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Rich, buttery homemade Caramel Sauce is an absolutely essential recipe to have in your recipe binder! It’s so easy to make a creamy, decadent sauce that’s perfect on ice cream, cake, or in many other desserts.
The Best Caramel Sauce Recipe
If there’s anything better than warm, gooey caramel sauce drizzled over ice cream I don’t know what it is! I’m definitely a proponent of adding sauces to ice cream – I love a chocolate sauce or a hot fudge sauce swirled over homemade no-churn ice cream. But sometimes I want something a little bit different, and that’s where homemade caramel sauce comes in.
Caramel sauce is the perfect sweet finish to so many desserts. When I developed this recipe I wanted a caramel that was thick enough for dipping in fruit or cookies but not so thick that you can’t pour it at room temperature. I also didn’t want it too thin if you want to warm it up to drizzle it over ice cream or other treats.
I think I reached a happy medium with this recipe for caramel sauce. Plus, it could hardly be simpler to make. All you need are a few ingredients including cream, butter, sugar, vanilla, and just a little salt to cook up the most irresistible treat. Thinking beyond ice cream, you can add caramel sauce to cookies, especially shortbread cookies, in or on top of cakes, in buttercream frosting, and more. I also like to divide a batch of homemade caramel between pretty jars and give them as gifts.
Why You’ll Love This
I could sing the praises of caramel sauce for hours, but I’ll try to sum it up in a few brief points below:
- Simple ingredients. Every ingredient on the ingredients list is easily found at your local grocery store, and you will probably have quite a few of them in your pantry already.
- Versatile. See some of my serving suggestions below for how to make good use of homemade caramel sauce. I love to stir a spoonful into an iced latte or serve a bowl of warm caramel sauce with fresh fruit like strawberries or pineapple chunks for dipping.
- Homemade is best. Sure, you could pick up a jar of caramel sauce at the store. But in my opinion, nothing beats the taste of homemade caramel sauce. It’s fresher and doesn’t contain any preservatives – two things I truly appreciate.
- Naturally gluten-free. I love recipes that are naturally gluten-free, and this caramel sauce falls into that category! All of the ingredients – which total 6 – don’t contain any gluten, so you won’t have to worry about any cross-contamination.
What You’ll Need
Here’s a quick list of everything you’ll need to make homemade caramel sauce. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card at the end of this post for the full ingredient amounts.
- Granulated Sugar: You can substitute light brown sugar for a deeper flavor.
- Water: To help melt the sugar and form the sauce.
- Butter: I use unsalted butter in this recipe.
- Heavy Cream: Heavy cream will bring a wonderful richness to the caramel sauce. However, you could substitute half-and-half if you are out of cream.
- Vanilla Extract: I really recommend adding pure vanilla extract to the caramel sauce!
- Salt: A little fine sea salt or table salt is a nice contrast to the sweetness of the sugar.
How to Make Caramel Sauce
Here’s my quick method for making caramel sauce. You’ll just want to be careful not to burn the sugar while you’re cooking it, although burnt caramel is a flavor some enjoy!
- Mix the sugar and water together. Add the sugar to a small saucepan and pour the water over the top, trying not to splash it on the sides of the pan.
- Cook the water and sugar mixture without stirring. Heat the water and sugar over low heat until the sugar dissolves and it starts to bubble. You’ll notice that at one point it will look crystallized. Do not stir it. Just gently swirl the pan if needed, taking care not to splash the sugar up on the sides. If some get some on the sides, wash it down with a pastry brush dipped in a bit of water.
- Cook the sugar until bubbly. Once all of the sugar has dissolved, let it bubble until it turns a light golden brown. This will take about 6-8 minutes. You don’t have to use a thermometer, but if you do, you are aiming for 340-350°F. Any higher and it will start to taste burnt.
- Stir in the butter and cream off of the heat. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter until smooth and melted. Then, while still stirring, slowly stream in the heavy cream and stir until smooth. Then stir in the vanilla and salt, if using.
- Cool the caramel slightly. Cool slightly to thicken the caramel a bit before serving, or let it cool to room temperature.
Tips for Success
This is a straightforward recipe, but I have a few tips to help it turn out well every time:
- Add vanilla and salt – or not. This caramel has a deep, rich flavor from cooking the sugar. I like to add pure vanilla extract and salt to enhance the flavor, but you can omit one or both.
- Swap in different ingredients. There are a number of ways to make caramel. Some use brown sugar, some use half, and some use different ratios of the ingredients. When I tested variations with half and half or brown sugar, they all ended up more thick and grainy, so you may want to keep to the recipe as it’s written.
- Watch the sauce while it’s cooking. To make sure the caramel sauce doesn’t burn, pay attention during the step where the sugar cooks in the water. I do recommend using a candy thermometer if you can so you’ll know that the sugar base has reached the correct temperature.
- Use the microwave. Warm cooled or refrigerated caramel sauce for a few seconds in the microwave if you want a pourable consistency.
- Make it dairy-free. You can easily make a dairy-free caramel sauce. Substitute coconut cream for the heavy cream, and use your favorite non-dairy butter of choice for the butter.
Can I Make A Thinner Caramel Sauce?
Yes! You can make a thinner, pourable caramel sauce. To make a more spoonable caramel sauce at room temperature, add 1 cup of heavy cream rather than ½ cup of heavy cream. Then proceed with the recipe as written.
Ways To Use Homemade Caramel Sauce
As I’ve mentioned, homemade caramel sauce is amazing on ice cream and other desserts! Here are a few of my favorite ways to serve caramel sauce:
- Make a sundae. Choose from one of my no-churn ice cream recipes like Toffee Nutella Swirl Ice Cream or Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Ice Cream. Then top scoops of your favorite flavor with a generous spoon of caramel sauce, whipped cream, and toasted nuts.
- Drizzle over cookies. If you want a simple way to elevate cookies into something truly special, drizzle them with homemade caramel sauce. Some of my favorite cookie recipes to dress up with caramel sauce include Gluten-Free Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies.
- Tuck it into cake frosting. If you’re making buttercream frosting, why not make caramel buttercream frosting? Caramel is a great complement to chocolate cake or turn a simple vanilla cake into a caramel cake with a topping of caramel sauce that doubles as a frosting.
- In your coffee. Instead of sugar or simple syrup to sweeten an iced coffee, stir in as much caramel sauce as you like for sweetness and added flavor. Or make a caramel latte by adding a spoonful of caramel sauce!
- Serve with treats. Use it for dipping Gluten Free Funnel Cake Fries, churros, or even cookies like chocolate cookies or biscotti for an ultra-sweet treat.
- Use as a dip for fruit or cookies. A bowl of thick homemade caramel sauce makes a wonderful dip for fresh fruit like whole or halved strawberries, chunks of fresh pineapple, banana slices, or melon.
- Swirl into a cocktail. Add a spoonful of caramel sauce to my Apple Cider Moscow Mule for a sweet take on this fall cocktail.
Store caramel sauce in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. You can rewarm the sauce in the microwave for a few seconds at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional but recommended
- ¼ teaspoon salt, optional but recommended
- Add the sugar to a small saucepan and pour the water over the top, trying not to splash it on the sides of the pan.
- Heat the water and sugar over low heat until the sugar dissolves and it started to bubble. You’ll notice that at one point it will look crystallized. Do not stir it. Just gently swirl the pan if needed, taking care not to splash the sugar up on the sides. If some get some on the sides, wash it down with a pastry brush dipped in a bit of water.
- Once all of the sugar has dissolved, let it bubble until it turns a light golden brown. This will take about 6-8 minutes. You don’t have to use a thermometer, but if you do, you are aiming for 340-350°F. Any higher and it will start to taste burnt.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter until smooth and melted. Then, while still stirring, slowly stream in the heavy cream and stir until smooth. Then stir in the vanilla and salt, if using.
- Cool slightly to thicken the caramel a bit before serving, or let it cool to room temperature.