Basic Caramel Sauce

Everyone needs a basic caramel sauce—not only can it be used diversely, but it is adaptable. Though this caramel sauce is really quite wonderful without any alterations, here are just a few ideas for adding a little flair to this basic caramel sauce:

  • Stir in 1/4 cup of your favorite fruit juice or cider to add a unique flavor to your caramel (I used an orange citrus caramel sauce for these tarts).
  • Increase the salt to one teaspoon to make a fabulous salted caramel sauce.
  • Add in half a vanilla bean (or one teaspoon vanilla extract) at the end for a vanilla caramel sauce.
  • Melt in a tablespoon (or three) of unsalted butter when adding the salt to make a rich, buttery caramel.
  • Mix in 1/4 cup of your favorite alcohol to make a boozy caramel sauce (dark rum is my very favorite addition).

The possibilities are really only limited to your imagination.

Once you have created a homemade caramel sauce, there are many ways to use it up (not that I need to tell you that). Nevertheless, here are a few uses off the top of my head:

  • Stir a tablespoon or two into hot coffee and add warm, frothed milk to create a homemade caramel macchiato.
  • Whisk a couple tablespoons into warm apple cider to create a sweet Caramel Apple Cider.
  • Drizzle caramel sauce on top of your favorite breakfast treats (like muffins or scones) to add a decadent twist to your morning.
  • Use as a dip for fresh fruit (especially apples!).
  • Heat up the caramel and spoon it over ice cream to create the perfect ice cream sundae.
  • Add a few large spoonfuls when making buttercream to give the frosting a hint of caramel flavor.
  • Drizzle over pies and cheesecakes to add a unique flair.
  • Spread on the bottom of a cookie and sandwich with another to create a caramel-filled cookie sandwich.

Or, of course, you can always eat it plain and by the spoonful. In fact, I recommend it.

This caramel sauce is smooth and creamy, with a hint of salt to cut the best of the sweetness. Both incredibly adaptable and multipurpose, it is a recipe you should have in your repertoire. While caramel is often considered "tricky" to make, I'd argue otherwise. As long as you devote your full attention to the caramel while it's cooking, it's hard to mess up. In fact, you don't even need a candy thermometer to make a perfect batch. I've added a couple tips below to help you during the process (and a quick fix if the caramel seizes up).

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Basic Caramel Sauce

Yields 1 1/2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream, warmed
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix together granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water. Scrape down sides of pan and let sugar boil, without stirring, until sugar reaches a golden amber color (if using a candy thermometer, this happens somewhere between 325F to 350F). If the sugar becomes too dark, it may turn the caramel bitter.

Remove sugar from heat and allow to rest for a full minute before pouring in warmed heavy cream. Whisk vigorously to incorporate cream (caramel will bubble up violently so be very careful!). If the caramel seizes up, place caramel back over medium heat and stir until sugar melts once again and caramel becomes smooth (this could take upwards of 5-7 minutes). Stir in salt.

If the caramel is too thin, simmer the caramel on medium heat for 5-10 minutes to thicken it (the caramel will not continue to darken). Keep in mind that the caramel will thicken significantly once cool. Likewise, if the caramel is too thick, thin by stirring a tablespoon or two of heavy cream.

To store, keep refrigerated in an air-tight container. To warm, place in the microwave for 30 seconds to heat through.