 15 minutes
Equipment you’ll need: saucepan, measuring utensils, small jar or bowl
Servings: makes 1 1/2 cups
Simple ingredients almost magically produce this sweet, delicious, and creamy caramel sauce. So easy to make and even easier to eat, homemade caramel sauce elevates every dessert. Even simple apple slices or a scoop of vanilla ice cream become a special treat topped with caramel sauce.
The optional addition of just a tablespoon of dark rum or bourbon transforms plain caramel sauce (which is still really, really good, let me assure you) into a memorable caramel rum sauce. You’ll see everyone’s eyes light up when you casually mention that you made caramel rum sauce. The rum adds an incredible depth of flavor.
I could live on this caramel sauce. I really could, it is that good. Living on caramel wouldn’t be too good for my waistline, or my blood sugar, or my general well-being, but I would be one happy camper! At least for awhile. If you’re on a diet, you might want to go elsewhere. Quickly. This isn’t necessarily a healthy recipe. Unless we’re talking about emotional health. Because it will make you happy, very happy.
About this caramel sauce
All you need to make this sauce is a heavy saucepan and your stove. Follow the instructions carefully and a turtle sundae, complete with homemade caramel sauce, is right around the corner! Hmm, or maybe a caramel latte or caramel brownies or … help, somebody pinch me before I fall into a caramel coma.
The full instructions are in the printable recipe card below but here’s a quick run through the recipe, with extra tips and help.
What You’ll Need
- White Granulated Sugar: Use regular white sugar that is normally used for baking.
- Corn Syrup: Helps stabilize the sugar mixture.
- Pinch of Salt: Helps to balance out the sweetness.
- Heavy Cream: no substitutions, please. Some caramel recipes are made without cream but with milk instead. I’ve found that they just aren’t as good.
- Dark Rum, optional but really delicious! Bourbon is great, too.
- Butter: Choose unsalted butter. Again, some cooks make caramel without butter, but I say, Why? This is caramel sauce – why try to cut corners?
- Pure Vanilla Extract: Adds depth of flavor.
How To Make Caramel Sauce
If the only way you’ve ever made caramel is by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk, you’re in for a real treat! Not to mention, it’s a bit safer – no exploding cans.
Make sure you have all the ingredients measured out and ready to go before you get started because you’ll need to move quickly. A heavy-bottomed saucepan works best.
Combine the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Swirl the mixture occasionally but don’t stir it.
Boil until the sugar darkens to about the same shade as iced tea. Keep a close eye on it because once the sugar starts browning, it can go from perfect to burned pretty quickly. If it gets too dark, it will taste scorched.
Remove the pan from the heat and carefully whisk in the cream and rum or bourbon if using. I say carefully because there will be a fair amount of hot steam and I don’t want any injuries! Whisk in the butter and vanilla until the sauce is smooth and well-blended.
Don’t worry if the sauce seems a little runny. It will thicken as it cools. Pour it into a small bowl or a jar.
Ways To Use Caramel Sauce
Desserts: There are so many ways to serve this warm caramel sauce! Homemade vanilla ice cream, apple slices (think caramel apples), apple crisp, banana splits, turtle sundaes with caramel, chocolate, and pecans (learn how to toast pecans), apple spice cake, pound cake, or chocolate cake. Maybe the best way is by the spoonful.
Breakfast: How about caramel sauce for breakfast? Maybe instead of maple syrup on pancakes? It’s especially good on banana pancakes or apple quinoa pancakes. Top plain yogurt with a swirl of caramel. Add excitement to apple muffins or pumpkin muffins with a drizzle of caramel.
Gifts: A jar of homemade caramel sauce makes a great gift idea. Put it in a recycled jar or a Mason jar and tie a pretty ribbon around it. Include a jar of homemade spiced pecans or vanilla bean candied walnuts for a special someone. You may want to attach the recipes because I’m pretty sure they’ll want to make their own when the jar is empty.
Butterscotch is usually made with dark brown sugar, or white sugar with a bit of molasses. Caramel is made with white sugar that is cooked until it “caramelizes”. Butterscotch contains more butter and is usually a little saltier in flavor than caramel.
They have similar ingredients (sugar, butter) but toffee is cooked longer so it reaches a hard crack stage (146 to 154 °C or 295 to 309 °F). Caramel candy is cooked to a firm ball stage ( 118 to 120 °C or 244 to 248 °F).
When the sugar is heating up, it’s best not to stir it. Stirring can cause the sugar to crystallize which will make your caramel feel grainy.
This recipe is a “wet” caramel which means water is added to help the sugar melt evenly. We also add corn syrup which acts as a stabilizer. It makes it really foolproof!
Storage & Reheating Tips
Refrigerate: Cool the sauce completely before covering and storing in the fridge. It will keep for one to two weeks.
Reheat: To reheat the caramel sauce (because everyone loves warm caramel!), warm it up in a sauce pan over medium-low heat or in the microwave at 50% power in 45-second increments until it’s perfectly warm. Try to only warm up what you’re going to use, so that you’re not warming and cooling the whole batch repeatedly.
More Sweet Toppings
Sweet on sauces? Here’s a few more delightful toppings for you:
- Easy Apple Compote with Cinnamon
- Hot Fudge Sauce with 3 variations (peanut butter, mocha, and Black Forest)
- Strawberry Basil Jam
- Orange Creamsicle Magic Shell
- Slow Cooker Chocolate Fondue
- Whipped Cream Recipe — make your own!
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ stick)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Boil sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling occasionally, but not stirring. Cook until caramel is the color of iced tea, about 10 minutes. Watch it closely! It takes some time to start turning golden brown, but once it does, it can go from perfect to burnt very quickly.
- Remove saucepan from the heat and add heavy cream, whisk to combine. It will foam up and and steam, so be careful! Whisk in butter and vanilla.
- Transfer to a bowl or a jar to cool completely. It will thicken quite a bit as it cools. Store in fridge for 1 to 2 weeks.
- If desired, stir in one tablespoon of rum or bourbon at the same time as the cream.
- To reheat: Heat in saucepan over medium-low heat until warm or in microwave at 50% power in 45 second intervals, stirring well each time.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.