Caramel Sauce

Caramelized sugar adds complex flavor to any dish – so much so that I can’t imagine a world where it doesn’t exist. I like to think that hundreds of years ago a pastry chef must have mistakenly overcooked sugar, and not wanting to waste it, happened upon one of the best things ever: caramel.

As you cook sugar, it goes through all of the stages of candy making – soft ball, hard crack and eventually caramel. The sugar’s makeup changes as it cooks and changes color. A light golden shade will result in a sweeter caramel sauce than will a dark, deep amber. I prefer my caramel cooked to a dark copper, but be careful, as burnt sugar is quite bitter. Sugar begins to caramelize at 320ºF and doesn’t burn until around 350ºF, so you have some wiggle room. To avoid recrystallization in your caramel sauce, follow these easy tips: Top your saucepot with a lid during the beginning of cooking to let steam wash down the sides, ridding them of sugar granules; once the mixture begins to boil, stir the edges of the pot to liquefy any remaining sugar; and don’t agitate the liquid during the cooking process. When you add the heavy cream, go slowly to avoid splattering yourself with blistering caramel, and if you find a few bits of hard caramel after adding it, just simmer sauce on a very low heat, stirring, until they melt. Make sure to use a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, as regular plastic will melt at these high temperatures.

Caramel sauce keeps for weeks in the refrigerator and only takes an hour at room temperature to come back to a pourable consistency. This is the best recipe to use on ice cream or as a gift for your sweetheart… you can basically drizzle it on anything sweet and I can almost guarantee that no one will argue otherwise.

Basic Caramel Sauce

For salted caramel, use a high-quality sea salt instead of kosher salt and increase measurement to 1 tablespoon.

Yields | 1½ pints |

  • 2 cups plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup
  • ¾ cup water
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

| Preparation | In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook to a deep amber color. Remove from heat and add butter, stirring until melted, followed by cream. Finish with salt and vanilla. Let cool completely at room temperature before storing or serving.

Brown Butter-Balsamic Caramel Sauce

Try adding your favorite whiskey in place of the balsamic vinegar.

Yields | 1½ pints |

  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

| Preparation | In a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter until it sizzles. Stir constantly until butter begins to foam and turns a nutty brown. Immediately pour into a heatproof container, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan. Set aside to cool. Prepare caramel sauce as in recipe above, substituting vinegar for vanilla and browned butter for unsalted butter.

Peanut Butter Caramel Sauce

Try using almond or sunflower butter or Nutella in place of peanut butter.

Yields | 1½ pints |

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • ¼ cup smooth peanut butter
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

| Preparation | Prepare caramel as in basic caramel sauce recipe above, but add peanut butter after cream to keep fat from separating.

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