The Perfect Sweet Sauce in a Few Simple Steps

Homemade caramel in a saucepan

Making homemade caramel is much easier than you'd imagine; you just need 3 basic ingredients and a little bit of patience. Caramel sauce is a classic crowd pleaser that your family can enjoy on everything from apples to ice cream, and you can use it in a world of other treats, from cookies to crepes. Many caramel recipes call for butter, but this one works fine with just water, making it lighter and somewhat healthier. All of the time in this recipe is hands-on time, stirring, gauging progress and tinkering with the heat. But don't let this fool or intimidate you: it's worth every minute and it really doesn't take very long. You can even get the kids involved, once you get them up to speed on a couple of stove safety basics. They'll love seeing the alchemy as basic ingredients are transformed into a magical sweet sauce.

Total time: 20 minutes | Prep time: 20 minutes | Servings: 6


  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream


  1. In a medium size thick-bottomed saucepan, heat the water and sugar and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring almost constantly with a fork or whisk. You can use a thinner saucepan if you don't have a heavy one, but you'll have to pay even closer attention because you won't be able to regulate the heat as well and it will be easier to scorch your caramel.
  2. Lower the heat and continue to cook the sauce, stirring almost constantly until it becomes a rich honey color, about 5 or 6 minutes. 
  3. Add the cream and reduce the heat so the mixture is barely simmering. Continue stirring almost constantly, especially taking care that the sauce doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the mixture starts to thicken, an additional 3 or 4 minutes, and then remove the pan from the heat. Serve warm, or chill and serve later.


If you cook your caramel longer before adding the cream, it will darken and take on a richer, deeper flavor. Try experimenting to see what your family likes best.

You can flavor your caramel with salt, vanilla or both. Half a teaspoon of salt will be just right with this recipe; add it at the very beginning, along with the water and sugar. Use a teaspoon of vanilla extract, if desired, and add it at the end of the process after removing the sauce from the heat.