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.
69 Comments on “How to Make Homemade Caramel”
Will both the wet and dry versions quickly harden if not made into a sauce?
Hi Rachel! Yes. The dry caramel will harden into a solid and the wet caramel will be hard, but with a little plasticity. After a few minutes you will no longer be able to whisk in cream to make a sauce, for example.
I’m sure this is the way to go if you’re a purist but it looks like a lot of work. I have had great success with simmering a can of condensed milk in a pot of water. You can find it online. It works well and I have had zero problems with turning a can of condensed milk into delicious caramel except for the extra pounds I gained by making it so often. It tasted great drizzled over ice cream (or anything else you can think of.) Try it, you’ll like it!
Love homemade caramel!
It’s the best! Thanks, Nikki!
Do you know how much I love caramel? LOVE it. There would be not time to harden, if I had a spoon nearby. LOL
Thanks for the great “how to.”
A girl after my own heart! 🙂 Just give me a jar of caramel and a spoon and I’m happy. 🙂 Thanks, Sandy!
Homemade caramel is the best! It needs your full attention though, which can be difficult for multitaskers like me!
Does the cream need to be room temperature or can you just add it cold without ruining the caramel?
It will incorporate easier if the cream is at room temperature. But I usually forget to take it out ahead of time, and so mine is almost always cold, and it turns out just fine.
I totally thought making caramel was super hard. I need to try this!!
This is great! For some reason, caramel really scares me. I always think it’s going to be so hard. I need to give this a go!
Totally understandable. I think it’s scared us all at one point or another. But you can do it! I know you can. 🙂
Wowzer – I’ve never seen the dry method before!! I will have to try that with my next batch, because I’m *ahhh* almost out of caramel right now! The horror!
The dry method is actually my go-to, but I admit it’s a little crazy looking. But not difficult! Let me know how it goes when you give it a try. Thanks, Megan!
If I wanted to make a Caramel Cake, will just adding the cream make it spreadable/smooth-able/creamy without adding anything else? Or, will it get hard and crunchy?
Adding cream will result in a liquid caramel sauce, it will not get hard and crunchy. Are you looking to add it to a cake recipe or use it for frosting?
I would love to make a cake and use this for frosting…will it not work? My aunt make a caramel cake that was stupid good and creamy and would love to find that recipe.
It will be more like a drizzle than a glaze or frosting. You can try adding 1/4-1/2 cup (of room temperature caramel sauce- you don’t want it to be hot) to a plain buttercream frosting to make a caramel buttercream frosting. The amount you add will depend on what frosting recipe you use. Start with 1/4 cup and add more if needed. Hope this helps!
What a coincidence! I made caramel sauce too. And can’t stop drizzling it all over 🙂
is this sauce a ‘thin’ sauce for pouring on ice cream etc…or is it a sauce that can be used to make caramel apples and popcorn balls….which im looking for..thxs
Hi Michele! The caramel sauce in this post is on the thin side, perfect for drizzling over things. You can find a caramel apple recipe here, and caramel popcorn here. Hope this helps!
does the caramel need to be a certain temperature before adding the cream? It didn’t bubble up when I tried it.
That is odd. You added the cream immediately after removing the caramel from the heat? And did the caramel sauce still turn out okay?
I did! I put it back on the stove to bubble for a bit. It tasted okay but never got thick and creamy.
Instead of using heavy whipping cream would using the substitute 3/4cup of milk with 1/3 cup of butter work?
You know, I don’t know. I know it will be a different kind of caramel sauce, but I can’t be certain that it won’t be delicious. Give it a try and let me know!
I am so glad and grateful to finally find such a clear and detailed recipe for making caramel especially since I just burnt a batch. I’ve a question though is there a proportion of cream to sugar caramalised? Also why is butter added at the end? Some recipes Heat up cream n butter to add to the boiling sugar is there a difference?
how about adding the vanilla AND bourbon??
I just have to tell you how grateful I am for finding your recipe. I rarely if ever leave comments But I felt the need to let you know that my homemade caramel turned out delishious thanks to your step by step directions and photos. So thank you very much
So what do you mean by you store in to fridge for several weeks, do you mean we have to do that before we use it or can we use it when ever we want and thats how long you can keep it for when putting in fridge.
Thank you so much for this recipe!! I’m excited about trying it out!!!
What do you mean by store in to fridge for several weeks. Do you mean we have to wait that long to use it , or can we use it when we want and that’s our place to store it every time we finished with it .
I just mean the caramel sauce leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to several weeks. You can of course use it right away.
Have you tried canning your caramel sauce? Would love to make large batches for later use, or as gifts.
Wanna learn caramel and chocolates
Well i just made this but i didn’t have the whipping cream so i made a substitute for it which was 2/3 cup milk warmed & 1/3 cup real butter (melted) and it tastes delish!! It tastes like a buttery caramel !! Thank you so much for sharing and now that i know it’s not such a daunting task I will be making and experimenting more with your recipe !!
Can I use the caramel sauce to make caramel apples
This was such an easy thing to make (from some one who has no experience) thank you for the detailed instructions and pictures it helped me a lot my husband LOVEEESSS it.
I have never thought of making my own caramel. Read your post and just made this using dry method. It came out beautifully. Now to pour caramel sauce with nuts over my pumpkin cheesecake for thanksgiving dinner. Thanks very much!!
I just made it and it turned out absolutely delicious! Thank you so much for the recipe and for the easy way to explain! 🙂
I just completed this recipie. First time making caramel and I used the dry method and it tastes professional. I actually used a metal whisk when it says “whisk”….. Dont do that. Use a rubber spatula. Added whiskey and it’s salty, sweet, and delicious.
An excellent recipie. It’s going on a cheesecake tomorrow night.
love it yeah.
I just tried the dry method… and it turned out… burnt! I didn’t realize it until I tasted the bitter end taste. 🙁 The texture is really good and creamy, though. But bet I should start over and throw it away! *cry*
Nothing wrong with the recipe, it was just me – the first timer. lol
Thanks for the step-by-step recipe, Annalise! 🙂
omigoodness –who knew? I used to make sauce for Flan by pouring a bunch of sugar into the glass casserole and heating it directly over a flame, tilting it this way and that as it began to melt, until the whole thing was coated in dark gold. Then I’d pour in the egg ‘n’ cream ‘n’ whatever (vanilla, over-ripe bananas…) and it would crackle like breaking glass. Set the whole thing into a larger pan with a moat of water and bake…. and you’re telling me I was making caramel??! Delighted laughter here! THANK you!
Me Too! That’s how I make my flan! Simple too, never had a issue with burning it. Unlike, today (before finding your posting) tried with the wet method and relied too heavily on the candy gage instead of watching it.It went dark very quickly and sadly think I was a second too late. Will try again now with your great blog.
Hi Annalise – Use your recipe for caramel sauce – 1st time burnt it blah! 2nd time it went hard like rock candy – what did I do wrong – HELP
Hi Janine! Did you finish the entire recipe, add the cream and the rest of the sauce ingredients? It sounds like you caramelized the sugar correctly, but maybe neglected to continue? The caramelized sugar will harden immediately, so you’ll need to act fast!
How do I store this? Refrigerator? And how long will it last? Thanks! Love the step-by-step directions! Do you have a recipe for caramel candies?
Hi Shawna! Yes, you can store the caramel sauce in the fridge for up to several weeks, probably for as long as it takes you to use it up. Yes, I do have a recipe for sea salt caramels!
Love you post. Never saw anythhing like this for carmel. Can I use Truvia ir erythriol to make the carmei?
Perfect recipe. It amazes me in its simplicity and yet so tasty. One question though, how much will it keep in the fridge? (i admit its hard not to eat it all at once, but i have to resist the urge)
Could it be warmed up on a double boiler?
thanks in advance!
oh, excuse me, i just noticed that someone asked the same question 🙂
thanks anyway, enjoy your week and keep up the good work 🙂
I’m glad that you talked about how good caramel should have that dark amber color, which I think is great! I’ve been wanting to get some caramel syrup, and I think that being able to see how it’s made is neat. I might have to try your recipe one of these days, but for now I just want to find a place I can buy my caramel syrup! Thanks for sharing!
My Grandmother use date to make a caramel sauce that would harden when she poured it over our ice cream. No one in my family knows the recipe but I feel like she added butter to it as well as the sugar. I loved taking my spoon and “cracking” the hard top which had started the ice cream melting underneath. Any idea how I can do this. I think your recipe is close but I’m not sure if she added cream or not? I’ve search for recipes but can’t seem to find one and it sounds like you’re pretty familiar with the characteristics of caramel. If you have any tips please let me know.
Cold I use brown sugar?
Not sure, I haven’t tried!
No offence but this recipe is nonsense . The moment the sugar starts turning brown..its burnt and turned bitter…not worth the time and effort
This recipe is superb! Although my first attempt ended up with burnt sugar?, I gave a second try and it tasted amazing, I added a bit rum though.
It didn’t thicken, what do you do.
My 11 yr old daughter and I made this together to put on our ice cream. You must be patient and alert, but it’s worth it! We added the salt and vanilla in the end. Delicious!
This is probably the best caramel sauce I have ever had. I love caramel and have been hesitant to make it for years because I was afraid I would eat it too often. The step-by-step instructions and pictures were incredibly helpful and it tastes amazing! It turned out perfect on the first try. Now I want to make it all the time and give it to people so they can share in it’s deliciousness.
Can I add cornflour to a tin of caramel sauce to mare it thicken
No, I’m afraid it’s not that simple. I would suggest finding a thicker caramel sauce or making your own.
I used a different recipe and the sugar crystallised both times. Very frustrating! I tried this recipe instead (although I did add a bit more water) and it worked perfectly. I used salted butter and added just under 1/2 tsp salt with the vanilla extract for a great salted caramel sauce. This has now been added to my recipe book. Thankyou.
I’m so happy to hear that this caramel recipe and method worked for you! Thanks for the feedback. 🙂
The instructions are great but there isn’t any recipe amounts for butter, heavy cream and salt for the regular caramel. Only for the caramel sauce.
What do you mean by “regular caramel”? All you need to make caramel is just sugar, or possibly sugar + water (see the article above for more info). From there you can make all sorts of stuff with it, like the caramel sauce in this recipe. If you’re looking for caramel chewy candies, I have a different recipe for that here.