A delicious homemade salted caramel sauce, perfect for drizzling over everything. Or if you’re feeling particularly generous, this sauce is great for gift-giving too!
The Best Salted Caramel Sauce with deep, complex caramel flavor and a touch of salt.
I’ve been making this salted caramel sauce for a while now, and at this point, it feels like a curse. Every time I make it, it’s gone in record time, and there’d be a reason to make it again. Moderation is everything… I get it, but damn, this caramel sauce is just too good. 🙂
It’s the best salted caramel sauce recipe ever! Here’s why,
- This recipe uses caramelized white sugar (not brown sugar) as the base. So it’s a true caramel sauce. Brown sugar is used to make butterscotch sauce.
- A complex, deep caramel flavor. This is achieved by cooking the sugar to a very dark, amber color
- Sweet, but not sickly sweet. Again, this is achieved by cooking the sugar to that really dark amber color. This almost burnt caramel is the base of this sauce, which actually lessens the sweetness, while deepening the caramel flavor. Plus the addition of salt gives perfect balance to the sweetness and slight bitterness.
- Rich and decadent. Perfect to top your holiday desserts! From cheesecakes, trifles and cakes, to frostings and pastries. This salted caramel sauce is the perfect topping.
- It’s very versatile. This sauce will also flavor your favorite drinks and other caramel recipes too. Caramel latte? Check! Salted caramel hot chocolate? Check! Caramel apple cider? Check! Salted caramel frappuccino? Check! The options are endless.
- So many variations. Did you know you can flavor caramel sauce? Think coffee, chocolate, fruit juices etc.!
Caramel sauce vs butterscotch sauce
This is kind of a pet peeve for me. I’ve seen so many recipes on the internet and on TV that claim to be an easy caramel sauce, when in fact they are just a butterscotch sauce.
There may not be a difference between the two for some, but for the sake of accuracy, these two are very different. Both in flavor and how they are made.
Caramel sauce is made with white sugar + butter + cream + and vanilla (optional, but recommended).
The sugar is caramelized to make the sauce, hence “caramel” sauce. There’s no way around that caramelization. Brown sugar is not caramelized white sugar, and therefore does not work as a substitute.
While caramel sauce is an easy recipe to follow, it can be a little finicky. You absolutely must use a large saucepan to prevent the caramel from boiling over. Otherwise it can be dangerous. The tips I have provided in this post will make the process easier for you. However, you do need to take more care when making caramel sauce, as opposed to butterscotch sauce.
Butterscotch sauce is made with brown sugar + butter + cream + vanilla (absolutely necessary).
Brown sugar does not need to be caramelized at all to make butterscotch sauce. Brown sugar is just white sugar + molasses. It is the molasses that gives butterscotch that distinct malty flavor. The darker the brown sugar, the more distinct the butterscotch flavor.
With butterscotch sauce, you can add all the ingredients and just heat everything to make the sauce. So it’s easier than caramel sauce to make. Which is probably why some like to call it “easy caramel sauce”.
Butterscotch sauce can be used to replace caramel sauce in a pinch. This is because they both have similar sweetness levels. However, they are still distinctively different in terms of base flavor.
As a side note, you can get the recipe to my brown butter butterscotch sauce right here!
How to make this Salted Caramel Sauce
Caramelize the sugar
Have ALL the ingredients measured and ready to go BEFORE you start to cook the sugar.
The very first step is to caramelize the sugar. You can do this in one of two ways – by making dry caramel or wet caramel.
I usually prefer to make dry caramel with smaller amounts of sugar. With a larger amount of sugar, I usually make wet caramel. I made a wet caramel for this recipe because I’m dealing with a larger amount of sugar/caramel.
Place the sugar and water in a bowl and make sure all the sugar is moistened with water. I prefer not to stir it, and simply move the pan around gently to distribute the water.
TIP – if you’re worried about crystallizing the sugar, then substitute about 3 – 4 tbsp of the sugar with an equal amount of corn syrup.
Heat over medium-high heat, while gently swirling the pan occasionally to completely dissolve the sugar. When the sugar syrup comes to a boil, cover the saucepan with a lid. Keep it closed for about 2 minutes. The condensation collects on the bottom of the lid and flows down into the saucepan, washing down any sugar crystals on the side of the pan.
Uncover and allow the sugar to cook. Keep an eye on it, especially when the sugar starts to turn yellow in color. Swirl the pan to make sure the sugar cooks evenly.
When the sugar starts to turn yellow, the color will continue to darken very quickly to a very dark amber color. So make sure you’re ready with the other ingredients at this point. When the sugar is at the right color, remove from the heat to add the next ingredients.
On a candy thermometer, this temperature should register at about 360° – 370°F. However, you don’t need a sugar or candy thermometer, and simply go by the color instead.
If you want to check out how sugar color changes as it caramelizes, check out this article from Bon Appetit.
Adding other ingredients
Add the warm, heavy whipping cream to the dark amber colored sugar mix, as soon as it turns that color. The sugar mixture is going to bubble up violently at this point, so please be careful to avoid any burn injuries!
Next, add the butter and return the saucepan to the stove. Whisk the caramel sauce over medium heat to dissolve the butter. Keep cooking and whisking the caramel sauce, and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Boil the sauce for about 1 – 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat to prevent further cooking.
Adding the flavoring
Add about 1/2 tsp of salt and vanilla while the caramel sauce is still hot. Stir to dissolve. I like to add a little more, but it comes down to personal taste.
You can taste the caramel sauce to decide how much salt to add. Just put a little bit of the caramel on a saucer and let it cool for a few seconds. Taste the cooled caramel sauce and add more salt if you like.
Cool down and store!
Let the sauce cool down, or can it while the sauce is still hot. The salted caramel sauce is best enjoyed while warm or at room temperature. If the caramel sauce is too thick at room temperature, you can gently warm it up in the microwave.
I like to store them in glass jars. This way the sauce can be easily microwaved to warm it up, if I’m ever in need of some delicious homemade salted caramel sauce.
Tips for making this recipe perfectly
- Use a big saucepan to make caramel sauce. When you add cream to the boiling sugar mixture, it will bubble up A LOT. So to prevent the caramel sauce from spilling over, make sure to use a large pot.
- First timers should use corn syrup. Corn syrup helps prevent the sugar from seizing up. So corn syrup is helpful, especially if you’re a little nervous about caramelizing sugar.
- Warm the heavy cream (35% fat). Adding cold cream to very hot sugar will cause the sugar to seize and make a mess. Warming it will help the cream incorporate smoothly into the caramel.
- Use softened butter. Butter should be very soft as well. Room temperature butter is fine too. However during winter, room temperature butter can be on the cooler side. So make sure to let the butter soften in a warm place.
- Unsalted butter is preferred. You can control the amount of salt you add if you use unsalted butter. You can however use salted butter in a pinch, if you don’t have unsalted butter.
- Don’t stir the caramel at the beginning. When the sugar is caramelizing, stop stirring the sugar mixture. ONLY stir the caramel sauce once you’ve added the cream. Especially so if you’re not using corn syrup. Agitating the sugar mix too much can cause the sugar to seize.
- Swirl the pot instead, to cook the sugar evenly.
- Use good quality salt. Avoid table salt and iodized salt. Fleur de sel is obviously high quality, but expensive. You can use a good sea salt or even kosher salt too. Maldon flake salt is great too, but doesn’t dissolve as readily.
- If you’re doubling the recipe, you may need to cook the caramel sugar a little longer at the end. Try one batch first, and familiarize yourself with the consistency that you prefer.
Easy homemade salted caramel sauce recipes
Here are some easy ways you can use this homemade salted caramel sauce.
- Flavor your coffee or hot chocolate – caramel latte, anyone?
- Make salted caramel milkshake.
- Pour on top of ice cream or use it to flavor ice cream.
- Drizzle on top of cake (caramel drip cake!).
- Make caramel frosting.
- Drizzle on top of crumpets or English muffins.
- Drizzle on top of waffles or pancakes.
- Serve with some sliced apples for an easy version of caramel apples.
Caramel sauce variations
Here’s how you can make classic salted caramel sauce even better!
Coffee caramel sauce – Add about 1 tsp of instant coffee granules along with the vanilla and salt. The depth of coffee flavor takes this caramel sauce to a whole new level!
Chocolate caramel sauce – Add about 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips + 1 tbsp cream along with the salt and vanilla, for a nice hint of chocolate. Use darker chocolate for a more prominent flavor.
Pineapple caramel sauce – Add about 1/4 cup of pineapple juice to the sauce, after the butter. Cook the caramel for an extra minute or two (otherwise, the caramel will be runny).
Cinnamon caramel sauce – Add 1/2 tsp cinnamon (more if you really like cinnamon flavor) along with the vanilla and salt.
Spiced caramel sauce – Add 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice. OR you can add a combination of ground nutmeg, cloves and cardamom to give this sauce a lovely spicy flavor profile.
Chili caramel sauce – Add about 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper for a nice spicy kick.
Regular caramel sauce – Leave out the salt for a regular caramel sauce.
Burnt caramel sauce – The sugar should be cooked until it reaches just over 375°F. This is sugar that is almost burnt. Then follow the rest of the recipe with the sugar syrup. You will end up with a complex bittersweet caramel sauce.
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 10.5 oz white sugar 1 ½ cups sugar (see notes for corn syrup)
- 1/3 cup water ⅓ cup
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream 35% fat (1 cup)
- 12 tbsp unsalted butter 1 ½ sticks
- ½ tsp sea salt more if needed
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Measure all the ingredients and place them in separate bowls. Make sure the butter is softened. Please note, when the sugar starts to turn yellow during the cooking process (see below), you will need to quickly heat the cream in the microwave for a couple of minutes until warm.
- Place the sugar, water and corn syrup (if using) in a large saucepan. Swirl to moisten all of the sugar.
- Cook the sugar over medium-high heat until the water comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Remember to swirl the pot to evenly dissolve the sugar.
- Place the lid on the saucepan and let the sugar syrup cook with the lid closed for about 2 minutes. This is to allow any sugar crystals stuck on the side of the pan to be washed down back into the syrup and dissolve.
- Remove the lid and continue to cook the sugar until it starts to turn light yellow in color. Swirl the pot occasionally to make sure the sugar cooks and colors evenly.
- Heat the heavy whipping cream in the microwave until warm, as mentioned above in step 1.
- When the sugar starts to color, it will continue to deepen in color very quickly. So do not leave the sugar unattended at this stage. Swirl the pot frequently to make sure the sugar cooks and colors evenly without any burn spots.
- As soon as the sugar caramelizes to a really dark amber color, remove the pot from the heat and add the warm cream. Stand back as you pour the cream slowly (do not dump it all in at once!) because the hot caramel sauce will bubble up a lot.
- Whisk the cream in, and follow with the softened, unsalted butter.
- Return the pot to the stove (medium heat) and continue to whisk, in order to dissolve the butter and mix it smoothly into the caramel. Bring the sauce back to a boil while whisking.
- Let the sauce gently boil for about 1 - 2 minutes while whisking.
- Remove from the heat. Add ½ tsp of salt and vanilla and stir to mix and dissolve. To taste the caramel, place a small amount of caramel on a saucer / small bowl and let it cool down for a few seconds. Taste and add more salt if needed. Stir to dissolve.
- When the sauce has cooled slightly, transfer to glass jars.
- Allow the caramel to cool to a slightly warm temperature. Serve while still warm.