Why a post just on caramel sauce? Because a pot of really good, proper caramel sauce in your fridge is a brilliant standby for instantly elevating okay desserts to levels of serious yum. You’ll notice my use of the word ‘proper’. That’s because many of the recipes you’ll find online for caramel sauce are in fact anything but.
Yes they use sugar, cream and butter – the essential ingredients of a caramel sauce – but the technique they employ is not that of a caramel sauce. Throw the lot in a pot and boil it for a few minutes and you’ll end up with what I would call a butterscotch sauce – a delight to be sure, and especially popular with kids. But it can be rather one-dimensional, missing the deep multi-layered complexity of a caramel sauce. If the latter is what you want, you need to start your sauce with an actual caramel.
That means heating sugar until turns a delightful amber, and only then adding the rest of the ingredients. If you’ve ever tried to melt sugar, you’ll know how easy it is to get it wrong. Sugar crystals; sugar that doesn’t dissolve properly or unevenly; caramel that turns too dark too quickly, becoming horribly bitter in the process… So here is a no-fail way of making a decent caramel sauce. It takes a few minutes more because we’re taking the safer, longer route in the making of the base caramel by adding a fair amount of water. But I guarantee you won’t experience any of your usual caramel headaches.
All you need is…
1 cup white sugar
third of a cup of water
half a cup of fresh cream
1 heaped Tbs cold butter, diced into small blocks
generous pinch of salt
few drops good vanilla extract
Place the sugar and water in a medium-sized deep, thick-based saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved completely. Boil it without the lid for a good 10-15 minutes – we need to evaporate most of the water and give the sugar a chance to caramelize. Small sugar crystals will form on the sides of the pan as it boils. To get rid of them and ensure a velvety caramel sauce with no crunchy sugary bits, simply brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush a couple of times. The deeper the colour of the caramel, the more intense and complex it becomes. Take it too far however and it becomes an acrid mess.
I boil my syrup until it is a deep amber, a couple shades shy of rust. Remove it from the heat and stir in the cream. It will bubble up ferociously when you do this, so don’t be alarmed. Stir in butter until incorporated, add the salt and vanilla and you’re done. The sauce will look too thin for your liking at this stage, but as it cools to room temperature it thickens. You could bottle the sauce and keep it in your fridge for a good week or two.
What can you do with caramel sauce?
• Spoon it over ice cream.
• Blitz it up with cold milk, a splodge of cream and ice for a caramel smoothie.
• Dollop it onto pancakes, waffles and flapjacks.
• Spoon it over cheesecake and sprinkle some Maldon salt flakes over for a salted caramel cheesecake!
• Sandwich together chocolate or vanilla cake layers
• Spread it onto cupcakes
• Pour it over baked apples and serve with ice cream
• Toast a slice of brioche bread, schmear on some caramel, top with sliced banana and chopped walnuts for a ridiculously indulgent breakfast.
• Make your bedtime glass of hot milk an extra special treat by stirring in a spoon or two of caramel sauce