We’ve had lovely weather the past week but today a pleasant little system is moving through, reminding us oh so well that we live thousands of feet up in the mountains and the weather has no mercy.
While it’s damp and chilly outside I’m going to cozy up in the kitchen and share my recipe for caramel sauce along with some tips. Having a good caramel sauce recipe in your repertoire is always tremendously helpful. I find that caramel sauce is a great finishing touch that can elevate a simple treat to an outstanding dessert.
When I was younger I used to find caramel terribly intimidating. One Christmas I was determined to make chocolate turtles- pecans drizzled with caramel and then chocolate. I ate one warm and it was fantastic- gooey, soft perfection. Later, after they cooled, I was heartbroken to find them all hard as a rock- I’d overcooked the caramel. The whole batch (which had to have been about 5 dozen) went into the trash, inedible.
I always found the whole description of cooking caramel a bit scary as well- “don’t splash the hot sugar syrup or you’ll get severely burnt”, “the cream will bubble violently”, etc. While these are all points to consider and be mindful of, after making caramel however many hundreds of times in my career I have discovered the safest and easiest ways to make a flawless batch.
Caramel happens to be an incredible medium, too. Pour it hot over some chopped chocolate for a chocolate caramel sauce or stir in some fruit puree. Don’t forget the classic salted variation either. Kosher salt, flaked sea salt, and other gourmet salts work beautifully.
Serve it warm with ice cream or fruit, drizzle over pie, spread like a glaze on brownies or blondies or bundt cake, use as a cake filling…the list goes on.
I can’t remember where I got this recipe from, but I’ve tweaked it and used it for years.
The sugar is getting close. Thicker, big bubbles.
Time to start swirling and tilting the pan, slowly.
This is the color we want.
After adding the cream mixture, cooking for a few more minutes just to melt any hardened caramel bits. I cook mine for a few minutes extra because I like a thicker caramel sauce when I use it for cake fillings.
The consistency of the caramel sauce when warm.
Room temperature caramel sauce the next day. Still soft and spreads like peanut butter.
How to make this high altitude adjusted recipe:
Creamy Caramel Sauce
- 1½ cups sugar
- ½ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar or lemon juice
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- 2 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla
- 2 teaspoons good salt
- You'll need two sauce pots- in one, add the water, followed by the sugar. The less that splatters up on the sides of the pot, the better. Sprinkle with the cream of tartar or lemon juice. The acid is what saves your sugar from hardening up and seizing, especially at high altitude. If you live above 9,000 feet, increase your cream of tartar to ½ teaspoon.
- Make sure the sugar is evenly moistened like wet sand, taking care not to get much sugar on the sides of the pot. If you do, just take a wet paper towel or pastry brush and push it back down into the pot.
- Place the sugar mixture over high heat.
- Meanwhile, in your second sauce pot,add the heavy cream and cubed butter. Place over medium heat- you want it to get warm. Adding the cream and butter while warm prevents the caramel from hardening up when you add it. This method also reduces the amount of bubbling.
- Cook the sugar to an amber brown color. When the sugar is getting close, the bubbling will slow down and the mixture will have reduced slightly. Keep an eye on your heavy cream mixture- once it's warm you can turn the heat off. If you leave the heat on and the cream gets too warm it will bubble over which is a mess.
- Once the sugar starts to color tilt the pan around slowly to swirl the sugar and help it cook evenly. If you're nervous about this step, turn the heat down to give yourself plenty of time. High heat will caramelize the sugar much faster.
- You want the caramel to be the color of an amber ale beer for the best caramelized flavor. Too light and it won't have much flavor, too dark and it will be bitter.
- Once the caramel is amber, turn off the heat. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly, carefully pour the heavy cream and butter mixture (which should be warm) into the caramel, ⅙th of the mixture at a time. Stop when it bubbles up high and let it settle before adding more. Do not stir it into the caramel, just stand and pour, standing back if necessary. You don't want to pour all of it in at once or the caramel may bubble up and over the pan. By pouring in little bits at a time, you have better control over how crazy your caramel bubbles decide to get.
- Once the cream is completely added. Give your caramel a slow stir or two. It may bubble some more.
- Place the caramel back on medium-low heat. Add the vanilla and salt, and let the caramel cook for a few minutes just to melt any hardened caramel bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature to gauge the consistency.
- If your caramel is thinner than you'd like it to be, cook it for a few minutes to cook out some of the moisture. If it's thicker than you'd like, add a few tablespoons of heavy cream and mix in completely. Keep in mind that the caramel will be more fluid when it's warm, and thicker when it's cold or refrigerated.
- Makes about 2 cups.
- When refrigerated, caramel lasts for several months.
Note: This recipe was adapted for high altitude baking. To make at seal level, this recipe should work the same. Cream of tartar and lemon juice aren’t particularly necessary at seal level, but they do add sugar-seizing ‘insurance’ to your caramel.