Baking Basics: How to Make Caramel Sauce

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”.

How to Make Caramel Sauce

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.

Step-by-Step Tutorial to Making Homemade Caramel Sauce with Caramel Color Chart for Light to Medium to Dark Amber Caramelizing

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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.
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43 Responses to “Baking Basics: How to Make Caramel Sauce”

  1. #
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar — December 22, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

    This is something everyone should know! Lovely recipe!


  2. #
    Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga — December 22, 2011 @ 8:23 pm

    Looks great and thank for the info. Whenever I make caramel sauce no matter what I do, it always tends to taste..burned. I am sooo careful too b/c I know my tendencies. But still…never just perfect. Thanks for your post.


  3. #
    Carol H — December 22, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

    So is this sauce like the thickness of the caramel you dip an apple slice into or is it thinner?


    • Naomi replied: — December 22nd, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

      Carol-Cooled it will like the thickness of caramel for dipping apples-just mixed it will be thin.


      • Jason replied: — July 28th, 2014 @ 6:15 am

        Hi Naomi, just came upon your site, I used the search but couldn’t find the butterscotch recipe, can you direct me to it? Great stuff.

  4. #
    Anna — December 23, 2011 @ 4:10 am

    Can you use brown sugar to make caramel? I am curious. I followed someone’s recipe for caramel that used brown sugar and it did not melt properly.


    • Naomi replied: — December 27th, 2011 @ 6:15 am

      Anna-You can use brown sugar, but if you do so it turns to butterscotch sauce – stay tuned, as I have a how-to on this exact thing.


      • Jason replied: — July 28th, 2014 @ 6:16 am

        Ooops, meant to reply here for the butterscotch sauce.

  5. #
    Ann P. — December 23, 2011 @ 4:33 am

    this is SO useful! One time I went too far, and ended up having to scrape a ton of burnt sugar off the bottom of a pot, and since then have always been afraid of making caramel. When i have to, I noticed from this post that I now am too cautious with the caramel and stop at the medium-amber stage. This is the perfect tutorial–SO HELPFUL!–and I am so thankful to you for writing it up!


  6. #
    Ela — December 23, 2011 @ 5:41 am

    Thank you for this tutorial. I’m one of those so afraid to make caramel. This will truly help me to try it. Does this caramel solidify after sitting in room temperature overnight? I’m planning to put it as the base layer for my pie, will it work?


  7. #
    Krissy's Creations — December 23, 2011 @ 6:38 am

    Great tutorial Naomi! I love the last picture showing the different color phases :)


  8. #
    Deborah aka FairlyOddMother — December 23, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing your love of food and knowledge with us! A picture IS worth a thousand words when it comes to things like this. I truly appreciate all you do to help the rest of us. Happy Festivus!!!


  9. #
    Becky — December 23, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    This is so helpful! I’ve had some success with caramel (only a few tries) but will definitely be bookmarking this extremely welcome and well-documented guide for future use!! Thanks so very much!


  10. #
    PatW — December 23, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

    I like caramel better than chocolate, and got comfortable with making it years ago. Your tutorial and illustrations are excellent. Ela, as a sauce,this recipe is designed to remain a liquid, so there should be no problem leaving it overnight.


  11. #
    Roxana GreenGirl {A little bit of everything} — December 24, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

    I love the dark amber caramel. Thanks for the tutorial.
    Happy Holidays Naomi!


  12. #
    Benthe — December 24, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

    The first time I made home made caramel, I used your recipe (it was for the Toffee Crunch cupcakes). It worked perfect. Last week I bought a candy thermometer, and this comes so incredibly handy. I used to work with nose and eyes only but this, this is so much easier in my opinion.


  13. #
    Jennifer (Delicieux) — December 25, 2011 @ 6:36 am

    Fantastic tutorial Naomi. Caramel is such a wonderful addition to anyones repertoire. I love your detailed photos.

    Happy holidays to you and your family.


  14. #
    sweetsugarbelle — December 27, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

    The more pictures the better! I’m excited about seeing what you have to come in the new year! You’re amazing!


  15. #
    Amber — July 10, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    I’ve tried a lot of online caramel recipes and this is my absolute favorite. I thought that I had lost it a long time ago, but I just re-found it and it made my day. My favorite way to make this is to add a good dash of sea salt and some chipotle chili powder at the very end.


  16. #
    Lulu Purnell — August 25, 2013 @ 12:07 am

    Thanks Naomi, this recipe is fabulous, my caramel sauce turned out beautifully.


  17. #
    JOSEPH DANIELS — October 20, 2013 @ 8:13 am



  18. #
    Anastasia — December 9, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    I followed this tutorial and it turned out great! It was really easy too. I think the next time I make it I would put just a little more cream in it when it is warm because it ended up really stiff after it cooled completely. But it was very delicious.


  19. #
    Kumari Meena — February 19, 2014 @ 5:52 pm

    perfect!…good it..thank u so much


  20. #
    Caron — June 17, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

    Thanks for the specifics as noted in step 3. Not stirring after the water and sugar dissolved made all the difference!


  21. #
    Josie — June 19, 2014 @ 7:53 pm

    Excellent caramel recipe! The only thing I would say is that make sure that you’re either a) using a long whisk or b) wearing some heat protection on your whisking hand when you pour in the butter and cream because otherwise you might be in for a wicked steam burn (which is basically what just happened to me :( )


  22. #
    Sara — July 18, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

    Is there a substitute for the heavy cream to make it non-dairy or vegan?


    • Sherry replied: — September 1st, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

      I believe you can use coconut cream. If you chill coconut milk overnight (or for at least 4-5 hours) and then scrape the thicker cream out of the can and save the thinner stuff for another baking project, you can use that cream in place of heavy dairy cream. You have to do the separation otherwise it won’t have the same fat content of heavy cream. It’s worth a try! :)


  23. #
    Sherry — September 1, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    If I want to make a “spiced” caramel, would cinnamon be okay to add? Or would it be drowned out by the other flavors? I’d love to add a spice blend to give it sort of a fall flavor but I am not sure when or how to add them. Does anyone have any suggestions or resources? Thanks so much!


  24. #
    Melissa Smith — January 29, 2015 @ 4:10 am

    Thank you, Thank you for your remedies for too hard of a sauce. I had tried the caramel portion twice for a recipe for Goo-Goo Pie Parfaits with the same result. I needed an alternate option and your remedy saved the day and resurrected my dessert! :)


  25. #
    L — March 4, 2015 @ 10:29 am

    Has anyone been paying any attention? In the directions you fail to mention when to add the lemon juice, butter and salt. I’ve read enough caramel recipes to know when these are added, but for others it would be a mystery.


  26. #
    Sara — May 3, 2015 @ 12:10 pm

    When do I add the butter, salt, and lemon juice? Is the butter hard, softened or melted?


  27. #
    Kate — May 23, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

    Looks incredibly yummy . . . the smoky flavor sounds fantastic. Like L, I noticed you didn’t mention when to put in the butter and lemon juice. Unlike L, I am unfamiliar with when to put them in based on other recipes! Would you let me know if you modify this recipe to include this step? Thanks!


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