Caramel Sauce Drama

how to make caramel sauce

Happy Thanksgiving!

To celebrate the holiday I made my first pie–a banana cream pie with homemade whipped cream and a caramel drizzle. Forget that it took close to four hours to make (when you factor in research, shopping, and cooking/baking); making your own pie comes with rewards. Who knew Thanksgiving could be so much fun?

I was inspired to make the pie, because I signed up to participate in Big Bear’s Wife’s Holiday Bake Off. Not only do I get a kick out of blog parties, but it’s for a great cause. You see, anyone can participate (even non-food bloggers). All you have to do is bake, write about it, and then donate your baked goods to a local shelter.

Once I’m done with you here, I’m off to the Denver Rescue Mission to donate my pie. Don’t worry. I made an extra one for us to eat. What? You think I’m going to tease myself with a graham cracker crust?

You’ll get to read about the pie next week when it’s my turn to post on Big Bear’s Wife blog. However, I am going to tell you about one step in last night’s culinary adventure: caramel sauce.

To prepare, I read quite a few caramel sauce recipes, including this one from Yummy Supper and this one from Baked Bree. I also watched this video from Harvest Eating. After all the research, I felt good about making my own caramel sauce, but I was also scared. Sugar crystallization? Molten hot sugar water? Frightening.

Recipe for Homemade Caramel Sauce

*1 cup sugar

*1/4 cup water

*1 tsp. corn syrup

*1 cup heavy cream

*1 tsp. vanilla

*Dash of salt

Directions: Pour sugar into sauce pan. Pour water and corn syrup over the top of the sugar and turn up heat to medium high. Do not stir. Let the mixture bubble on its own until it turns a solid amber color. Turn down heat a touch, pour in cream, and whisk, whisk, whisk. Once you have a nice looking caramel sauce, remove the pan  from heat and add your vanilla and salt. The caramel sauce will thicken up once it’s cooled. Refrigerate in an air tight jar for up to three months.

Now that you know how you’re supposed to make caramel sauce, let me show you how I did it. Even with several mistakes, my homemade caramel sauce turned out great. Don’t fear the caramel!

kitchenaid 1 quart sauce panFirst up, I used our KitchenAid 1 Quart Saucier. This is a true sauce pan with a curved out bottom, which makes it really easy to get in there with your whisk. Except….you’re not supposed to whisk the water and sugar mixture in the beginning. Whoops!

caramel turns into rock candyA few things happened here. 1) I whisked when I shouldn’t have. You’ll notice how the crystals have gone up the sides of the pan. If I had left it alone, this probably wouldn’t have happened. 2) I originally only added 2 tbsp of water, which wasn’t enough. At least I couldn’t make it work–clearly. I added more water and that seemed to do the trick.

The experts say that dipping a brush in water and taking it around the sides of the pan will get rid of the crystals from the pan. I tried it. The strategy worked a bit, but not completely. Oh well.

Side note about the corn syrup: Corn syrup is meant to prevent crystallization. Maybe next time I’ll reap those benefits.

temperature for caramel sauceWith the mixture bubbling, I had to wait for it to go from white to amber. I read that once the water gets up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re ready to move to the next step. I waited and waited, but the pot hovered at 200 F for a real long time. Over ten minutes, I’m sure.

I spaced out and started thinking about the pie…turkey…my wine. Oh ya, how cute is my wine?

the pino project wineThen I became fascinated by the sugar crystals on the whisk that I was not supposed to use. I picked up the camera, so I could share it with you.

sugar crystals from caramel on whiskCool, huh?

I read that you’re not supposed to walk away from a bubbling caramel sauce. You’re supposed to pay close attention to the sauce, because it can burn very very quickly. Turns out they’re not lyin’. While I was marveling at the whisk, some things started to happen.

amber colored caramel waterThe caramel sauce was ready for some cream. Stat! It definitely smelled like burning.

adding cream for caramel sauce

what homemade caramel sauce looks likeEven though the sauce began to burn, I somehow managed to save it. I took the pan off the heat once or twice to keep the sauce from boiling over. If you look close, you can see how goopy it was at times. I have no idea if this is normal. I thought for sure I was doomed, but in the end I had one smooth tasting (and looking) caramel sauce.

caramel drips off spoon

Stay tuned until next week when I show you how awesome caramel looks drizzled over banana cream pie.


  1. Great job on the caramel!! Looks delicious!!! And I am very much looking forward to reading about that pie!!!
    Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Hey, Pup! Thanks for swinging by. The caramel does taste pretty nice. That’s a good thing, too, because I’ve got lots of it.

  2. You did an amazing job. I love eating caramel sauce, but I’ve always been too intimidated to make it. Thank you for sharing such detailed instructions and photographs. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  3. I just tried making caramel sauce too! I didn’t stir the sugar/water mixture, but I did pick up the pot and swirl it around. Those sugar crystals still formed, so maybe you’re not supposed to move the pot at all? I also got a lumpy texture when I added the cream. I worried about my caramel sauce burning so I don’t think I cooked it long enough. But yours looks perfect!

    1. Hey, Jen! I think I got lucky with the caramel. Honestly, it’s a tough one to make. I think I could’ve let mine cook a little longer, but, like you, I was afraid it would burn. In fact, I think it did burn a little 🙂

  4. Still chuckling cause I’ve been there; too many times.

    One thing, since we just connected on Twitter, I thought I would share with you from my experience!

    Even though it’s typically bakers that struggle with high altitude issues; our altitude can also affect other types of cooking, so your longer wait for the sauce to start turning brown is expected. The higher up you go, the longer it takes for liquid to boil so it makes sense that your sauce would require additional time/heat to get the results you did.

    1. You know, I didn’t even consider altitude. I’m glad I had a little “drama.” I’m more likely to remember a recipe when there’s a little bit of trouble. Thanks for stopping by, Barbara!

  5. Oh my–feels like deja vu since I just had the same issue this past week. 🙂

    In the end it’s all worth it right? Looks phenomenal! Cheers.

  6. If you had added 2 TBsp of corn syrup to the sugar, instead of only 1 tsp, you may not have had problems with crystalization. With the added corn syrup, you should be able to use a whisk to mix the water and sugar. And you shouldn’t need to brush off the inside of the pot with a brush.

  7. hey! love the pics to go along with the recipe, but i was wondering if the sauce was thick? it looked kind of thin on the pie. I need a sauce to drizzle over cupcakes and this one looked great, but I want it to stay put and not run. So I was just wondering about the thickness. Thanks!

    1. Good question, Jesse. If I remember right it was thinner than what you’d get in a jar of Smuckers caramel sauce. But my guess is that you can vary the thickness based on the length of time it sits on the heat. I was so scared of burning the caramel that I probably took it off the heat prematurely.

  8. Do you have an y suggestions for those of us who live at 9000 feet? Water boils here at 192 degrees.

  9. I just finished writing a post about one of my worst caramel sauce-making experiences. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture of it when it turned to the rock candy stage (frustrating me more than words can describe). However, I was searching the web for an example of what happens when the sugar begins to crystallize and one of your photos popped up. I used it, but I completely gave you credit for it AND added a link back to this particular blog. I hope you don’t mind. But if you do, please feel free to shoot me an email and let me know so that I can remove it immediately.

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