Made with just a few ingredients, this homemade salted caramel sauce recipe is the perfect treat. Use it for ice cream, caramel apples, or just eat it with a spoon.
What Is Salted Caramel?
Depending on what you are making, salted caramel is either a sauce or soft caramel candy. It varies simply by altering a few different ingredients.
Salted caramel is a mixture of boiled water and sugar that turns a beautiful amber color. Then butter and cream are added to create the decadent treat that is finished with a sprinkling of sea salt.
Originally created in 1977 by Henri Le Roux, a French chocolatier, salted caramel was originally made with nuts. The original version was trademarked and became the best confectionary in France. It went through a few different variations before becoming what we know now.
How To Make Salted Caramel Sauce From Scratch
Since there are so few ingredients in homemade salted caramel sauce, it seems easier than it is. The process is very precise, but the results are absolutely worth it!
This homemade salted caramel sauce recipe uses a wet start method. This means adding just enough water to the granulated sugar until it has dissolved. The goal is to cook the water OUT of sauce, so you don't need much. This added water at the beginning also gives the sauce more time to develop flavor as it cooks.
Trying not to stir the mixture, bring the sugar to exactly 320°F on a candy thermometer. This is called soft caramel. Don't let the thermometer touch the bottom of the pot because it gives a higher reading than the mixture actually is.
When the mixture is at a soft caramel, completely remove it from the heat and add the cold cream. This helps stop the cooking process.
Be careful because adding the cream causes the mixture to boil up two or three times as high as it was. Choosing a deep, tall pot helps protect you and your sauce.
Next add the salt and butter by swirling it into the caramel sauce. Adding the butter not only enriches the flavor, but gives it a beautiful, illustrious sheen. The sauce needs to be hot enough to melt the butter, so I recommend cutting the butter into small pieces. This helps it melt faster than the sauce cools.
Finally, pour the caramel into a clean glass container to cool. If you let it cool in the pot it will be harder to get out and harder to clean. Once the done, fill the pot with warm water. This helps dissolve the sugar particles before they harden so cleaning is much easier.
Why Did My Mixture Boil Over?
As the sugar is caramelizes, it undergoes a chemical transformation as a result of removing water from the sugar. This is the Maillard reaction and why it turns the golden amber color.
However, the fast introduction of fat in the heavy whipping cream causes another reaction. It immediately boils out the water, thus very quickly frothing and rising up. If you're not careful or you add the cream too quickly, it can boil over the top of your pot. This is risky for both burning yourself as well as having to clean up the hardened mixture from the stovetop.
Take your time introducing the cream and keep your hands far away.
How High Should My Heat Be?
This is a question of your time and personal preference. The lower the heat, the longer the sauce takes to caramelize. However, this is great for ensuring that it doesn't go over 320°F too quickly.
If you choose a medium high heat you run the risk of burning the caramel by cooking it too fast. Once it starts simmering, the sauce caramelizes very quickly.
I personally am always a fan of lower and slower because it gives better control. Since it also allows more flavor to develop, I cook mine no higher than medium heat. I would rather take more time and do it right than have to remake it.
How Long Does Salted Caramel Sauce Last?
If stored in a clean container, this homemade salted caramel sauce recipe stays good for two weeks in the fridge. It thickens up quite a bit while it is cold, so be careful not to overestimate how much you are using.
You can warm it up in the microwave by using fifteen second bursts on 50% power. Stir between each burst to evenly distribute heat. Continue to do this until it becomes as warm or as viscous as you would like.
Why Does My Sauce Taste Burnt?
A salted caramel sauce that tastes burnt is the result of burning the sugar. This usually happens in two ways: burning sugar on the side of the pot, or overcooking the sugar mixture.
With a properly calibrated candy thermometer it is unlikely to overcook the caramel. Make sure it doesn't exceed 320°F and immediately remove it from the heat to stop the cooking process.
The sugar being burnt on the side of the pot is a little harder.
First, make sure you are using a very clean pot. If there is residue on the side, it can burn into your sauce. Secondly, brush the inside of the pot with a little water before beginning. It prevents the sugar from clinging to the sides when adding the ingredients.
Most importantly, try not to stir it. Stirring pushes the sugar and liquid up on the side of the pot where is clings and is likely to burn. Even though it is tempting, let the sauce do the work itself.
Pro Tips For Sauce That Turns Out Perfect
- A good candy thermometer can make or break your sauce. This is not something to skip because you need to make sure your sugar gets to the EXACTLY right temperature. If it doesn't, it will be too runny and light in color.
- Before you stir in the butter and cream the pot needs to be removed from the heat. This means completely taking it off of the hot burner and moving it somewhere cool. This step helps stop the cooking process so you don't end up with overcooked caramel that is stiff and shatters.
- Use unsalted butter and let the saltiness come from a high quality sea salt instead. I highly recommend a flaked sea salt like Maldon because it has a clean flavor and dissolves well into the sauce.
- Use HEAVY whipping cream, not plain whipping cream. Heavy whipping cream has around 5% more fat than its lighter counterpart. This is part of what gives this homemade salted caramel sauce the right texture and mouthfeel.
Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce Recipe
There is a myriad of ways to use this homemade salted caramel sauce recipe. You can use it to make gourmet candy apples, buttercream frosting, in ice cream, or even in hot chocolate.
Since salted caramel sauce layers sweet and salty flavors together, it appeals to the part of our brains that cherish umami. This means that once you start, it is hard to stop eating it. So be prepared to be making this a lot. 😉
Make grocery shopping simpler with this printable grocery list for salted caramel sauce recipe. The list is in standard grocery store amounts. If no size is specified, even the smallest package provides more than enough.
Happy Cooking! 🙂
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 1 ⅛ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and gently stir to dissolve the sugar. Using a candy thermometer attached to the side of the pan, bring the mixture to the caramel stage: 320°F. * Remove from the heat.
- Bring the heavy cream to a boil and add a few tablespoons at time into the caramel mixture. Be careful because it will bubble up and spill out if you add it too quickly.
- Stir in the salt** then swirl in the tablespoon of butter slowly. Let the sauce cool completely before transferring to an air tight container. Refrigerate until ready to use. Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.
- *As the temperature nears the end watch that the color doesn't get too dark. It goes quickly from light brown to burnt.
- **The sauce thickens significantly as it cools. Don't add extra cream or transfer it to the heat to thicken it until the sauce is room temperature and can be gauged accordingly