perfect caramel sauce

if you haven't caught on yet, i'm a sucker for sweets.

cakes. cupcakes. bars. cookies. scones. ice cream. jam. i love them all. but nothing is better andhas been more difficult to tackle than caramel.

first thing's first: i never realized how unbelievably simple caramel is. melt some sugar. let it brown. add some butter and some heavy cream. done. you should have seen my face when i realized i could make this stuff at home. why it always the simple things that get me?

but it's come with it's own set of struggles. and i know, i know. every recipe i've consulted comes with a warning - don't let it cook too long or the sugar will burn. swirl the pan, don't stir, or the sugar will crystallize into a huge mess. be careful when adding the butter and cream. or my favorite - as tempting as it seems, don't lick the spoon!

with all the warnings, it's a miracle anyone tries to make this, let alone does it successfully. after several botched attempts - burnt sugar, clumpy, crystallized messes - i finally did it. the perfect, thin, creamy, vanilla salty goodness. success!

but then, i got greedy. or was it cocky? while searching for a good recipe through my cookbook collection, it was a tossup between this version from the joy of cooking and david liebovitz's from ready for dessert. even though i made the joy of cooking version, i decided since i had 1/2 cup of heavy cream left (the perfect amount to make a half batch of david's rich caramel sauce), i would have a caramel taste off. perfect! until i burnt the sugar. bad. so bad it was inedible. bummer, because i really want to try his sauce too - it has the same sugar, butter, heavy cream ingredients, but cooks the sugar in melted butter, instead of adding the butter once the sugar is melted.

so my words of advice: good luck. and don't let the sugar get too brown.

tips for making caramel from real experts:
david liebovitz's ten tips for making caramel & how to make the perfect caramel
smitten kitchen's deep dark salted butter caramel sauce
baked bree's step by step caramel sauce
pioneer woman's ice cream pie with easy caramel sauce

perfect caramel sauce

adapted from the joy of cooking
20 minutes, makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, diced (1 stick)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch kosher salt
  1. in a sauce pan with high sides, cook the sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar melts completely and the mixture is clear, about 5 minutes.
  2. when the sugar is completely melted, turn the heat up to medium high. when the syrup comes to a boil, cover it, and cook about 2 minutes.
  3. remove the cover and continue to cook until the edges turn light brown., between 5 and 10 minutes. don't let it go too long, or the caramel will burn.
  4. remove the pan from heat and stir in the butter until melted. be careful - the sugar will splatter when the butter is added (that's why you're working with a pan with high sides).
  5. when the butter is melted, add the heavy cream and stir until smooth. if the mixture is a little lumpy, put over low heat and stir continuously until smooth.
  6. add the vanilla extract and salt and mix well.
  7. serve warm and store in the refrigerator. a quick 45 second spin in the microwave melts it back to pouring consistency.


  1. Gorgeous photo!

    I've been looking for a good caramel sauce recipe. Of course, it was right under my nose this whole time. (I've had the Joy of Cooking book for more than 10 years.) Thanks for reminding me of this.

  2. I love caramel so that first picture is absolutely delicious! I've never made it before so thanks for including the tips. I can't wait to give it a try!


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