I’m getting down to basics today with a very detailed step-by-step picture to making homemade caramel sauce. For this baking basic, I will be going through the wet process vs. dry process for making caramel sauce. The wet process utilizes water to dissolve the sugar (stay tuned for the dry method tutorial). I’ve done this tutorial before in a previous post but not as detailed. Today, I’m breaking it out on its own with a color chart for the different stages of caramelizing since many of you have had a few questions regarding certain steps-specifically, “What is dark amber”.
For this caramel sauce tutorial, I will go through the different color stages including the dark amber that you so often see me directing you towards in my dessert recipes. You will often hear me refer to it as a ‘burnt caramel flavor’. I should mention it’s not truly burnt, since burnt caramel is disgusting and not usable. But it’s a term adopted because it’s the smoky point during the dark amber stage. I like my caramel taken just beyond that smoky point by about 30 seconds before I add my heavy cream and butter. This is when the sugar caramelizes to the point of actually imparting a deep flavor rather than just being sweet.
I don’t have temperatures listed, as the caramelizing process moves too fast to grab an accurate reading. I also don’t have times listed once the coloring starts since there are too many variables such as different types of stove ranges, types of pots used, size of pots – all these things will change the time. When you’re working with caramel things move real fast once the first shade of amber appears.
Trust me when I say you will learn to use your nose and eyes to gauge the readiness of when and how you like your homemade caramel sauce. Don’t worry if you mess it up the first, second or third time-I’m sure most of us did. Luckily, sugar is cheap and it’s like riding bike once you nail it, you won’t forget it.
Homemade Caramel Sauce
Yield: Makes approximately 14-16oz
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon lemon juice
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Place sugar and water into a saucepan over medium low heat and stir the until sugar has dissolved. Dissolve any crystals forming on the side with a wet pastry brush. Once sugar has dissolved increase heat to high.
- At this point do not stir the mixture directly. Now and then, using the handle, give the pot a swirl to keep the mixture moving. The mixture will start to bubble after a minute or so.
- After 3-4 minutes the mixture will turn from a light amber to medium amber. This is the color you want the caramel for any recipes calling for caramel sauce that requires a fluid texture. The next stage is a dark reddish brown color, this is the stage you want for desserts that require a deep caramel flavor. Be ready to use this caramel immediately, as it quickly hardens when cooled. Add the heavy cream into the mixture as soon as the desired color is reach. The mixture will bubble wildly. Whisk to combine (bubbles will subside upon cooling). Set aside to cool completely.
- The longer the caramel cooks the harder it will become as it cools.
- If after cooling the caramel is too hard, re-heat it and add more water, milk or heavy cream to thin it.
- If after cooling the caramel is too liquid-y, make a second batch and cook the caramel slightly longer, then mix the two together.
- For a deeper caramel flavor add your butter and cream after the mixture has smoked for about 30 seconds.