This 5 ingredient caramel sauce recipe is so delicious, easy to make, and can be used for anything! Seriously–caramel sauce for your coffee, ice cream sundaes, baked goods, to dip your apples in– the possibilities are endless. You don’t even need a thermometer to make this mouthwatering caramel sauce.
This caramel sauce is truly better than store-bought brands. You get to skip all the added ingredients and just get to the good stuff.
Plus, it’s reeeeaaallly easy to make. You don’t need to whip out a thermometer or whisk the sugar vigorously and wonder how (or if) those granules are going to actually liquefy.
You simply put the ingredients in the pan and whisk for about 5-8 minutes until it becomes a consistency you’re happy with!
Why You’ll Love This Homemade Caramel Sauce
- It’s Only 4 Ingredients! – okay, 5 if you’re adding the pinch of salt, but seriously, so simple! No thermometer is needed here!
- Brown Sugar – the combination of brown sugar and heavy cream is divine. A lot of caramel sauces require granulated sugar, but the brown sugar makes this caramel sauce even more indulgent and adds so much flavor!
- It’s Versatile – you can add it to your morning coffee, on this homemade apple crisp, apple slices, ice cream, or directly into your mouth via spoon…this is a judgment-free zone, but also I’m talking from experience here. Anyway, it’s good on a whole lot of things, and if you’re anything like me, it won’t last long!
These four ingredients make the most delicious caramel sauce ever! Put them all in the saucepan (except the vanilla extract–save that for the end) and whisk together until thickened.
- Brown Sugar – light or dark brown sugar can be used in recipe. Use whatever you have on hand.
- Heavy Cream – this is what makes the caramel sauce thick and creamy. So good!
- Butter – I like to add the butter in one tablespoon at a time to assist in the butter melting faster. You can use salted or unsalted butter.
- Vanilla Extract – this gives the caramel sauce such depth and flavor!
- Pinch of Salt (optional) – adding salt is completely optional. I like to add it to give my caramel a bit of a salted caramel flavor. It’s also helpful if you are adding unsalted butter.
See recipe card for quantities.
Add the brown sugar, heavy cream, and butter to a heavy-bottomed saucepan–wait to add the vanilla extract until the end. Turn the stovetop to medium heat and whisk the ingredients together.
Step 1: Your caramel sauce will start to heat up and boil as it thickens. Continue whisking until it’s the desired consistency. Or about 5-8 minutes. Then, you’ll add the vanilla extract. Cook for another 1-2 minutes.
Step 2: Allow the caramel sauce to cool in the pan off the heat. Transfer the sauce to a glass dish or jar with a lid. Use immediately or store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Hint: The caramel sauce will thicken as it cools down, so don’t be alarmed if it still seems too thin. It will get thicker!
Substituting the ingredients in this recipe will give it a different flavor and possibly a different texture. This recipe is perfect as is, but if you want to make some changes, here’s a couple options:
- Butter – instead of butter, you can substitute ghee or coconut oil. The coconut oil will change the flavor of the caramel sauce
- Sugar – the brown sugar really enhances the indulgent flavor to this caramel sauce, but you could also substitute granulated sugar (and a teaspoon of molasses if you have it).
- Milk Alternatives – heavy cream adds a decadence to this recipe that cannot be beat! However, you could attempt to use other milk options such as dairy milk, almond milk, or oat milk. They will change the texture and most likely will not result in the same thickness that this caramel recipe provides.
This is where you can get really creative! This caramel sauce is top-notch as is, but if you want to play with the flavor of it, the sky is the limit! Check out some variations below.
- Salted Caramel Sauce – add an extra pinch of sea salt to the caramel sauce to give it a salted caramel flavor. This recipe already calls for a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness, but add a bit more to take it to the salted caramel level!
- Chocolate Caramel Sauce – add a tablespoon of cocoa powder, or break up a few pieces of a chocolate bar while you’re whisking the caramel sauce. This will give the caramel a fudgy flavor.
- Spiced Caramel Sauce – add 1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg or cardamom to give the caramel sauce a cozy fall-inspired element.
- Coffee or Espresso Caramel Sauce – Add a splash of coffee or espresso to the pan as you’re cooking your caramel sauce for coffee-infused flavor.
This caramel sauce recipe requires very little equipment. All you will need is:
- Saucepan – I use this 2 quart Cuisinart Stainless Steel Saucepan.
- Whisk – I use these Amazon Basics ones.
- Measuring Cups – These Stainless Steel ones are good for measuring flour and sugar. And I use Pyrex for liquid measurements.
This homemade caramel sauce can last for about 2 weeks when stored properly in the refrigerator.
To maximize the shelf life of your caramel sauce:
- Cool Properly – Allow the caramel sauce to cool to room temperature before storing it. This prevents condensation from forming inside the container and helps avoid moisture-related issues.
- Use Airtight Container – Transfer the cooled caramel sauce to an airtight container or jar. This helps prevent air from getting in and keeps the sauce from absorbing any odors from the refrigerator.
- Label and Date – Label the container with the date you made the sauce. This will help you keep track of its freshness.
- Refrigerate – Store the container in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures slow down the growth of bacteria and maintain the sauce’s quality.
- Check for Signs of Spoilage – Before using the caramel sauce, give it a visual inspection. Look for any signs of mold, off smells, or changes in texture. If you notice anything unusual, it’s best to discard the sauce.
It’s important to note that this caramel sauce will crystallize or thicken over time due to temperature changes. If this happens, you can gently reheat the sauce over low heat while stirring until it becomes smooth again.
If you want to extend the shelf life, you can also consider freezing the caramel sauce. Frozen caramel sauce can last for a few months. To thaw frozen caramel sauce, place it in the refrigerator overnight and gently reheat as needed.
Always use your best judgment when assessing the quality of homemade caramel sauce. If it looks or smells off, it’s safer to discard it to avoid any potential food safety concerns.
All hands on deck! Make sure to keep an eye on this caramel sauce at all times. Especially when you add the vanilla extract towards the end. That’s when it likes to get excited and could possibly boil over the pan. If it looks like it’s heading in that direction, simply move the pan off direct heat until it settles back down again. Phew. Crisis averted.
Yes, you can use milk as a substitute for heavy cream in caramel sauce. However, keep in mind that heavy cream contributes to the richness and thickness of the sauce, so using milk might result in a slightly thinner and less creamy texture.
Caramel can turn grainy if the sugar crystallizes during cooking. To prevent this, make sure to dissolve the sugar completely in the beginning by stirring constantly until it’s fully dissolved.
Absolutely! This recipe does not call for a thermometer. Follow the directions in the recipe card for delicious and easy caramel sauce.
Yes, you can reheat leftover caramel sauce. Gently warm it in a microwave or on the stovetop using low heat. Be sure to stir frequently to prevent scorching.
Store homemade caramel sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator. I like to keep mine in a mason jar with a lid. It should last for about 2-3 weeks. Reheat gently before using, as the sauce will thicken when chilled.
Yes, you can freeze caramel sauce. Transfer it to a freezer-safe container and leave some space at the top for expansion. Thaw the sauce in the refrigerator before reheating and using it.
Yes, you can adjust the thickness of caramel sauce by controlling the cooking time. Longer cooking will result in a thicker sauce, while shorter cooking will result in a thinner sauce.
The temperature of the heavy cream should increase as you are whisking the ingredients. Your heavy cream shouldn’t curdle this way. Otherwise, you could try slowly adding the heavy cream in as you are mixing the ingredients on the stove.
If your caramel sauce is too thick, you can gently reheat it and gradually add a small amount of warm cream or milk while stirring until it reaches the desired consistency. If it’s too thin, you can simmer it for a bit longer to evaporate some of the moisture and thicken it up.
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
Easy Caramel Sauce Recipe
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons butter salted or unsalted
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt if not using salted butter or to add more of a salted caramel flavor
- Add a medium-sized saucepan to the stove-top and turn the temperature to medium.
- Add brown sugar, heavy cream, butter, and salt (if using) to the saucepan.
- Whisk the ingredients for 5-8 minutes, taking time to allow the caramel to bubble up and thicken.
- Once the caramel sauce is thickened, add the vanilla and cook another 1-2 minutes.
- Turn off the stove and allow the caramel sauce to cool off in the pan before transferring to a glass jar. The caramel sauce will thicken more as it cools off.