A few years back, my wife and I went to a World Market store to peruse the shop. We may have had some goal in mind, but I can’t recall. A smaller, more square-ish than normal little cookbook caught my eye with a photo of pancakes dripping with a deeply purple blueberry syrup.
I flipped through a few pages but ended up leaving the store without it. A couple of months later I opened a birthday present to find that little cookbook. It turns out my wife saw that I enjoyed it and went back later that same day to get it for me.
So very thoughtful of her.
The Cookbook That Could
That little cookbook is Pancakes, Waffles, Crêpes & French Toast: Irresistible recipes from the griddle. Obviously, the book focuses on breakfast items. But the single recipe that I have used the most is one for salted caramel sauce. The book basically opens right to that page if you open it up. Though last time it was stuck together with a little residual caramel.
The funny thing is, the sauce isn’t even a recipe unto itself in the book. It is a recipe for a kind of waffle and the sauce, to be used in combination. But I’ve only ever made the caramel.
The photo of it was so enticing that I just could not resist. I had never tried making caramel before. I thought it was too complicated.
But those photos.
So I just set out and attempted it one Saturday morning for brunch and deliciousness ensued. Since then I have made the sauce many times, and then eventually adapted and updated it with my own variations.
Making Salted Caramel Sauce
Caramel sauce is easier to make than I guessed it would be.
Caramel is essentially sugar that is slowly melted and heated until it browns and develops that signature flavor. Combine that with cream and you’ve got a caramel sauce. Some other ingredients help lend flavor – salt, vanilla, butter, etc. But that is the gist of it.
There are also two main methods for making caramel – wet and dry methods. The dry method is melting sugar by itself in a pan. The wet method is melting the sugar with water. The dry method is more traditional and is generally more difficult during the initial melting phase to let the sugar evenly melt. With the wet method, it is easier to melt the sugar but you have to wait for that water to evaporate and my research shows that it may be more prone to crystallization.
This recipe uses a form of the wet method by melting butter with the sugar at the start. Looking around at other caramel sauce recipes, I don’t seem to see many that add butter at this stage. But that is the way I first tried it and how I tend to do things.
Even though caramel is sticky and can get messy, it actually cleans up real easy with hot water. So don’t be afraid of cleaning the saucepan or the counter after cooking.
I recommend using high-quality butter, cream, and vanilla in this recipe for it to reach its fullest potential. Sometimes it is worth the splurge.
I have heard of issues with caramel crystallization, but haven’t had a whole lot of issues with this recipe. It seems that melting the butter with the sugar really helps keep those issues at bay. Who knows. If you are having any issues with the sugar crystallizing, let me know in the comments and we can try to work it out.
Caution – melted sugar is extremely hot and dangerous, especially to a person with a penchant for sneaking tastes while cooking.
Steps and Stages
I will walk through the stages that I see while cooking, referencing the image below with the numbers on how it tends to look throughout the different steps.
First add the butter and sugar to a saucepan to melt together (stage 1). The butter will melt first. Whisk it together with the sugar (stage 2) until it is all melted and combined. Continue to cook the sugar mixture and it will start to bubble and foam up (stage 3). Then the mixture will kind of look like it is dried out and clumping together (stage 4).
Continue stirring as you heat the mixture and the butter will start to separate, almost like oil and water (stages 5 and 6). Keep it on the heat, stirring occasionally, and the clumped sugar will melt underneath the butter and start looking like a melted caramel under butter (stage 7). At this stage, cook the sugar until it reaches the level of caramelization that you want. Shorter time for a lighter, sweeter, more buttery caramel. Slightly longer for a deeper flavor with some almost burnt notes. If it starts to smoke at all, immediately remove it and move to the next steps. It may be a little burnt, but it might not overpower the flavors yet.
Add the cream into the sugar mixture and whisk together (stage 8) – note that it will bubble up violently when adding the cream. Also add the vanilla and salt at this stage. Now the caramel is made, but you can continue cooking to get it to the consistency you want. For a more runny sauce, take it from the heat immediately. For a thicker sauce, continue cooking for a few more minutes to cook out some liquid (stage 9). Let the sauce cool a bit before using (stage 10).
Uses for Salted Caramel Sauce: Topping ice cream, pancakes, or buttermilk waffles, whisking into hot chocolate, filling a cake, drizzling over cupcakes/frosting, mixing with whipped cream, or just eating a straight spoonful
Buttery Salted Caramel SauceCourse: DessertDifficulty: Moderate
Buttery and sweet or a little bitter and biting, this salted caramel sauce is versatile, quick and easy to make for topping almost anything
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon large flaky salt
- Melt the butter and sugar in a saucepan on medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has melted and is no longer clumped together
- Once the sugar is melted, continue to cook the sugar until it reaches the level of color and caramelization you want (less time for a sweeter, lighter sauce and more time for a more bitter, darker sauce) – if it starts smoking at all, move immediately to the next steps
- Whisk the cream into the sugar mixture until they are fully combined – it will sputter and bubble up when first adding the cream
- Add in the vanilla and sugar
- Cook it to the desired consistency then remove from heat and let cool before using – cooking longer will release moisture and lead to a thicker sauce