Caramel is a classic sweet treat with a rich flavor and a decadent, syrupy texture. In essence, all caramel recipes are just different ways to cook sugar. To make a very basic caramel, you can cook the sugar by itself in a pan until it reaches a boil, or you can mix it with a liquid, such as water, milk, or cream. When you boil the mixture, it becomes a sugar syrup and the other liquid eventually evaporates, leaving you with a rich, creamy caramel. Adding milk makes the concoction paler and creamier.
Creamy Caramel Sauce
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1/4 cup evaporated milk
- Set a small saucepan over medium-high heat on the stove. Whisk together the sugar and water in the pan until the sugar dissolves completely.
- Turn the heat up and bring the sugar syrup to a boil without stirring. If needed, you can swirl the pan to distribute the heat evenly. Wait until the liquid turns dark amber, which could take 10 to 12 minutes.
- Take the caramel off the heat and pour in the heavy whipping cream. Watch out for splatters! Whisk until smooth, then add the milks and continue whisking.
- Let the caramel sauce cool to room temperature, and then use it or jar it.
Salted Caramel Candy
This recipe makes 16 to 20 caramel pieces.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Cut parchment paper to line an 8" square baking pan. Spray the paper with cooking spray or brush it with cooking oil.
- Set a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour in the cream, butter, and sea salt. When the mixture has reached a simmer, turn off the heat.
- In another saucepan, stir together the sugar, water, and corn syrup over medium to high heat. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Then raise the heat and let the mixture come to a boil without stirring. When the caramel turns dark amber, turn the heat off and take the pan off the burner.
- Carefully pour the cream mixture into the hot sugar mixture. Add the vanilla.
- Put the caramel back on the stove and cook it on medium heat until it reaches 248 degrees on a candy thermometer, which may take up to 10 minutes.
- Pour the caramel into the greased and lined pan, and let it cool in the refrigerator for three hours or until firm.
- Remove the candy from the fridge and let it warm to room temperature. Remove the caramel sheet from the pan. Spray a sharp knife with cooking spray or brush it with oil, and cut the caramel into squares. If you'd like, you can wrap each square in parchment paper. Store uneaten caramels in the fridge or in an airtight container.
Caramel Buttercream Frosting
Use this thick frosting to fill cakes or decorate cupcakes. The recipe makes about 4 cups.
- 1/2 cup caramel pieces, chopped
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons meringue powder (optional, for stability)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons milk or cream, as needed
- Set a small saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped caramel pieces and heavy cream to the pan, and stir until they are melted. Turn off the heat.
- Combine the butter, sugar, meringue powder (if using), vanilla (if using), and sea salt in a large bowl. Beat the ingredients on low to medium speed for 30 to 45 seconds, just to combine them.
- Add the warmed caramel mixture to the frosting bowl. Beat the mixture again for about 1 minute to incorporate. If the icing seems too thick, add milk or cream in tablespoon increments until you reach the desired consistency.
- Turn your mixer up to high and beat the frosting for about 5 minutes until it's completely smooth and spreadable. Use immediately or store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.
Tips and Tricks
One of the biggest problems with making caramel is the high heat it requires. Splattering, liquefied sugar can be very dangerous and may cause serious burns if it makes contact with your skin. When adding any ingredients to boiling sugar, keep your distance. Protect yourself by wearing long sleeves or a pair of gloves if you anticipate splatters. Another idea is to cover your pan with a layer of aluminum foil to prevent bubbling liquids from bursting out. Poke a hole in the middle of the foil and pour in anything the recipe asks you to add.
Another common issue has to do with sugar crystallizing rather than boiling and converting properly. To avoid crystallization, make sure your pan and spoon are absolutely clean. Don't stir the sugar after it boils and, when it is the thick consistency you'd like, take it off the heat and let the pan cool in a tray of ice or cold water.
Although not all caramel recipes require a candy thermometer, using one can help you achieve consistency and the texture you're seeking. Timing and temperature are important when dealing with caramel, so keep an eye on what you're cooking and be precise!
Cooking with Caramel
Making something with caramel is a delicious treat. While cooking it can be a little tricky, with a little practice, it is sure to be a yummy addition to any cook's repertoire.