“I kid you not when giving this the title of BEST CARAMEL SAUCE EVER. It really is. But seriously. ” -C
Fall is in the air again. And where this is Fall, there must be caramel.
In case you haven’t noticed, we are occasionally going back to highlight some of our favorite original recipes that we posted on the blog when we started, adding in additional tips and variations. Oh and also with improved pictures in case the first round didn’t do it for ya. 🙂 You know, we’re still learning with the camera, but I would say in one year, the photography has improved by leaps and bounds.
Ok, well back to caramel now. Seriously, this caramel sauce is AMAZING! It’s not a “fly-by-night-just-came-to-me” kind of recipe. It is my heart and soul, my blood and tears. (Well that may be a little overly dramatic, but what I’m saying is that a lot of effort has gone into this final product.) This recipe is a result of batches and batches (and shall I say, years?) of tweaking and testing to get it to its perfect caramely perfection. And it is with great pleasure that I share it with you. If you have not made it yet…..well, what are you waiting for?
Caramely things of any nature may seem intimidating, especially when trying for the first time. But seriously, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! It’s worth it! And once you get this caramel sauce down, you can, with confidence, produce a great batch every time. Here are a few tips to help out.
USE THE RIGHT POT: Use the heaviest metal pot that you have. I find that a metal pot works better for even distribution of heat for caramel (and other candy making). We really like All-Clad or Calphalon for a good mid-range price option (or you can go buy yourself a crazy expensive copper core pot. We just not that rich!) Do not use a non-stick as it tends to heat unevenly and can create hot spots that burn the caramel. Also, use a bigger pot than you think you need. When you add the dairy (cream and butter), the mixture will bubble up, and we don’t want any burn injuries – yes, this stuff is hot!
MEDIUM HEAT IS WHERE IT’S AT: Best batches come from patience. It does take a little longer, but good consistent lower heat from beginning all the way through boil and finish comes out with the best results. You have less chance of getting sugar crystals and better chance to get a deep-dark caramely flavor with lower risk of burning.
BEWARE OF SUGAR CRYSTALS: This is probably the first and foremost thing that can ruin your batch of caramel sauce – if a sugar crystal starts forming and continues to grow, it will eat up the whole pan. One thing that helps is not to stir the mixture or scrape the edges after the mixture starts to boil, and instead just simply swirl the pan around gently. Stirring can promote binding – really bad in this case. I often will stir the sugar, water, and corn syrup together initially to get them evenly distributed, but I do this while still cool and then I toss that spoon right in the sink! Don’t be tempted to use it again! One extra dirty dish is worth it in this case.
Another helpful tip is to use a basting brush (I like just a simple silicone brush) and wipe down the sides of the pan frequently with water to stop crystals from forming. You can be paranoid about this if you want – especially if you are still perfecting your caramel making. The water just evaporates off, and any crystals that start trying to form are nipped in the bud. By straining your caramel through a fine mesh sieve before storing, you will get rid of any small lumps that may have formed and no one will be the wiser.
Another addition in our recipe is the use of just the teensiest amount of light corn syrup. Corn syrup is an invert sugar and helps prevent sugar crystals. You do not have to use it, but we’ve never achieved quite the same results without it!
Here’s how you know if you fell prey to the sugar crystals (we will try to get a picture of this even though we seriously don’t intentionally want to ruin a batch of caramel, but we’ll do it for you!): the top of your bubbly syrup that should be caramelizing never seems to start achieving that amber hue. Instead, it starts looking dry and lumpy as it bubbles. You can easily see this if you try swirling it. This dryness will eventually spread to the whole surface and just look like a dry, clumpy sugary mess. Do not attempt to save. It’s too late. Don’t waste your other (more pricey) ingredients. At this point you’re just out a little sugar, corn syrup, and water. No big deal. Just dump out, clean out the pan well, and start over.
WHEN YOU’RE WORRIED IF THE CARAMEL’S DARK ENOUGH, LET IT GO JUST A LITTLE LONGER BUT LET YOUR NOSE BE YOUR GUIDE: -C always says that my caramel turns out just a little bit better than hers. It’s just because I’m a little daring and cook it almost ’til burnt (saving it to the last second) and then rapidly add my dairy in a stirring frenzy and pour out of the hot pan to stop it from continuing to cook (even when you remove it from the heat, the pan is still hot and will continue to cook the caramel). I’m risky like that – living on the edge! I’ve made this so many times, so it’s easy for me to know the perfect “color”, so this will just take a little practice. Just know that a deeper color will be deeper flavor. But there is a fine line between deep dark caramel, and burnt not-so-good caramel. If it smells burnt, it is, and that flavor’s not going away. Better to dump and try again (once again, before wasting your precious cream).
BUTTER AND CREAM AT ROOM TEMP OR WARMER PLEASE: When adding the butter and cream, it is a tremendous help to have them at room temperature (even a little warmer for the cream). With the stark temperature difference, the mixture can tend to seize up initially. There is no problem if this does happen. You simply have to patiently stir until the caramely glob melts into your dairy additions. But, it’s nice to skip that nuisance of an issue by having those dairy ingredients warmer from the get-go.
STIR, STIR, STIR!: And follow up to the above notes, when adding the butter and cream, the best thing to do is simply stir your little heart out as you add them until smooth! This will help prevent above-mentioned seizure. Don’t overdo it and don’t scrape the sides. You just need it until smooth. If there happens to be a crystal on the side, you don’t want to accidentally scrape it into the mixture.
Here are a couple of other great posts with caramel making tips:
Food52: This Q&A shares a little science behind sugar crystals and how to prevent them
David Lebovitz: Professional cook and baker extraordinaire, David, shares 10 tips for making caramel
TOOLS WE LIKE TO USE FOR THIS RECIPE:
THE BEST Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup optional, but helps prevent crystallization
- 1 cup heavy cream or warmer, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon butter room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Put the sugar, water and corn syrup into a medium saucepan. (If desired, stir together with a spoon just in order to distribute evenly, then toss spoon into sink. DO NOT REUSE OR STIR WHEN MIXTURE IS BOILING.)
Cook over medium heat bringing mixture to a low boil, swirling the pan, but not stirring.
If you get sugar crystals on the edge of your pan, use a pastry brush with water to wipe them off.
Continue cooking and swirling until mixture turns amber in color.
Lower the heat and carefully add cream and butter, standing away from pan to avoid splattering.
When bubbling calms, stir sauce until smooth. (This might take a few minutes depending on the temperature of your cream. If the cooked sugar separates from the cream, just continue to stir over low heat until the mixture is smooth.)
Pour through mesh sieve into heatproof jar.
Cool to warm or room temperature before serving.
For best results, use a "heavy metal" pan. (rock 'n roll, baby!)
Let your nose be your guide. Be careful to not let the caramel get too dark or your sauce will taste burnt. If it smells burnt, it is.
Having the cream at least at room temperature or warmer will help prevent the mixture from seizing up when you add it. (If it does seize up, you can still stir it back together - see above in recipe.)
Change It Up:
If you are a beginner and intimidated by caramel making (like me), double the water. The water just evaporates off anyway. It will take a little longer to cook, but nothing significant. For me the hardest and most crucial step is getting everything to initially melt together without forming sugar crystals. This aids in that process tremendously. Also, I never stir it, not even at the first. I just kind of swirl gently for it to all melt together. Otherwise, somehow I just seem to mess it up! -C
For a thicker sauce (a little more of a dip consistency), use 3/4 cup cream.
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