Real caramel sauce is a three-ingredient affair—nothing more than sugar, water, and cream. Okay, okay, salt and vanilla, too, but it hardly seems fair to count the seasonings. For a sweet and simple flavor, cook the sugar syrup until it’s a pale, honey-colored hue. If you’d prefer a darker caramel with a slightly bitter edge, aim for a foxy amber hue. In either case, you’re just 20 minutes away from the thick and gooey caramel sauce of your dreams.
The thick and gooey caramel sauce of your dreams is easier and faster than you think.
- Makes 1 1/3 cups (14 ounces)
- 20 minutes
- 4 ounces water (1/2 cup; 115g)
- 8 1/2 ounces sugar (1 1/4 cups; 240g)
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight
- 1 vanilla pod, reserved from another project (optional)
- 8 ounces heavy cream (1 cup; 225g)
- 1 teaspoon (5g) vanilla extract (optional)
In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine water, sugar, and salt over medium heat. If you like, add an empty vanilla pod, too. Stir with a fork until syrup comes to a boil, about 4 minutes, then simmer without stirring until syrup is honey-colored, roughly 6 minutes, shaking and swirling as needed to ensure even caramelization. Continue cooking until syrup is light to medium amber, a minute more. Immediately add cream and reduce heat to medium-low.
Stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula to knock back the foam, simmer until caramel registers 225°F (107°C) on a digital thermometer, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a heat-resistant container, stir in vanilla extract (if using), and cool to room temperature. (No need to discard the vanilla bean; it will continue to infuse the caramel over time.) Caramel will be runny while warm, but thicken as it cools, turning just a little chewy when cold. Refrigerate up to 1 month in an airtight container.