Caramel · GF (about a pint)
12 ounces cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1½ ounces butter
7 ounces sugar
¼ tsp kosher salt
Bring the cream to a boil with the vanilla bean. Steep for an hour, or as long as you can. If you don’t have that kind of time, use 1 Tbsp of vanilla extract instead.
Caramelize the 7 ounces of sugar by setting a large pot over a medium flame. Sprinkle with some of the sugar to form an even coat over the bottom of the pan. As the sugar melts, sprinkle in a little more. This is a slow process. Shake and swirl the pan to mix, don’t stir. If you notice a hot spot that is caramelizing too fast, sprinkle extra sugar there to “put it out” so to speak. When all the sugar has been added and liquefied, cook until it reaches a foxy brown color.
Immediately pour in a quarter of the cream, and stir. It will bubble and foam and if you didn’t listen to me and used a small pot, you may experience a dangerous overflow, burn your toes, and spend the rest of the day cleaning caramel from your stove. But, if you have a large pot, you’re safe. The mixture will foam up, but not out. Stir, being careful of the steam that’s undoubtedly coming from the pot. The sugar will clump. Worry not.
When the foam subsides, pour in more cream, repeating until it’s all been safely added. Stir and simmer until any clumped up sugar has dissolved. Then stir in the butter, salt, and vanilla bean scrapings.
You can strain the mixture if you like, to sieve out any bits that may have not dissolved. I like to leave the vanilla bean in until just before serving, so it continues to infuse the caramel.
Sticking the caramel-y vanilla bean into your next pot of coffee is decidedly not a bad idea.
To make sage caramel for the autumn sundae photographed in A Ceylon Plan, you’ll need 12 large sage leaves, finely chopped. Follow the recipe exactly as above, but while you’re steeping the cream and vanilla, get out a small skillet or pan and melt the butter in it, along with aforementioned sage. Cook the butter until it bubbles and spits, then shut off the heat and set aside.
If you want the sage leaves to remain in your final caramel, add in the sage butter after you’ve strained the caramel. Or, if you want the flavor, but no speckles, um, you know, add it before you strain. Ta-da!
When you make my recipe for spiced pear layer cake, you’ll find yourself with 6 ounces of pear juice and, perhaps, the desire to creatively utilize it. If you haven’t made said cake, but just want to try out this recipe, feel free to use apple cider or store bought pear juice.
Follow the above recipe, but use only 7 ounces of cream. After you’ve caramelized the sugar and added the cream, add in the pear juice.
This caramel has a brighter flavor, due to the acidity in the juice, and a lighter body because it uses less cream. It doesn’t have a fruity flavor, per se, but its lightness and brightness help it pair (haha) beautifully with fruit.
Dec 16, 2010 · 4:21 PM
Jessie recommended your caramel sauce to me and it is by far the best I have ever tasted! I was dying watching the sugar melt (I have the attention span of a 4 yr old) but the outcome was SOOO worth it! Thanks for the awesome recipe! I can’t wait to try more of them!
Dec 16, 2010 · 8:16 PM
Mishi, I know, it’s sooo tedious waiting on the caramel I agree. I just am not a huge fan of the recipes that have you add lemon and water. I like the pure caramel flavor! Glad you did too. Don’t be a stranger!
Dec 16, 2010 · 10:30 PM
So I loved it so much i was thinking of canning it and shipping it as presents. Do you know if it’s safe to do that or does it have to be refrigerated immediately. Is it weird that when I went to the fridge to snack on some caramel it was so good I didn’t realize I was doing a happy dance?.
Dec 16, 2010 · 10:54 PM
I’d say you could ship some to friends so long as the making + shipping/consuming occurred within the period of a week or so (since it’s winter. I’d feel scared in the summertime), to err on the side of caution. Sugar content is high, which helps keep it safe from bacteria, but acid is low and fat is high, so it is ripe fore some spoilage over time. I’d do it, but then again, I eat raw eggs every day, so I am clearly “crazy”. Be sure to tell your friends to refrigerate and enjoy ASAP!
Also, re:dancing? Not even remotely strange.
Nov 20, 2011 · 5:18 PM
@jmanjenks, the good part about butter is it will settle out over time so you can skim it off later if it’s too much. But glad you enjoyed, a lil’ extra butter never hurt anyone.
Nov 30, 2011 · 8:45 PM
@Tim, absolutely! Follow this same recipe, but using only about 4 of cream. Exactly how much cream to use depends a lot on how thick/chewy you like yoru caramels; it’s a little up to you to use more or less.
Once you’ve made (and strained) the caramel, just pour it into a lightly greased baking pan. Cover and refrigerate for about 12 hours. Then, you can take it from the fridge, pull it from the pan, and cut with a knife. Wrap the cut squares in plastic or dip them in tempered chocolate. After that, you can store them at room temperature.
I’m way over due to make a batch; I’ll try and hammer out a more thorough recipe, but in the mean time this should get you pretty close!
Mar 29, 2012 · 7:29 PM
Help! This is my first time ever making caramel and I think I fudged it up! I think I was too impatient and didn’t let the sugar fully melt before adding the cream. The sugar seemed to seize up but it did foam after I stirred it a bit and everything melted back down. It tastes good but doesn’t seem to be thickening up; what did I do wrong? It’s in the fridge now and I’m hoping that’ll help; if it stays runny and I use it to make caramel buttercream, will it wreck the consistency of my buttercream?
Mar 29, 2012 · 8:21 PM
Hi Diana! Everything’s going to be a-okay. The cream definitely causes the sugar to clump-up (fully melted or not) and is a normal part of the process when using cold cream. Many recipes call for hot cream, which prevents clumping, but it also causes the cream to climb the pan more dramatically, so I like to go with cold.
The caramel will thicken dramatically as it cools, most dramatically if refrigerated overnight. It will still have a sauce-like consistency, but thick enough to coat a spoon.
If you need to use the caramel right away for the buttercream, just be sure it cools to room temperature before adding it. If it’s warm even a little it will melt it instead and you’ll have soup. So just be patient and let it cool, either by just sitting at room temp, in an ice bath, or stashed in the fridge. The method depends on how big of a hurry you’re in.
Mar 30, 2012 · 4:53 PM
Thanks Stella! The caramel totally thickened up overnight and I put it in a batch of buttercream today, tasted delicious! Just another question: if I freeze the buttercream, how should I defrost it? In one of your posts for buttercream, you said melt 2/3 and whip it with the frozen 1/3, but then in another comment you said melt 1/3, so how much should be melted?
Also, when making the buttercream, I whipped the whites with the whisk attachment until marshmallow-y and then I switched to paddle when adding the butter. Is that the right way to do it or do you use the whisk for the whole thing?
Mar 30, 2012 · 5:05 PM
@Diana, Awesome, I’m happy to hear it worked out!! You can just zap the caramel it in the microwave to thaw. Buttercream is fussy because you want to preserve the air and structure, but caramel doesn’t mind a rougher treatment, it’s sturdy stuff.
For the buttercream, use the whisk the whole way. No sense dirtying up extra dishes.
Apr 19, 2012 · 10:41 AM
@LRyan, Apologies for not having explained it! To use vanilla extract, just bring the cream to a boil, shut off the heat and proceed with the rest of the recipe, no wait necessary. After the caramel is made, stir in the vanilla at the end. Technically, you don’t have to even warm the cream first, but it makes combining it with the caramel a little easier. Hope that helps.
Jul 18, 2012 · 9:48 AM
@madmacaw, you use of the word “moreish” just brought back some vivid memories of my grandfather, thanks for the dose of happy nostalgia this morning. And I’m so glad you had a great batch of buttercream!
Aug 02, 2012 · 6:21 PM
Hi Nvanspauwen, thanks for the kind words! The caramel will keep pretty well in the fridge, for nearly two weeks I’d say. I have never frozen it before, but I can’t imagine that being any sort of problem. After thawing, it may need a good stir, but other than that it should be good to go!
Aug 04, 2012 · 6:14 PM
I came across your blog a couple of weeks ago when looking for macaron recipes, and have now read all of the blog archive and am working my ways through the recipes. I’m already such a fan and have been sending links for your blog to all of my baking friends as well!
I’m a hobby baker and occasional chocolatier. I was wondering – if I make hollow chocolate cups, would this caramel be a suitable filling? I’ve not attempted chocolates with liquid fillings yet, but this recipe has absolutely inspired me!
Aug 04, 2012 · 10:19 PM
@Viclet, um, not only is the answer yes, but I have a question myself: what is your address and when will they be ready?
If you check out the post on Reese’s Cups (which you may have already seen), there’s a method for making chocolate cups, which I think would work well with cold caramel (which is super thick). After the cups come to room temperature, presuming you used tempered chocolate, the caramel would turn melty. Even with untempered chocolate, the caramel would still be soft/chewy compared to the chocolate.
Aug 05, 2012 · 7:39 AM
Stella, thanks so much for your speedy reply! I was intending to make the cups using a chocolate mould, but I love your method and will definitely give it a go, although will probably use petit four cases and a smaller piping nozzle – I’ll let you know how they go.
As for my address… I’m in London, but if you ever make it across the pond I promise I’ll make up a batch for you. Being a Brit, I really appreciate that you use weight measurements, but might well have some questions at some point about European butter, as I didn’t realise that there was a difference until I was in Calfornia in June!
Aug 07, 2012 · 5:30 PM
@Viclet, well, if you’ve got the chocolate molds, you’re well armed and should stick with ‘em! They’ll be so cute. Using European butter in American recipes can help or hurt depending on the recipe. In things like shortbread or pie crust and many cakes, it works better (or at least results in butterier, richer desserts) but in some foods (drop cookies, brownies) it can make them too greasy. It generally has to do with the existing fat content and how much flour/starch is available to soak up the excess fat. When in doubt, you can get away with using just a little less butter (to mimic American butter’s lower fat content) or add a touch more flour to stabilize. I wish I had a reliable rule of thumb, but I haven’t played around enough to figure one out. Hope some extra info helps, though!
Oct 04, 2012 · 1:12 AM
Okay, I know this is probably a really stupid question, with a very obvious answer (ie: I should NOT quite my day job!), but I’m going to ask anyways: is this caramel supposed to have a slightly burnt taste? I have painstakingly made three consecutive batches (I only need one!!), and they all turned out exactly the same…with a slight burnt taste. I know I’m probably doing something wrong (as in burning my sugar!) but I don’t know if I can possibly be any more careful…any suggestions??
Oct 04, 2012 · 9:57 AM
Hi Kerri! It really comes down to a matter of taste. Caramel should have a burned taste, it is made of burned sugar, but most of the caramels people eat (at an ice cream parlor, from the store, etc) are not made with burned sugar. So the actually taste of real caramel can be a bit of an adjustment for some. That being said, your taste will dictate just how burned you like it. I love making a very dark caramel (cooking to a deep foxy brown) but you may prefer cooking it less, say to a pale tan color. How much did you cook your caramels? If you like, upload a photo for me on the facebook page and I will try to diagnose whether or not it’s too dark. Hope that helps!
Oct 05, 2012 · 3:55 AM
Thanks, Stella! I tried to take a picture, but the colour didn’t translate well. I think they were slightly darker than your picture, if that’s representative of “foxy brown” :O) I did try to cook my subsequent attempts less than the first one, but on tries 2 and 3 I couldn’t seem to get all the sugar melted before it got to the same darkness. Anyways, my husband assured me it tasted fine, so I dumped it into my german butter cream with fingers crossed. And…it’s delicious :O) Thanks again for your replies…they are so much appreciated!
Oct 05, 2012 · 9:05 AM
Hi Kerri! Ah, I’m glad to hear the husband approved and it worked out in your German buttercream, yaaayyy! Don’t worry about it all being perfectly melted and the same color. You want it overall to be uniform, but there will definitely be lumps of sugar here or there that don’t melt, and that’s okay! Or at least, it is in this recipe, which is a fairly relaxed method for caramel making.
Oct 21, 2012 · 7:29 PM
Looks like this is a recipe for caramel sauce. If I want to have this as macaron filling, how do I make it thicker? I saw in the buttercream section that I can use this with buttercream, but I would like to use pure caramel as macaron filling.
· Iwan · www.facebook.com/iwan.santoso.796
Oct 24, 2012 · 10:13 AM
Hi Iwan! I’d start by cutting the cream and butter by 75%. I can’t remember off the top of my head the ratio for firm caramels, but that should be a start! It will still be quite liquid-y while warm, but will stiffen after refrigeration. That being said, i don’t recommend straight caramel as a macaron filling because it tends to dissolve the macaron shells over time. But if you’ll eat them right away, no worries!
Nov 13, 2012 · 8:58 AM
Hi DJ! I think a 3 quart pot would be plenty big. The key to not spilling the caramel (if I’m correctly deducing your concern) is to use cold cream. When you add hot cream to the caramel, as some recipes have you do, it bubbles furiously and can overflow the pot. But cold cream “shocks” the caramel, it steams pretty vigorously, but solidifies and clumps, rather than foam up. You have to cook it a few more minutes to get it creamy again, but that’s the price I’m willing to pay to keep my caramel in the pot where it belongs rather than foaming up up and away.
Nov 29, 2012 · 12:45 PM
I’ve never made caramel before and am so excited I stumbled across your recipe. I am officially addicted to your site after making the vanilla bean marshmallows the other night. The boyfriend has no complaints either =) I would like to use this caramel as a topping for sticky buns. Would baking it in the pan along with the buns work or would I run the risk of scorching and altering the flavor?
Dec 01, 2012 · 7:57 PM
Hi Steph! Yay marhmallows!!! I’d recommend using the caramel as a topping instead, it will bubble and boil in the oven and make a real mess (I found out the hard way). Brown sugar works nicely, though.
Dec 05, 2012 · 9:24 AM
Hi Luv2cook! You can adjust the thickness by how much or little cream you add. The caramel wants to soak into a cake, so I would recommend Putting down a thin layer of buttercream before the caramel, then chilling it, to create a barrier so the caramel won’t soak in.
Dec 05, 2012 · 11:48 PM
Yay! I’m so happy! I have one pint of dark chocolate ganache and a pint of caramel sauce now in my fridge for anytime indulgence. They both taste awesome.
The ganache was so simple to make but looks so gourmet. I thought I botched the caramel at first. Before all the sugar was completely melted, it had already turned brown. Did I add the sugar too fast? Maybe I wasn’t swirling the pan aggressively enough? The heat was on medium. After babying it some more and fighting the urge to stir, the sugar finally melted, the color was still a foxy brown, and I started to relax a little. After tasting the finished sauce, I thought I died and went to heaven!
This was my first attempt at making caramel sauce and I thought it was a huge success. Foods really do taste so much better when you make it yourself. No wonder you make everything from scratch. BTW, I hope to see your version of flan in the very near future.
Quick question, since I made caramel sauce, is there any other way (aside from making caramel variation of buttercream) to make it thicker to use as macaron filling?
Thanks again for posting such fab recipes!
Dec 09, 2012 · 6:16 PM
Hi Luckylove! I think you did a-okay with the caramel; in the end it’s sort of a game of averages, some of the caramel will be very dark, and some parts will not have been able to cook as much, but they balance each other out. But the real test is how it tastes, and it sounds like it was just fine!
Unfortunately, there’s no way to thick in after you’ve made it. The thickness is determined by how much cream is added, so if you’d like to make it thicker in the future, you can just cut back on the cream (and butter). But it freezes really well, if you decide you’ve got too much sauce on your hands.
Dec 25, 2012 · 10:31 AM
Your caramel is so delicious…I could eat the whole batch with a big tub of vanilla ice cream! And I love using the dry method versus the wet sand method. This was the first time I did that whereas I would normally stand by the pot with my wet pastry brush ready to tackle any lost granules! So much easier! And I love your recipe for your vanilla bean marshmallows…I like just dumping all that hot syrup in versus pouring it in between the bowl and whisk…especially since my aim is horrible! I’m going to use your caramel recipe and make them thicker for candy, top it with your marshmallow made with honey and then dip it in dark chocolate…like the scotchmallows at See’s….my all-time favorite candy…but it will be even tastier and easier with your recipes! Thanks!
Dec 26, 2012 · 10:39 AM
Hi Zashee! I really love the dry method too, though I know it freaks some people out. Your caramel marshmallow candy situation sounds like an incredible combo, I’m sure it was a holiday hit with anyone who tried it!
Feb 13, 2013 · 10:41 PM
Hi pullin05! Oh, I’m so, so excited to hear it!! Congratulations on entering the Caramel Zone! You’ll be everyone’s best friend this autumn when it’s caramel apple time. Good luck with the macs!
Feb 15, 2013 · 4:13 PM
Thanx so much for responding so quickly!! I just did the macarons for the first time EVER. They ARE ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS! I haven’t put them together with the buttercream yet, but I’m expecting to gain about a million lbs once I do I piped out all the macarons before I put first pan in the oven. There was a total of 3 pans. The 1st one—macs were cracked & collapsed no feet what-so-ever. 2nd pan—just a couple (like 4 or so) had cracking, but they had feet. 3rd pan—perfect, with “feet” & smooth rounded tops! They were all from the same batch-just 3 different pans. Am I supposed to let them sit for a while before baking them?
Feb 15, 2013 · 5:26 PM
Hi pullin05! Yaaaay! I’m so glad to hear they turned out so tasty, that’s great news! You don’t need to rest or let them sit, though it’s perfectly fine if you do.
A lot of people experience the most success with their last tray of macarons. My theory is that the last batch is the most well-mixed. The macaron batter for that last tray will either sit in the bowl or bag longer, until it gets piped out, right? During this time (whether seconds or minutes) it gets agitated either by the scooping motion of the spatula dipping out other batches, or the “massaging” it gets as the bag is squeezed over and over while the first trays are piped.
Undermixed macarons are extremely prone to cracking, so it would make sense that the last tray of a slightly undermixed batch would turn out the best since all that extra motion would serve to deflate/mix it closer to perfection.
If you make another batch, try mixing them just a little l longer than you did with this one and see if that doesn’t solve the issue. At any rate, enjoy your delicious little cookies!!
Apr 09, 2013 · 8:32 AM
Hi Corky! Absolutely. I kinda secretly believe all caramel should turn into salty caramel. Really, it’s just a matter of personal taste. After you’ve finished making the caramel, just doctor it with kosher salt until it’s as salty as you’d like. I think a 1/2 teaspoon (total) would be a good starting place.
Apr 16, 2013 · 9:15 AM
Hi soiia! I’m sorry to hear it was too bitter for your tastes, but this actually puts you on the road to really understanding caramel. Now you’ve figured out what’s “too much” for you, and next time you can tweak it so it’s less dark. You might also try turning down the heat a notch or two, it may just be cooking too fast. Glad you’re enjoying your coffee, though! Yum.
Jul 05, 2013 · 1:02 AM
Just made this caramel sauce and added an extra tsp of kosher salt to make it salted, turned out super yummy! Almost burnt my mouth off eating it off the wooden spoon while waiting to cool! Thanks for the great recipe! Also, in one of your replies above, you mentioned that caramel as a filling will break down the macaron shells? If i do use as a macaron filling, do you think they can last for 48 hrs?
Jul 05, 2013 · 8:43 PM
Hi Patricia. As is, I think this particular caramel recipe is too high in moisture to work as a macaron filling at all, at room temperature it will ooze right out and definitely turn the shells to mush. But you can beat caramel into any sort of buttercream to get the flavor in a less dissolve-y format.
Aug 21, 2013 · 9:19 PM
Hi Carolyn! Don’t worry about the caramel, the buttercream will have the same shelf life (uhhh, freezer life) either way. Happy baking!
Sep 25, 2013 · 11:26 AM
Hi Courtenay! You can definitely throw in some chocolate, pretty much to taste, along with the cream. Chocolate can cause the caramel to thicken significantly, so you may want to offset it with an extra splash of cream to keep is saucy.
Oct 22, 2013 · 10:18 PM
Hi Laura! Steeping the sage into the cream would be a great way to adjust the flavor. I’d aim for 1/4 ounce to start, finely chopped, then steep for an hour in the cream. Give it a taste, and continue steeping until the flavor is just a little stronger than you’d like; that way it will still come through over the caramel flavor itself. Let me know how it works!
Feb 08, 2014 · 2:41 AM
hi Stella! I just made this caramel, and it was much simpler than I imagined! I used such a large pot that the foam didn’t even go up halfway, but at least I’m safe (and clean!)
I was indeed rather surprised by the burnt sugar taste, but it makes for a more complex caramel flavor than the standard commercialized saccharine sweet stuff. thanks for opening up my taste buds to new horizons
huge fan of your blog – your writing style makes me giggle :p
· Cheryl · instagram.com/apolishedgeek
Feb 08, 2014 · 12:48 PM
Hi Cheryl! Ahh, I’m so glad you liked the flavor, it’s definitely a huge leap forward from the simple flavor of mass produced caramel (which is truly more of a butterscotch). Smart idea on the big pot too.
Side note: I clicked over to your instagram and became instantly jealous beyond all reason. As you might imagine, my hands are constantly banging around, dipped in caramel, or scrubbing dishes in hot water, so nail polish is not a realistic option for me (well that, and it’s illegal for kitchen employees to wear polish where I live). Consequently, I long for the day when I can have super-fun and colorful nails.
Mar 04, 2014 · 10:36 AM
Hi Avi, that’s a great suggestion! I’m a little camera shy, but I will see what I can do.
Mar 14, 2014 · 8:37 PM
Hey Stella, I made this to go in the icing of the Neo-German choc cake, but since the cake was great but ugly, I just took it to a dinner to put over ice cream.like you said to another commenter, it was darker & a little more burned tasting than expected, but it soon grew on me. The diners loved it & asked for it again. I think I’ll try a little lighter just to see. I used a big pot, so it didn’t take long at all. In fact, it was pretty fun & I can’t wait to try again! Your explanations make things so clear it’s easy to make tricky recipes pretty doable.Thanks!
Mar 15, 2014 · 12:39 PM
Hi MA! I’m glad you enjoyed the experience, and that your friends approved (that’s always the stressful part- waiting to see what everyone else will think!).
Most commercial caramels (and many homemade recipes) actually make something closer to butterscotch, never actually cooking the sugar high enough to truly caramelize. So the taste of a legit caramel can be pretty shocking for some, but of course there are also degrees of caramelization, so stepping it back may be just what you need. Have fun experimenting!
May 21, 2014 · 11:04 AM
Hi Mia! I’m comfortable leaving caramel at room temperature for about a week, though I generally keep it in the fridge because it’s helps it last even longer. But changing up the sugar to use invert wouldn’t really serve any preservative process, the concern is more about the perishable nature of dairy products. If you wanted something super-stable, you might try using unsweetened coconut milk instead of dairy. The flavor is pretty subtle overall.