Sunday, October 20, 2013

Homemade Caramel Sauce: Wallet Friendly Wednesday (on the Weekend!)

I've had the pictures and idea for this post down for a while, but for some reason, haven't gotten around to posting it. I'm trying to expand my blog a little bit to include a few more of the things that I really enjoy. One of them is cooking. More specifically, cooking those odd things that most people would really just rather buy. I make my own barbeque sauces, I make my own caramel sauce to put in my iced coffee and I recently made the foray into homemade mustard. It went surprisingly well. 

Today I'll be showing you a step by step how to make caramel. I was scared of this for such a long time, as caramel is one of those things that seems really tricky. It goes from perfect to burned in literally about 5 seconds. But it's really not that difficult, and the only special too required is arrention. Once you get the hand of it, it's quick easy and painless, not to mention way cheaper than buying caramel ice cream topping or those flavored coffe syrups. Next week (actually ON Wednesday this time) I'll be showing you how to brew and mix the iced coffe that is my life line every morning :)

Warning: This post is EXTREMELY picture heavy.

You will need: White sugar (1 cup)
A medium to large sauce pan (a larger pan will heat more quickly, but will also burn more quickly)
An empty bottle
Whole milk or Heavy Cream (1 1/4 cup. Cream will make your caramel richer, but milk is cheaper)
A liquid measuring cup
A SILICON spatula (Seriously. Melted sugar gets HOT, and it will melt your plastic stirring implements. Trust me.)
A funnel. Not pictured. 

You will not need a tea kettle, but that's where mine lives, and I didn't move it. 

Start by putting one cup of white sugar in your pan. Shake it a bit so that the sugar covers the bottom evenly. 

Turn on your burner to a medium-low heat. As you can see, I put mine at about a 3 on a dial that goes to 7. Your stove will obviously vary, and as you gain confidence with the technique, you'll know the best setting for you. 

Set your timer for 7 minutes. This is approximately how long it will take for your sugar to start to melt. Again, your stove will vary, and I recommend staying put and keeping an eye on it the first few times you try this. I now can walk away and tidy up the kitchen, do some dishes and whatnot during that first seven minutes. The timer beeps to let me know it's time to start paying attention. 

While your timer is going, measure out 1 1/4 cups of milk or heavy cream and warm is up. You can either heat it on the stove in a separate sauce pan from your sugar, or you can just microwave it. I microwave mine, 20 seconds at a time for a total of about a minute. It needs to be warm, but it doesn't need to be steaming hot. Once it's warmed up, take it over to the stove so that it's ready to go when you need it. 

7 minutes are up. Just around the edges of the sugar, you can see that there is a little line where it has shifted. This means that it has started to melt. It now requires your full attention.

You don't want to full on stir the sugar, but you do want to redistribute it so that it melts evenly. Using your silicon spatula (or wood, but NEVER plastic), gently push the sugar around so that the melted sugar is off of the direct heat, and fresh unmelted sugar can take its place. 

It will look pretty chunky for a while. Eventually, all of the sugar in the pan will be golden brown and syrupy. In my experience it takes another 5 to 6 minutes to reach that stage. 

We're almost there . . .

Now, the majority of my sugar has melted, and it's time to add the milk. It's a bit of a finnicky process, and I wasn't able to photograph my self both pouring and stirring at the same time. But you want to add your milk in very small increments, stirring constantly. I pour mine directly out of the measuring cup about 1/8 of a cup at a time. It will get very steamy and frothy. This is normal. Just keep stirring until the frothing dies down and the liquid is smooth again. Then add a little more milk and repeat until all of your milk is added. 

If you add your milk too quickly, your caramel will seize. Mine has done so here. This means that it will cease to be a smooth and creamy liquid, and will break into hard little chunks of toffee floating in caramel flavored milk. ALL IS NOT LOST! This is fixable, and it happens to me probably 1/3 of the time that I make caramel. It takes a little more time, but the end results are the same. 

If your caramel has seized, you can go ahead and add the rest of your milk in one go. It won't seize any more than it has. If you managed to incorporate all of your milk without siezing, congratulations!  You can skip to the next step.

Once all of your milk is added, you'll need to remelt the toffee bits into caramel. Keep stirring your liquid, and you'll hear them clinking around in the bottom of the pan. You'll also feel them as you're stirring. Just keep the heat going, and keep stirring, and they will eventually remelt, I promise. It will seem like it takes forever to do so, but they WILL. It can take aywhere from 3-10 minutes, depending on how badly the caramel seized. 

Once you have a smooth and creamy caramel mixture, either from perfectly executing the addition of mik or from remelting your toffe bits, you'll need to clean the pan and spatula a bit. In the last step, you can see some caramel clinging to the side of the pan above the liquid line. In this step, I've run my spatula around the pan to get it all off. I then use a regular teaspoon to scrape the caramel off of the spatula and plop it back into the liqiud. Give it a few stirs to melt and incorporate it back into the sauce. 

You now officially have caramel sauce! As I use mine primarily for coffee flavoring/sweetening, I tend to leave mine fairy thin. If you'd prefer something thicker, you can keep simmering it over that medium low heat until it's almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. Wait . . . sorry, that should read: until it's almost, but not quite, as thick as you want it! It will thicken slightly while cooling. 

Remove your pan from the heat to a cooling area. It will cool surprisingly thickly. By the time I'm done cleaning my pan, readying the supplies for bottling and getting my coffee ready (come back Wednesday to see that post!), my caramel is cool enough to handle. 

Once your caramel has cooled (10 minutes is plenty cool enough), ready your storage container (I use an old Torani syrup bottle, and it's the perfect size for one batch of caramel) and your funnel. 

Slowly pour your sauce into your bottle, being sure to scrape the pan with your spatula to get all of it. You don't want to waste any!

Et voile! Bottled caramel, ready to add to anything in your life that is lacking in caramelly goodness. 

Protip: Fill your pan immediately with hot water. This will make cleanup much easier. 

A few other tips, before I post the "simplified" recipe:

 I have never tried to double (or triple or anything) this recipe at one go, but I have heard that it becomes far more difficult, and easier to burn. One batch typically lasts me about two weeks (or two gallons of coffee), so I've never felt the need. Double at your own risk!
You can speed up the melting process by using a larger pot. This does, however, highly increase the risk of burning. The pot I typically use is my "medium" sauce pan. You know how when you buy a set of pans, you get two sauce pans and a bigger soup pot? I use the larger sauce pan. I have used the soup pot a few times, but burned it about half of the time. 

Caramel does burn very easily. You will definitely need to pay attention while you're making it. It is not a make a walk away treat. That said, don't let that warning fool you, it's really not a scary process at all!

1 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cup whole milk or heavy cream

1. Place sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium low heat. Heat milk on stove or microwave.
2. Once sugar begins to melt, gently move it around the pan to allow all of the sugar to come in contact with direct heat.
3. Once all sugar is melted and golden brown, begin slowly adding milk, stirring constantly. 
4. Once all milk is incorporated, simmer over medium-low heat until desired consistancy is achieved. 
5. Cool and enjoy!

There you have it ladies, my favorite NPR treat! Please let me know if you try it out, and how it turned out for you! Or let me know about any other odd things you like to cook! 


  1. It is. It's the same thing, but most people here don't bother to make it themselves.