Caramel Sauce

This Caramel Sauce Recipe is rich, creamy, buttery, sweet and 1,000X better than any store bought caramel sauce! 

This easy Caramel Sauce recipe is FOOL PROOF, ready in 5 MINUTES and lick-the-spoon delicious!  Homemade caramel sauce makes for a fabulous gift and makes everything better from cakes to brownies, to ice cream to popcorn – and everything in between!  Pictures updated 2019

How to Make Caramel Sauce Video

top view of a spoon dipping into easy caramel sauce in a jar

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Caramel Sauce Recipe

In anticipation of the Toffee Pecan Caramel Pound Cake I am sharing with you this weekend (in time for Easter!) and my Poke Turtle Brownies, I thought I would start with the wonderfully decadent, creamy homemade Caramel Sauce Recipe because this caramel sauce deserves it’s very own post.

far away of a spoon full of the best caramel drizzling down into a glass jar

Just like this easy Caramel Sauce makes the pound cake better, this Caramel Sauce makes everything better.

This homemade Caramel Sauce recipe makes apples, bananas, pretzels and popcorn better.

It makes waffles, French toast, crepes and pancakes better.

It makes cookies (especially in a skillet!), brownies, cheesecake, and ice cream better.

the best caramel sauce drizzled over brownies

You get the idea.  This easy Caramel Sauce recipe pretty much makes everything better.  At some point though,  it becomes not about making a food taste better but rather just finding new vehicles to douse with caramel so there are more “legitimate” reasons to put caramel in my mouth.

Be cautious though, its a creamy, lip smacking, finger licking slippery slope.  First its drizzled on ice cream, next its bathing carrots.

I am asked for the recipe every time I bring it anywhere!  Its rich, creamy, buttery and sweet and 1,000 times better than any store bought Caramel Sauce Recipe.

far away top view of caramel sauce with evaporated milk in a saucepan with a wooden spoon


What is caramel sauce made of?

Caramel Sauce is traditionally made of granulated sugar that cooks at a certain temperature until it caramelizes. It is combined with heavy cream, butter and vanilla extract. Caramel sauces made with granulated sugar are not fool proof as the sugar can burn easily AND they take longer to make.

This Caramel Sauce recipe is unique in that it starts with brown sugar instead of granulated sugar which not only cuts down on cooking time but boasts a richer flavor in way less time!

Here is a breakdown of the pantry friendly ingredients

  1. BUTTER: Use unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salt in your caramel sauce. Do NOT use any substitutes!
  2. BROWN SUGAR: When a recipe doesn’t specify a type of brown sugar to use, it means to use light brown sugar. For this Caramel Sauce recipe, I use light brown sugar, but it comes down to personal preference. Make sure it is packed for the correct ratio of brown sugar to butter.
  3. EVAPORATED MILK: I love using evaporated milk in this Caramel Sauce Recipe because I always have it on hand which means I can make caramel at a seconds notice. It also delivers fool-proof results because it incorporates into the caramel easier.
  4. VANILLA EXTRACT: Use pure vanilla extract, the better quality, the better the taste.
  5. SALT: You can use more or less salt to taste but I find salt essential otherwise the Caramel Sauce is too sweet.
up close of the best caramel sauce stirring with a wooden spoon

Can I use Heavy Cream Instead of Evaporated Milk?

I suggest you always keep evaporated milk on hand so you can always make this caramel any time, which means you can eat this caramel any time, because as previously discussed, you  never know when you might need to “make something better…”

I use evaporated milk because it incorporates more easily into the caramel so you are left with creamy caramel sauce every time. That being said, if you only have heavy cream on hand, then yes, you can definitely use it instead of evaporated milk.

homemade caramel sauce being poured over brownies

HOW TO MAKE CARAMEL SAUCE

Now to making this easy Caramel Sauce recipe.  I am not going to lie.  I have burnt caramel before.  But not this caramel.  This caramel is FOOL PROOF!  If you can boil butter, brown sugar and a smidgen of water then stir in evaporated milk and vanilla, than you can make this caramel in 5 minutes!   SO EASY!

Here is a step by step breakdown of how to make easy caramel sauce:

Step 1: Add butter, brown sugar, water, and salt to medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring until butter melts.

showing how to make caramel sauce by adding butter, brown sugar and water to saucepan

Step 2: Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, whisking constantly until thickened, approximately 5-8 minutes. Keep in mind, the caramel sauce will thickens more as it cools.

showing how to make homemade caramel sauce by melting butter with water and sugar

Step 3: Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup evaporated milk (it will bubble a lot) and vanilla. Add additional evaporated milk to reach desired consistency.

showing how to make caramel sauce by simmering caramel

How to Make Salted Caramel Sauce

You can transform this Caramel into Salted Caramel Sauce by simply adding more salt! Follow the recipe as directed then stir in additional salt to taste – I would start with ⅛ teaspoon then add more if desired.

For even more gourmet Salted Caramel Sauce, omit the salt in the recipe and stir in ½ teaspoon sea salt (or more to taste).

Tips for the Best Caramel Sauce

  • Use a thick-bottomed, sturdy pan: the sugar needs to cook evenly which is much easier to do in a thick-bottomed, sturdy pan that is made to evenly distribute the heat. A thick bottomed pan will also help your sugar from burning.
  • Size of pan: Use a medium saucepan with high sides. If the pan is too wide, the caramel is more likely to burn; to small, and the evaporated milk will overflow when it is added and bubbles up.
  • Prep ingredients: have your evaporated milk and vanilla ready so you can add them as soon as you remove the caramel from the heat; this will prevent it from burning.
  • Brown sugar: don’t replace the brown sugar with granulated sugar otherwise this will require a different method/recipe.
  • Heat: Don’t simmer over too high of heat otherwise your caramel can burn. It is better for your caramel to take longer to thicken over lower heat than for it to thicken quicker and risk burning.
  • Oven mitts: I suggest wearing oven mitts to protect yourself against any spatters, especially when you add the evaporated milk.
  • Consistency: The caramel sauce will look thick and then it will thin again once you take it off the heat – don’t worry, it will thicken again as it cools to room temperature and even more once refrigerated. For thicker caramel sauce, cook for longer and add less evaporated milk. For a thinner caramel sauce, cook for less time and add more evaporated milk.
  • Don’t double/triple: I don’t recommend doubling or tripling the caramel sauce recipe as it could prevent the sugar from melting evenly.
easy caramel sauce drizzled over caramel apple pies


Can you thicken caramel sauce?

You can completely control the consistency of this caramel sauce. For thicker caramel sauce, boil for longer and add less evaporated milk at the end.

Why is my caramel sauce grainy?

I have never had a problem with grainy caramel using this Caramel Sauce recipe. I believe using brown sugar is the key.

Grainy Caramel Sauce is caused by undissolved sugar crystals. This can happen when either 1) the sugar in the caramel sauce has not fully dissolved or 2) some of the crystallized sugar that forms on the sides of the saucepan as the caramel boils have been incorporated into the caramel.

homemade caramel sauce in a glass jar

How Do I fix Grainy Caramel Sauce?

  1. Stir:  This is the method I use. You can prevent the formation of sugar crystals by stirring your caramel sauce often with a rubber spatula, including the sides of the saucepan where the crystals like to form.
  2. Oil (EASIEST): Before you add your ingredients, grease the sides of your pan with vegetable oil. This will prevent the sugar from ever sticking and crystallizing.
  3. Dissolve sugar: Your Caramel Sauce might be grainy just because the sugar isn’t fully dissolved. Try cooking on low so all the granules break down completely.
  4. Corn syrup: To prevent sugar crystals from forming you can add 1-2 tablespoons corn syrup to the pot with the butter and brown sugar. Corn syrup keeps the sugar together and minimizes the possibility of stray crystals forming. Corn syrup is used in candy making for this very purpose. It is also often added to ganache recipes to keep them silky. You can also try adding corn syrup after your caramel has become grainy and cooking on low until smooth.
  5. Acid: You can add a ⅛ teaspoon of lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar before cooking. The acid breaks up some of sucrose which makes the sugar more cohesive.
  6. Water: After the butter is melted, brush the inside of your pan with a damp pastry brush or paper towel. This will dissolve any sugar crystals and keep them from becoming part of the caramel sauce.

How Do I reheat Caramel Sauce?

Microwave Caramel Sauce for 30-60 seconds, stirring at 30 second intervals, repeat as needed. You may need to stir in additional evaporated milk as the caramel will thicken up on refrigeration.

You can also reheat caramel sauce on the stovetop but I find this is more of a hassle to transfer the caramel to the saucepan than it is worth.

homemade caramel sauce drizzling from a spoon into a jar of caramel

Does Homemade Caramel Sauce Go Bad?

Homemade Caramel Sauce can be kept at room temperature for 3 days or for a longer shelf life, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or frozen for up to three months (see below).

Does Caramel Sauce need to be refrigerated?

This Caramel Sauce utilizes evaporated milk which is further stabilized by the sugar and therefore does not have to be refrigerated immediately – just think about caramel apples!

That being said, I do suggest refrigerating leftover caramel sauce because it will keep for longer but it is perfectly fine to be left at room temperature on cakes, brownies, etc. or as caramel sauce gift jars.

side view of a spoon dipping into a jar of best caramel sauce

How Do I store homemade caramel sauce?

Let Caramel cool completely then transfer it to a jar or airtight container. Refrigerate for up to three weeks.

Can I freeze Caramel Sauce?

Yes, you can absolutely freeze Caramel Sauce! Freezing Caramel Sauce is fabulous when you make a double/triple batch and store the leftovers for a later use. It also works great when you don’t use all the Caramel Sauce at once or only need part of it for a recipe.

Caramel Apple Pie Blondies - these are amazing and so much easier than apple pie! A soft buttery blondie base topped with apple filling and topped with pecan crumble and caramel

How to Freeze Caramel Sauce

  1. Let Caramel Sauce cool completely.
  2. Transfer caramel to an airtight container that is NOT glass because the milk expands when frozen and can rupture the glass.
  3. Freeze for up to 3 months.
  4. When ready to use, let caramel defrost completely in the refrigerator overnight.

What Can I Use Caramel Sauce for?

As previously discussed, this homemade Caramel Sauce makes EVERYTHING more delicious. Use this easy caramel sauce for drizzling, dipping, or even filling your favorite desserts. Here are a few options to use it with:

How do you make caramel syrup?

This Caramel Sauce recipe can be made into any consistency by adding more or less evaporated milk. To make caramel syrup or runny caramel, follow the recipe then add additional evaporated milk until it reaches desired consistency.

caramel sauce with ice cream in a blue bowl

Want to Try this Caramel Sauce Recipe?

Pin it to your Homemade, Easy or Dessert Board to SAVE for later!

Find me on Pinterest for more great recipes!  I am always pinning :)!

top view of a spoon dipping into easy caramel sauce in a jar

Easy Creamy Caramel Sauce

This Caramel Sauce Recipe is rich, creamy, buttery, sweet and 1,000X better than any store bought caramel sauce! This easy Caramel Sauce recipe is FOOL PROOF, ready in 5 MINUTES and lick-the-spoon delicious!
Servings: 2 .5 cups
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup evaporated milk plus more as needed depending on desired consistency
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Add butter, brown sugar, water, and salt to medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring until butter melts.
  • Bring to a boil then reduce to a vigorous simmer, whisking constantly until thickened, approximately 5-7 minutes. Keep in mind, the caramel sauce will thickens more as it cools. (If the caramel sauce still looks thin after you remove it from the heat, then return to a simmer.)
  • Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup evaporated milk (it will bubble a lot) and vanilla. Add additional evaporated milk to reach desired consistency.

Video

Notes

Don’t miss the “how to make” recipe video at the top of the post!
  • Consistency:  the type of pan, size of pan, and level of simmer all affect the caramel consistency, consequently, the end result will not be the same for everyone.  To that end, I suggest  starting with ½ cup evaporated milk and if you would still like thinner caramel, then you can stir in additional evaporated milk.  
  • Storage:  Store Caramel Sauce in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to three weeks.  Caramel is safe at room temperature on cakes, brownies or gifts for up to three days. 
  • Freeze:  You can also freeze the sauce for up to 3 months. Just make sure to use an airtight container that’s NOT glass because the milk expands when frozen and can rupture the glass. Defrost the sauce overnight in the fridge and warm gently before using.
  • Reheat:  This caramel reheats beautifully in the microwave or stovetop.

Did You Make This Recipe?

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Recipe Source:  Food.com

a thin stream of creamy caramel sauce being poured into a glass jar

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202 Comments

  1. Chandrika Shetty says

    Hi Jen, Tried it with reduced cream and it came out all right. Thanks again 🙂

    • Karen says

      Silly easy… and my first try. I have always been afraid of melting sugar because the burn is so bad. My input is that at around 7 minutes the sauce changed to a deeper and smoother consistency.. it TOLD me it was almost ready. Fool proof for a beginner!!! TY

      • Jen says

        You’re so welcome Karen, I’m so happy it was a winner!

  2. Chris says

    Love this recipe. I use salted butter so didn’t need to add any salt.

    • Jen says

      Thanks Chris, I’m so happy you loved it!

  3. Tanya says

    Does this caramel become hard in fridge? I want to fill with it cupcakes that need to be refrigerated.

    • Jen says

      Hi Tanya, it will harden slightly in the refrigerator but should be fine for cupcakes if you bring them to room temperature first, or better yet microwave them for 10 seconds- yum! I would definitely make the caramel on the thinner side, adding more evaporated milk.

  4. Becca Skaggs says

    Easy to make and rich flavor! Love that you can use evaporated milk for caramel. Will be making caramel a lot more now 🙂

    • Jen says

      YAY! I agree that the evaporated milk is a game changer – dangerous to always have all the ingredients on hand!

  5. Nina Lane says

    Do you think this caramel could be made thinner to drizzle on coffee?

    • Jen says

      Absolutely! You can completely control the consistency by adding more evaporated milk after simmering.

  6. Christine Barnes says

    Thanks for this amazingly thorough recipe with all of the tricks and hints! I would love tonmake this and send to friends and families some shortbread cookies. Can it be canned? If so, how would I go about this?

    • Jen says

      Thanks Christine! I am sure it can be canned but I haven’t personally tried it, I would suggest googling that specifically. I also would avoid doubling or tripling this recipe because the added volume can prevent the sugar from melting evenly and properly, so make single batches instead. Good luck!

  7. Kathleen says

    I’ve returned to your site for this recipe for a couple of years now, and I always recommend/link for friends. Out of the gazillion sites and recipes available online, this recipe and your site stand out!

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much Kathleen, I’m honored you’re loving my site! Thanks for recommending it!

  8. Sydney says

    I only have dark brown sugar will it still work?

    • Jen says

      Yes, it will just have a stronger molasses flavor.

  9. Bonnie says

    I made this recipe, but left out some of the brown sugar. Can I reheat it, adding the rest of the sugar?

    • Jen says

      Hi Bonnie, I’m afraid if you add the brown sugar later it will taste grainy. You could try adding a little and bringing it to a gentle simmer so the sugar dissolves. Good luck!

  10. Joan k says

    The best tasting and fool proof sauce ever
    Don’t let the use of evaporated milk put you off, its better than heavy cream and easier to work with

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much for the review Joan, I’m so pleased it was a winner!

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