This easy-to-make, no-fuss homemade salted caramel sauce recipe comes together quickly to get you the most flavorful sauce for these apple pie bars, ice cream, pies, and more!
Okay here is a confession, I have burned more caramel than I care to omit. And it was so frustrating because it is not salvageable! Burnt caramel is disgusting so in the trash, it goes. I finally found an easy recipe with only 5 ingredients, no fuss, and success! So many recipes require unnecessary steps and ingredients.
You don’t need corn syrup, butter, or fear! Making salted caramel requires ONLY water, sugar, heavy cream, vanilla, and salt. According to pastry chef Stella Parks author of BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts and writer for serious eats, “Real caramel is pure sugar that has been caramelized, either on its own or by dissolving it in water and boiling it dry.” I found by adding the water to the sugar (the “wet” method) versus starting off with just sugar (the “dry” method) is more forgiving and has less of a chance of burning.
- Water: Adding water helps the sugar dissolve.
- Granulated sugar: This serves as the base of the recipe. You need to use granulated sugar, not a sugar substitute.
- Heavy whipping cream: Make sure your heavy whipping cream. Heavy cream (approximately 36% milk fat) may also be sold as whipping cream. Light whipping cream (30% milk fat), or double cream (48% milk fat) may be substituted. Do not use milk. Room temperature cream is best. When you make caramel with cream instead of butter, the lactose helps the syrup develop nutty, butterscotch flavors as it cooks.
- Vanilla extract: Pure vanilla extract is best
- Salt: I used fleur de sel which is a flaky salt. You can use regular table salt or kosher salt. If using larger flaky salt, add 3/4 teaspoon, taste, then add more if desired. This recipe works with 1 teaspoon of any variety of salt.
How to Make Easy Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce
To get started, you’ll need a 2-3 quart stainless steel saucepan. If you do not have a stainless steel saucepan be aware that different materials conduct heat differently so it may affect cooking times.
Combine the sugar and water in your saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring as needed.
Allow the mixture to boil and turn an amber color as shown below. It will take about 10-16 minutes, depending on your stove. Be careful at this stage as this is where burning can happen.
When the caramel sauce turns amber, immediately add the heavy whipping cream and reduce the heat to medium-low. This is where the high bubbling occurs. Stir constantly with a heat-resistant spatula to knock back the foam. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract and salt.
How much salt you add will largely depend on how salty you want your caramel sauce. I add a teaspoon. You can always add 3/4 teaspoon, taste, then add more if desired.
The caramel is liquid as it comes off the heat. As the caramel cools, it solidifies into a chewy texture. After refrigerating, the caramel hardens and needs to be heated up to bring it back to a liquid consistency. You can do this either on the stovetop or in the microwave.
This caramel can be made ahead of time, let the caramel sauce cool for about 10 minutes in the pan. Pour it into a large jar and cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for about a month.
This sauce can also be frozen. Transfer cooled caramel to a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator, warm it back up, and use it as desired.
This easy homemade caramel sauce should be refrigerated in an airtight container and used up within a month. Microwave in 30-second increments to loosen up the sauce from cold.
Tips for a perfect homemade salted caramel sauce
- Make sure you have all of your ingredients ready to go before you start making the caramel sauce.
- Use a stainless steel pot with high sides to avoid bubbling over.
- You don’t have to use a candy thermometer with this recipe, but you do have to watch the sugar boil closely. Once the sugar starts turning into an amber color it can burn quickly if left alone. If burned, it will taste bitter.
- Carefully pour in the heavy cream. The caramel sauce will be hot and you don’t want it to splash.
- Use room-temperature heavy cream or heat it up in the microwave so it is not cold. Cold cream will seize the sugar.
- If you do have caramel that seized or have clumps of hard caramel, whisk steadily over medium heat, to melt it back into the sauce.
- For larger batches, avoid doubling or tripling this recipe. The added volume could prevent the sugar from melting probably and the cream may overflow. Make a couple batches instead.
What to Eat with Salted Caramel?
You will love homemade salted caramel with recipes like these salted caramel apple pie bars. Use it as a caramel dip for apples, and spoon it over ice cream, cupcakes, cake, and cookies. Stir it into coffee, pour it into decorated jars, and gift it for the holidays.
Easy Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce Recipe
- 1 2-3 quart stainless steel saucepan
- 1 heat resistant spatula
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup heavy cream at room temperature
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- Get all the ingredients together first as you have to quickly add the heavy cream.
- Combine the sugar and water in your saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a heat-resistant rubber spatula until the sugar has dissolved about 5 minutes.
- Allow the mixture to simmer without stirring until medium amber in color, swirling as needed to ensure even caramelization. This will take an additional 5-11 mins. depending on your stove and temperature. Be careful at this stage as this is where burning can happen.
- When the caramel sauce turns amber, immediately add the heavy whipping cream and reduce the heat to medium-low. This is where the high bubbling occurs. Stir constantly with a heat-resistant spatula to knock back the foam. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract and salt.
- Allow caramel to cool before using. It will thicken as it cools. Caramel will be runny while warm and turn a little chewy when cold.
- Refrigerate for up to 1 month in an airtight container. Reheat in the microwave or on the stove to desired consistency.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: You can make this caramel in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month Reheat in the microwave or on the stove to desired consistency To Freeze: Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature, then warm up before using.
- Larger Batches: Do not try to double this recipe as the sugar may not melt correctly and you would have a bigger chance of bubbling up over the pot. Make separate batches instead. It becomes easier with practice and it makes great holiday gifts!
- Use your eyes: You don’t have to use a candy thermometer with this recipe, but you do have to watch the sugar boil closely. Once the sugar starts turning into an amber color it can burn quickly if left alone. If burned, it will taste bitter.
- Regular Caramel: If you want to make regular caramel, reduce salt to 1/2 teaspoon.
- This recipe will yield about 1 and 1/2 cups of caramel sauce.
- The nutrition facts are for the entire amount of recipe.