Updated: Aug 17, 2020
I like to think that caramel is one of those things that unifies people. I don’t think I’ve met anyone that doesn’t like caramel. It’s such a versatile, magical condiment.
There are so many variations of caramel. Caramel can be found with different flavor additions, diverse textures, and different consistencies. But, one thing’s for sure, caramel making is not child’s play. Don’t be shy, anyone that has even five percent interest in cooking has probably attempted to make caramel at least once. And it’s perhaps not always been successful. Caramel is so tricky to get the hang of, and sometimes seasoned chefs can get it wrong too, so it’s not fair to expect amateur home cooks such as you and me to get perfect caramel each time. This applies to any food that you make, it’s not going to come out perfect every time even if it’s your signature dish, but you shouldn’t let that pull you down. Keep working on it.
Now, back to caramel making. Making caramel should not feel like rocket science, and the complications shouldn’t scare you off from trying it. Plus, the satisfaction you’ll feel after successfully making caramel is indescribable. I know it can be intimidating because there’s so many variations of caramel, there’s chewy caramel, there’s saucy caramel, and there’s also hard caramel and so on. But, I think that, honestly, the most versatile type of caramel has to be the sauce-kind. And you know what’s even better than regular caramel? Salted caramel.
Caramel is nothing but sugar, and it’s way too sweet, and adding in some good ‘ol sea salt or rock salt elevates caramel to the next level while giving your taste buds a fascinating sensation. It is also very diverse, you can use salted caramel to top ice creams, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, and you can add it to other bakes like brownies, banana bread and so on.
I absolutely love salted caramel; I can eat spoonfuls straight out of the jar; the same can’t be said for regular caramel.
I’ve made chewy caramel before, and I recently made salted caramel sauce, some of which I used in a cake that I made for my mother’s birthday. My salted caramel sauce is truly versatile, and I’m not kidding, I used it in the filling of the cake, in the buttercream frosting and for decoration as well!
As a newbie caramel maker, I’ve had my fair share of screw-ups, and I am writing this guide in hopes of preventing every single blunder that could hinder getting some brilliant salted caramel sauce. Plus, it’s probably the easiest recipe you’ll find; you won’t need any candy thermometer or any fancy equipment.
The guide will have three parts;
What’s in salted caramel, and what can go wrong?
What equipment do you need?
What’s the recipe for this salted caramel sauce?
What’s in salted caramel, and what can go wrong?
Caramel is majorly made from sugar, the sugar is heated until it becomes a vibrant amber color and starts exuding a sweet smell. The addition of cream, butter, or water is all variables that could change the end product.
For this particular salted caramel sauce recipe, I use only three ingredients (four if you count the sea salt). I use sugar, heavy cream, and butter in the ratios of 2:2:1.
Many recipes for salted caramel out there might ask you to use some water. But I’ve noticed that every time I tried making caramel by heating sugar and water together, it had a strange smell, it wasn’t getting an amber color, and it always ended up in the consistency of hard toffee.
Now, let’s talk about all four ingredients that go into my recipe for salted caramel sauce.
First, let’s talk about sugar. I use only granulated white sugar to make this caramel. White granulated sugar has a higher melting point as compared to brown sugar. Apart from that, the color of brown sugar can be very misleading if you’re not very experienced with making caramel. Brown sugar will melt down into, well, a brown liquid, and it can easily be confused for properly heated sugar, and you might not get delicious caramel. Plus, due to its lower melting point, chances of overcooking and burning the caramel are more. Still, if you feel confident, you can substitute brown sugar for the granulated white sugar.
The cream that I use for this recipe is a product available in Indian markets known as ‘fresh cream’. If you happen to have heavy cream or whipping cream on hand, feel free to use that too. I used Amul fresh cream, but if you have any other in your kitchen, use it. Just make sure the cream is at room temperature. But, don’t use sour cream, or yogurt as they may split your caramel.
Next up, butter. I use regular salted butter that’s widely available throughout India. It’s not going to make much of a difference, flavor-wise if you use salted or unsalted butter. Again, make sure the butter is at room temperature before using it.
Lastly, let me talk about salt. The salt is perhaps the most crucial flavor component in, obviously, salted caramel. So, dish out the best quality of salt that you can get your hands on. Please don’t use table salt, all that work into making caramel, and you really don’t want to add bland table salt to it. Use natural sea salt or rock salt; they come in chunks, so crush them up and add the salt to the caramel. It’s going to taste heavenly; you have my word on it.
Now, many seemingly insignificant variables might ultimately make or break your salted caramel sauce. For instance, the pan you make the caramel in needs to be 100% clean and dry, the sugar should not have any impurities, and the spatula needs to be clean without any foreign particles.
These are some of the essential variables that affect how your caramel turns out;
The temperature of the ingredients
Cleanliness of the ingredients and equipment
The heat from the stovetop
I cannot stress how important it is for the ingredients to be room temperature, adding cold cream or cold butter can entirely screw up your caramel, and you’ll have to start from scratch again. Adding a cold ingredient can crystallize or solidify the caramel in the pan, which is also a nightmare to clean. So, please make sure all three ingredients are room temperature.
Do not be in a hurry or try to multitask while making caramel and keep your eyes and mind fixed on it. Time is also an essential variable in making caramel. One second that you’re away from the stovetop, you have burnt sugar and smoke coming off the pan.
Another vital element in caramel making is the heat. While heating and melting the sugar, stand next to the stove attentively and keep the heat at a medium-high until you reach your desired color, usually it should be a deep amber brown. Once you get that color, reduce the heat to low and add the butter. The moment the butter is incorporated, turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove. The caramel is going to cook down more due to the residual heat, so if you keep it on heat, you risk burning it.
The last point I want to touch upon is stirring. If you’ve attempted caramel before you’ve probably followed other tutorials and guides. Most of them prohibit any stirring until it’s time to add the fats. The fact is, you can stir but at the right time.
How do you know when to stir? Once the sugar is heated enough, it’ll start bubbling up in spots, and those spots will have acquired the amber color that caramel has (fig. 1). At that point, you’re going to use a clean wooden spatula to vigorously stir until all of the sugar has melted down and has an amber color.
Why do we stir at this point? No matter how hard you try, the sugar will heat up unevenly. Some bits will heat up quicker than the others, so you need to stir the sugar around to ensure proper distribution of heat to all the sugar particles.
In any case, do not stir the moment you add the sugar into the pan; only do it when you see the bubbles and browning. Also, you need to stop stirring the moment all of the sugar is melted, as you risk crystallization. Although you will need to mix in the butter to distribute it, once the caramel is removed from the heat, you can quickly stir in the heavy cream.
Now, let’s move on to what equipment you will need.
The equipment is pretty standard; you need a thick-bottomed frying pan and a wooden spatula, you can also use a saucepan. Whatever you use, make sure it’s not nonstick. You can use stainless steel, aluminum, whatever you like. I don’t recommend using a nonstick pan because you'll be working with super high heat, and that can ruin the nonstick coating on your pan.
It would also be best if you used a pan with a light color on the inside instead of a dark one. That way, you can clearly see the caramelization of the sugar happening in the pan, and you won’t need to worry about overcooking or burning the caramel obsessively.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using a dark-colored pan, it’ll do the job as long as it’s nonstick and thick-bottomed. I didn’t have a heavy-bottomed vessel that was light in color, I used a dark one, and it worked just fine.
As for the spatula, use a wooden spatula, you can also use a heat-proof rubber spatula, but usually, they tend to be a little bendy that can cause splattering and trust me you don’t want to burn yourself with hot caramel. Don’t use a whisk either, for the same reasons. A wooden spatula will do just fine without provoking the caramel too much.
So, the equipment needed to make salted caramel sauce are;
A heavy-bottomed frying pan or saucepan
A wooden spatula
The Recipe For The Best and The Easiest Salted Caramel Sauce
Time: 10 minutes
Yields: 200 grams of salted caramel sauce
INGREDIENTS (Click For Grams To Cups Converter)
100 grams (½ cup) granulated white sugar
100 grams (½ cup) heavy cream or fresh cream at room temperature
50 grams(¼ cup) room temperature butter
½ teaspoon crushed sea salt or rock salt
In a heavy-bottomed frying pan or saucepan (pan should not be nonstick) on medium-high heat, spread the sugar around as evenly as you can. Do not stir at this point.
Once you see spots of bubbling of amber color, stir the sugar using a wooden spatula, until all of the sugar is dissolved and you have achieved the rich amber color that distinguishes caramel (fig. 3).
Turn the heat down to low, and add the butter, and mix it in rapidly, but carefully.
At this point, it will start to bubble up (fig. 4).
Turn off the heat the moment all of the butter is incorporated.
Add the cream and mix it all until it is emulsified completely.
Take the pan off the heat, crush up the sea salt and add it to the pan. Re-mix it until the salt is dissolved.
Let it cool for 15-20 minutes and then transfer it to a storage container of your choice.
So, imagine somehow you managed to crystallize the caramel. It’ll feel devastating, but you need to assess damage control.
Firstly, you need to tackle how to remove the toffee-like substance from your pan. Simply add some tap water and dish soap to the pan and boil it, all of the hard sugar will come off on its own.
Next, you’ll want to start the process again. Make sure all your ingredients are room temperature. When you touch either the cream or butter, it should feel like nothing. If it feels even a little bit cold, wait until it warms up more. If you’re in a pinch, microwave the butter and cream at 10-second bursts until you’re sure that they’re at room temperature. Also, ensure that the pan and spatula are spotless and dry.
Now, storage. This salted caramel sauce can stay in the refrigerator for up to one month, in case any of it is left. You can transfer it to an airtight container after it’s cooked and place it in the fridge about 20 minutes later once it’s a little warm to touch and not scalding hot.
And, that was the best and easiest salted caramel sauce. I really hope you guys found this helpful and let me know your thoughts in the comments below. If you try any of my recipes, please share your experiences with me on Instagram or Facebook!