Lightly salted caramel sauce

Sugar, heavy cream and salt are all you need for this incredibly light homemade salted caramel sauce! Step-by-step photos will help guide you through the process to guarantee the best results.

caramel sauce dripped from a spoon into a jar

This week is a "two-fer" week at Bunsen Burner Bakery. A new post today for the world's lightest homemade salted caramel. And then later this week, a recipe with exactly how to use this salted caramel. (Spoiler alert: the upcoming recipe is probably one of the best things I've ever made).

There are hundreds of salted caramel recipes on the internet, but many of them look a little different than this one. Today’s post gets a bit “kitchen chemistry” heavy, as I explain exactly why this recipe does not include some of the ingredients in other recipes.

That's all you need to know about salted caramel. Believe me when I say this recipe is easy and you will not screw it up. I also include lots of step-by-step photos of the process so you know exactly what to expect.

Believe me, too, when I say you need this in your life, so you should probably make a batch today. And it includes only four ingredients: water, sugar, heavy cream and salt.

As far as tools go, you need a large ish stainless steel sauce pot or saute pan (I use a 3 quart sauce pot), a rubber / silicone spatula for stirring, measuring cups or a kitchen scale, and an instant reading thermometer , if you have one available.

Ready? Let's make this super lightly salted caramel!

a pot full of thick caramel sauce

Caramelization process

First things first, since we talk a lot about the chemistry behind cooking and baking, let's address caramelization.

The most important ingredient in our homemade salted caramel sauce? Sugar. And what is caramelization? Brown tint of sugar.

(Note: it is a heat-based tan process – and does not involve brown sugar that is brown from the addition of molasses. NOT THE SAME THING.)

How does sugar undergo caramelization? It's time for my favorite topic…. kitchen chemistry!

kitchen Chemistry

Caramelization is a type of non-enzymatic browning that results from the thermal breakdown of sugar when heat is added. The darkened color is produced by polymers, namely caramelans, caramel nes and caramelines, while the taste comes from the release of volatile chemicals.

Pour caramel sauce from a pan into a glass jar

Only four ingredients needed

As I mentioned above, the only things you need are water, sugar, heavy cream and salt. That is it! (You can add vanilla extract if you like, but I think it's very flavorful without.)

So let's talk about what we are does not inclusive, and why. A lot of caramel sauces include butter and corn syrup, but we don't include here either.

Instead of butter, we use more heavy cream. Butter is made from over-whipping heavy cream until a solid separates from the cow's milk. We add the exact same ingredients, but cut out the middle man. (And it can be a nice middleman – sometimes butter-based caramel sauces break, resulting in a greasy structure. Absolutely no risk to this!)

Cream also contains a lot more lactose than butter, because the lactose differs in the meat milk layer. What is lactose? Milk sugar. What gives us the delicious caramel flavor and the tasty brown color? Sugar. Using all heavy cream instead of butter gives us more of the delicious caramel flavor and color.

You can also find recipes that contain a little corn syrup, usually with an explanation that it prevents sugar crystals from forming. Sounds good, doesn't it? We don't want to gnaw crystals in our smooth caramel sauce! Except… caramel sauces are considered non-crystalline. The high fat content of the sheep naturally prevents the formation of sugar crystals.

Step by step guide to caramel sauce

Here's a little guide to what all the different steps look like, with some useful things along the way. Use this as a visual guide to make your own, foolproof salt caramel.

step by step photos showing how to make caramel sauce

  1. Bring the water, sugar and salt to a boiling boil.
  2. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches a medium amber color. At this point, I usually use the handle on my sauce pan to gently roll the mixture around to make sure everything gets darker.
  3. Pour the heavy cream into the boiling sugar.
  4. Due to the temperature difference between the hot sugar and the cold cream, the mixture is mixed up. This is normal (and why you need a large enough sauce pan).
  5. When you start stirring the mixture, the caramel will feel as if it is sticking – you can see some large pieces of solid caramel in the picture. Get stirred! This is smoothed to a creamy sauce.
  6. Cook over medium-low heat for several minutes until the caramel sauce thickens.

At this point, pour the caramel into a heat proof container (I like glass-canned jars) and allow the mixture to cool.

Suitable temperature for caramel sauce

You can make this without a thermometer – continue to cook by slowly boiling for 3-4 minutes. The sauce thickens as it cools, so it will still work continuously while warm.

If you like to get technical (and I do – after all, I’m a scientist!), You can use an instant-read thermometer for batch-to-batch consistency. After stirring the heavy cream, you want the temperature to reach at least 220 ° F to thicken (it will on the thin and pourable side – also straight out of the refrigerator).

Personally, I like to cook mine at 227-228 ° F – still soft even after cooling, but just a little thicker, making it perfect for dripping on things without driving anywhere. You can even cook it longer, 230 to 235 ° F, for a chewier, thick consistency.

jar of caramel sauce with drips of caramel runs down the side

Tips and tricks for the best lightly salted caramel recipe:

  1. This is easy to adjust to your favorite caramel color – just add the heavy cream slightly earlier (or later) based on your preferred sugar caramelizatone level. The color that the sugar is when the cream is added dictates the final color.
  2. The times given in the recipe are approximate; do this based on visual cues rather than just time. Using a wider, more shallow saucepan instead of a sauce bowl will shorten the times as there is a larger surface area and the ingredients heat up faster.
  3. Use a suitable large saucepan. A smaller pot can cause the mixture to bubble over after the heavy cream is added.
  4. Not in salted caramel? Reduce the salt in the recipe to 1/2 tsp, and stir in a sprinkle of vanilla extract in the last step.
  5. Have your heavy cream pre-painted and ready to go. The boiling sugar mixture stays ready for the first few minutes, then proceeds quickly to a light honey color and then suddenly darkens to amber very quickly. Be prepared to pour the cream quickly!
  6. Immediately pour the smooth sauce into a heat-proof container and store at room temperature for a few days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. If the caramel sauce solidifies in the refrigerator, gently heat in the microwave with 50% force while stirring frequently to return to a pourable consistency.

Recipes to pair with lightly salted caramel sauce:

  • Caramel apple cheese
  • Caramel Pear Pie with Oatmeal Cookie Crumble
  • Jewish apple pie
  • Bourbon Buttermilk Pie
  • Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream

Lightly salted caramel recipe

Lightly salted caramel recipe

Yield: 1 1/4 cups Preparation time: 10 minutes Total time: 10 minutes

Sugar, heavy cream and salt are all you need for this incredibly light homemade salted caramel sauce!


  • 1/2 cup (114 grams) of water
  • 1 1/4 cups (248 grams) of granulated sugar
  • 1 rounded teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1 cup (227 grams) heavy cream


  1. Combine water, sugar and salt in a 3-liter saucepan over medium heat. Stir gently with a rubber spatula while boiling the mixture for approx. 5 minutes (photo panel 1). Once cooked, continue to cook until the color of the sugar mixture progresses to an amber color – an additional 6 to 7 minutes (2). Use the handle on the sauce pan to gently shake the pan so that it stirs if the sugar mixture turns unevenly.
  2. Once the desired color is achieved, the heavy cream is immediately added and slightly reduces the heat to the higher end of medium low (3). The sauce bubble and foam; Use the rubber spatula to stir constantly to prevent the mixture from bubbling (4). Immediately after adding the heavy cream, the mixture will feel hard and lumpy; keep stirring and the sauce will be soft and smooth (5). Store in a low boil for 3 to 5 minutes to thicken the sauce, or until the desired temperature is achieved using a moment-read thermometer (225-230 ° F) (6). The sauce will still be thin, but will thicken as it cools.
  3. Pour into a heat proof container and cool completely. Store at room temperature for a few days or refrigerate for up to 2 months.


  1. The times are only an estimate; Actual times will vary depending on the material and diameter of the pan used. Go based on visual cues for color of sauce and foil for thickness.
  2. For a non-salted caramel version, reduce the salt to 1/2 teaspoon and add stirring 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, immediately before pouring into a jar.
  3. Homemade salted caramel can be stored at room temperature for a few days or stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Nutritional information:

Yield: 10 serving size: 2 tbsp Amount per serving: Calories: 179Total fat: 8.8 g Carbohydrate: 25.6 g Protein: 0.5 g

a jar full of lightly homemade salted caramel sauce

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