This was a first for me – making a bona fide caramel sauce. I’ve made a basic caramel a few times, but not with the added cream and butter.
And, may I say, it’s as divine a concoction as ever existed. Deep, dark and ever so slightly bitter. The trick is all in knowing when to take if off the boil.
And, this is where I need to confess that I’ve come back to this post three years later to edit it. In my original post, I waxed lyrical about using a thermometer in order to tell when the caramel is done. However, many, many caramels later, I can honestly say that a thermometer is actually not particularly helpful. You need to eye-ball a caramel to know when it’s done, and that knowledge really only comes through making it A LOT.
So, ditch the thermometer and get to know the stages of caramel making. Here’s some tips:
- At first, the caramel (technically speaking, a sugar syrup) will be very bubbly – loads of fast moving, small bubbles, making lots of noise
- After a while, the bubbles will start to quieten down – they’ll get bigger and move more slowly
- The colour will start to change very subtly – from colourless to a very light amber… that’s when you need to start watching it like a hawk
- The amber colour will start becoming more prominent. If the colour is uneven, it’s a good idea to gently (and carefully) swirl the pan to distribute the burning sugar evenly
- The colour will move into a medium amber colour. You’re not done yet though, keep going…
- Now the caramel moves into a deeper amber – like a bright copper penny. You really want to allow the caramel to go a little deeper yet… And, don’t forget to swirl the pan if the sugar is burning unevenly.
- The final stage sees the caramel deepen even further to a dark amber brown. And very importantly, you’ll notice a puff or two of smoke coming off the surface, plus a good whiff of the caramel. You can take it off right then and there if you want but, if you feel confident, just push it a moment or two beyond that point. That’s when the caramel takes on a much more sophisticated flavour – dark, slightly bitter, but definitely NOT burned!
I hope that helps. If you’re new to caramel making, it might take you a few shots to get it right. And, hey, should you make a slip-up and burn it, don’t worry… finding out at what point a caramel burns is actually a useful lesson, and at the end of the day, you’ve only wasted a cup of sugar!
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¾-1 cup cream (depending how light you want it)
- 45 g salted butter or if you use unsalted butter, you can add in ¼ teaspoon of salt at the end
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- To make the caramel sauce: Add the sugar and water in a large saucepan over low heat. Stir carefully with a metal spoon until the sugar dissolves. Have a glass of water handy with a pastry brush and brush down any sugar granules that build up on the sides of the pan (if you don’t, the mixture may seize).
- Once the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is looking clear, turn up the heat to med/high and put your spoon away – you don’t want to be stirring at all. Put your candy thermometer into the pan. As the mixture heats up the bubbles will get fast and furious, but will start slowing down after a while. This part of the process can take 5-10 minutes.
- After a while, you’ll see the colour gradually change to a light amber. To ensure the sugar gets cooked evenly, you will probably need to give the pan a gentle swirl from time to time. The sugar will then move into a medium amber, but you’re not done yet. Wait until the thermometer reaches 350°F – at that point it will have reached dark amber.
- Take it off the heat straight away and carefully add the cream – the mixture will bubble up very quickly, but don’t panic, this is normal and will settle down again in a moment. Just be careful – the mixture is extremely hot and could give you a nasty burn. Next, carefully add the butter and whisk. Then add the vanilla extract and whisk again. If you want to add salt, you can do that now. If the mixture is lumpy at all, just put it back on the heat for a minute, and stir until smooth.
- Let the caramel cool, then pour it into an airtight container. You can store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you need to serve it, you will probably need to heat it up in the microwave for a half minute or more to make it pourable.
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