How to Make Homemade Caramel
I’ll show you how easy it is make homemade caramel from scratch. Rich and luscious caramel sauce can be yours in just a few minutes with only 5 ingredients!
If you are under the assumption that caramel is tricky or difficult, I am here today to tell you that it doesn’t have to be! I know the process of caramelizing sugar can be intimidating, because I’ve been there. But once I got over my fear and practiced it a few times, I discovered how simple it really is.
And it’s well worth the effort! Homemade caramel sauce is creamy and incredibly rich, with the best sweet and salty flavor.
Ingredients you’ll need
Let’s make some caramel! Here’s what you’ll need to get started (full recipe below):
- Granulated sugar
- Heavy whipping cream
- Unsalted butter
- Vanilla extract
How to make homemade caramel
Once you have your ingredients ready, the next step is to caramelize the sugar. Caramel is, simply, burned sugar. We want to let it melt, darken to an amber color and take on a deep and bittersweet flavor. The best, most flavorful caramel starts with this step.
You can caramelize sugar two ways— with the dry method or wet method. Most recipes online use one or the other, but I’m going to show you both! That way you can choose which way you’re most comfortable with.
Caramelizing sugar with the dry method
- Add sugar to a heavy-bottom saucepan set over medium heat.
- After a minute or two, the sugar will start to melt and darken in color, from the outside of the pan inwards.
- Do not stir, but instead swirl and shake the pan to distribute the caramelized sugar in and around the unmelted sugar and to promote even browning.
- Watch it carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. The caramel is done when it’s a deep amber color and all sugar lumps have dissolved.
Pros to using the dry method: it’s faster, creates a thicker caramel sauce (and I think it’s more fun).
Caramelizing sugar with the wet method
- Add sugar and water to a heavy-bottom saucepan set over medium heat. Stir with a whisk until sugar is dissolved, then stop stirring.
- After a few minutes the mixture will start darkening in color.
- Continue to cook until it’s a deep amber color, making sure it doesn’t burn, swirling the pan to promote even caramelization as needed. (The bottom right photo above is moments away from being burned, I let it go a little too long.)
Pros to using the wet method: it’s a little less intimidating, less likely to burn, and yields slightly more caramel sauce.
Stir in heavy cream, butter, vanilla and salt
Now that you’ve caramelized the sugar like a pro, it’s time to add the rest of the ingredients that will turn the bittersweet, almost-burned sugar into something magical.
- Once the sugar has fully melted and caramelized, turn the heat to low and immediately whisk in the heavy whipping cream. The mixture will bubble and steam vigorously and that’s normal. Keep stirring over low heat until mixture is smooth.
- Remove from heat and stir in butter, vanilla extract and salt.
And that’s it! You’ve just made the most delicious homemade caramel sauce.
Now what? Besides eat it by the spoonful, of course (no judging).
Uses for caramel sauce
- Pour it over ice cream.
- Mix it into rice krispie treats or a cream pie.
- Use it a topping for cheesecake, brownies, or a layer cake.
- Serve it as a dip for apples, pretzels, crackers and more.
- Give it as a gift!
Tips for making homemade caramel
- For this recipe I only recommend using ingredients as listed. If you would like to use any substitutions, do a google search for a caramel sauce that uses those ingredients.
- I prefer to use unsalted butter to have more control over the salt in this recipe, but you can use salted if that’s what you have. Add just ¼ teaspoon salt to finished sauce and taste before adding more.
- Resist the urge to stir while the sugar is caramelizing. This will actually cause the sugar to clump and crystalize, resulting in a grainy caramel sauce.
- Instead of stirring, swirl and slightly tilt the pan to move the contents around and promote even caramelization (for example, if you notice your pan has hot spot and the sugar there is cooking faster than the rest).
- If sugar starts to crystalize around the edges of the pan during cooking, dip a pastry brush in water and then brush the crystals from the sides of the pan. They should melt away.
- As soon as you remove the caramelized sugar from the heat it will start to harden very quickly. This is why I like to add the heavy cream while the pan is over low heat. Have everything ready so you can move quickly once the sugar is caramelized.
- Warmed heavy cream will mix into the caramelized sugar with a lot less bubbling or seizing. Simply heat it in the microwave for 30-60 seconds.
- Consider adding vanilla beans or a splash or whiskey or bourbon to the caramel sauce for even more flavor. Stir in at the end with the vanilla and salt.
- Homemade caramel sauce should be stored in the fridge, but can be reheated in the microwave as needed for serving. It will keep for several weeks in the fridge.
More caramel desserts
- Soft Caramel Popcorn
- Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake
- Caramel Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies
- How to Make Homemade Caramel Apples
- Chocolate Covered Caramels
Shop tools for this recipe
This recipe was originally published October 2014.
Homemade Caramel Sauce
Making Caramel - Dry Method
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
Making Caramel - Wet Method
- 1 cups granulated sugar (200 grams)
- ¼ cup water (60 ml)
For the Caramel Sauce:
- Caramelized sugar from above
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream (178 ml)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (28 grams)
- ½-1 teaspoon salt , to taste
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Making Caramel - Method 1 (Wet Method):
- Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Allow sugar to melt and bring to a boil. Let the mixture caramelize and wait for it to turn dark amber in color. Do not stir, swirl pan as needed to promote even caramelization.
Making Caramel - Method 2 (Dry Method):
- Sprinkle sugar evenly on the bottom of a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Allow sugar to melt and caramelize, swirling as necessary to promote even caramelization. Do not stir.
To make the Caramel Sauce:
- As soon as the caramel is dark amber in color, reduce heat to low, and gradually add the heavy cream while whisking constantly. Caramel will bubble violently.
- Stir caramel sauce over low or medium heat until any clumps have dissolved and mixture is smooth.
- Remove from heat and stir in butter, then vanilla and salt.
- Makes 1 ½ cup caramel sauce.
- If desired, stir in the seeds of 1 vanilla bean pod, and/or 1 tablespoon of bourbon or whisky into sauce along with vanilla extract.