Caramel Sauce

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The easiest, tastiest stovetop Caramel Sauce with only six ingredients and no special equipment (or candy thermometer) required!

 

Overhead view of a bowl of Caramel Sauce.

Caramel Sauce

My sister had an intimate wedding reception this past fall and served miniature cups filled with caramel and sliced apples. My kiddos thought it was the greatest thing they’d ever had and did not stop bugging me to make it at home after the reception.

After finally making them some caramel sauce, I think they polished off an entire bag of apples. To say they loved the sauce was an understatement. And besides, who doesn’t love dipping food in a delicious sauce?!

This is the perfect fall treat. It’s simple to whip together and makes for a fun dessert to share with the family. The next time we make our favorite Chocolate Fondue, there will definitely be some caramel sauce alongside it.

Process shots: Combine ingredients in a saucepan; melt and boil for 2 minutes; add in vanilla and salt; stir to combine.

The ingredients in Caramel Sauce

I mentioned only six ingredients, and below I break down those ingredients:

  1. Unsalted butter: I recommend using unsalted butter so you can perfectly control the amount of salt in the Caramel Sauce. Not all salted butters contain the same amount of salt, so it can be tricky trying to figure out how much salt you’ll want to add in the end.
  2. Brown sugar: Either light or dark brown sugar works here. Make sure to get a fresh bag so the sugar isn’t hard or there aren’t a lot of hard clumps throughout the bag.
  3. Sweetened condensed milk: This is the “special” ingredient to this sauce! A lot of caramel sauce recipes use heavy whipping cream, but the sweetened condensed milk adds additional sweetness to the sauce and is the perfect texture for a soft caramel sauce.
  4. Light corn syrup: Light corn syrup is clear and tastes fairly sweet, while dark corn syrup is a combination of corn syrup and molasses (plus a few other flavors and color additions). We want to stick to light corn syrup here to control the color, sweetness, and flavor.
  5. Fine sea salt: Not all salts will season the same. (You’ll need more or less depending on the salt used.) I use fine sea salt in this recipe. If you use table salt, you’ll want to add much less. 
  6. Pure vanilla extract: The vanilla extract gives this Caramel Sauce that “wow” factor. The better the extract, the better the end flavor. 

QUICK TIP

Let’s talk salt. If you’re looking for more of a salted caramel sauce (as opposed to a plain caramel sauce), you’ll want to add more salt. Taste often and salt to personal preference. If you don’t want a salted caramel sauce, you still want to add salt to the recipe to intensify flavors, balance the sweetness, and tie everything together. As written, with fine sea salt, this sauce is not overly salty.

Images of the Caramel Sauce right after cooking and 10 minutes later; serving with optional toffee garnish; dipping apples into the sauce.

How to make Caramel Sauce from scratch

While a lot of caramel sauce recipes require some practice and special equipment (like a candy thermometer and sometimes a special pot), this recipe couldn’t be easier to make. No special equipment required, and no candy making experience necessary!

  • Combine. In a medium-sized pot, combine the butter, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, and brown sugar.
  • Melt. Stir constantly until ingredients are well combined and butter is fully melted.
  • Boil. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 2 minutes.
  • Let cool slightly. Remove mixture from the heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes.
  • Finish the sauce. Once cooled down a bit, add in the salt and vanilla extract.
  • Serve. Let the sauce thicken for about 10 minutes and then serve. See the sections below for serving suggestions.

QUICK TIP

Why wait to add the vanilla extract? If it’s added to the mixture while it is heating up or boiling, it will essentially “cook off” (since vanilla is alcohol-based) and limit the flavor potential. Let the sauce cool a bit before stirring it in for maximum vanilla flavor.

Close-up view of Caramel Sauce.

Caramel Sauce FAQs

1Is Caramel Sauce the same as caramel syrup?

No, the two are different.

Caramel syrup is sweeter and thinner (think of an ice cream sauce or specialty drink topping).

Caramel sauce is richer and thicker (more of a thick dip consistency).

2What is the difference between butterscotch sauce and caramel sauce?

Butterscotch sauce is similar to Caramel Sauce, but differs in three main ways:

  1. Butterscotch sauce generally doesn’t contain dairy (except for the small amount of milk solids found in butter).
  2. It generally has more butter than Caramel Sauce.
  3. It usually has added syrups like treacle or molasses.

3Is caramel the same as toffee?

Not quite. While both require carefully browning sugar and adding in butter, caramel is typically much softer since it includes milk, cream, or sweetened condensed milk. Toffee is a hard candy.

4How can I thin the sauce?

The longer this sauce sits, the thicker it naturally becomes. It also solidifies as it cools and becomes even thicker when chilled.

To thin out this Caramel Sauce, simply re-warm the sauce over low heat in a small pot. (Alternatively, transfer it to a microwave-safe bowl and heat it in increments until hot). For serving during an event or party, you could even transfer it to a 1.5-quart slow cooker to keep it heated and “dippable” for the entire event.

The sauce will thin as it warms. If it is still not as thin as you’d like, add milk or heavy cream slowly, while stirring constantly, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.

Close-up view of Caramel Sauce with an apple slice being dipped in.

What to dip in this Caramel Sauce

The sky is the limit here! There are so many delicious things to dip in Caramel Sauce, and below are some of our favorites:

  • Apples. Granny Smith apples are our favorite (sweet and tangy!). We also love Fuji and Honeycrisp apples in this dip. You can also make apple nachos by drizzling this sauce over thinly sliced apples and topping with crushed toffee bits. 
  • Bananas. We love dipping bananas in this sauce; make sure they aren’t overly ripe or they’ll break apart when dipping. One of our favorite treats is to dip bananas in this sauce, then dip them in melted dark chocolate, and then top with some crushed nuts. Freeze and enjoy!
  • Other treats: cubed Rice Krispie Treats®, brownie bites, large marshmallows, or pretzels.
  • Cookies: Oreos®, Nutter Butters®, Pirouettes®, Milanos®, Girl Scout Cookies®, Graham crackers, or chocolate Graham crackers.
  • Homemade cookies: These Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies are our favorite!

Fun ways to use this Caramel Sauce

  • Have a fondue night! Whip up this sauce and a few other sauces (like chocolate fondue, butterscotch sauce, or this vanilla sauce). Assemble fruit and/or treats (see the section above) and serve buffet style.
  • Serve over ice cream. Serve up bowls of vanilla bean ice cream and drizzle loads of Caramel Sauce on each bowl. Or make homemade vanilla ice cream and ribbon it with this sauce. 
  • Make caramel milkshakes. Blend vanilla bean ice cream with a little cream or milk and a few spoonfuls of this caramel sauce.
  • Jazz up a fun breakfast. Make a dessert breakfast by adding a few spoonfuls to french toast, waffles, or homemade pancakes. We love dredging waffles in melted butter and cinnamon sugar. We then drizzle the sugared waffles with this caramel sauce for a churro-inspired waffle.

Overhead view of an apple dipped in caramel sauce and garnished with toffee bits.

More fun desserts and treats

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Caramel Sauce

The easiest, tastiest stovetop Caramel Sauce with only six ingredients and no special equipment (or candy thermometer) required!
Print Recipe

Caramel Sauce

The easiest, tastiest stovetop Caramel Sauce with only six ingredients and no special equipment (or candy thermometer) required!
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword caramel sauce
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Chilling Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6 -8 with dippers
Calories 406kcal
Cost $3.48

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (227g) light brown sugar packed
  • 1 cup (310g) light corn syrup (like Karo)
  • 1 can (14 oz. 396g) regular sweetened condensed milk (not fat free)
  • 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (add to taste preference)
  • Optional: crushed toffee candy
  • Serving suggestions: See Note 1

Instructions

  • COMBINE. Combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and sweetened condensed milk in a medium-sized pot over medium heat.
  • MELT. Stir constantly until the butter is melted and ingredients are completely combined.
  • BOIL. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Immediately remove from heat.
  • COOL. Let the mixture cool for about 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add in the vanilla extract and salt to taste. Add salt gradually. (Not all salts will salt this sauce the same. Add more for a salted caramel sauce and less to just season the sauce.)
  • SERVE. Let the sauce thicken for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then serve by transferring caramel to a bowl, topping with optional crushed toffee candy, and your choice of dippers. (See notes for serving suggestions!)
  • STORAGE: Transfer leftover sauce to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. Sauce doesn't freeze/thaw well. To reheat, transfer to a small pan and heat over low heat until warmed through and thinned or heat in the microwave in short increments. Gradually add heavy cream or milk if the sauce is too thick to slightly thin.

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: There are so many delicious things to dip in the caramel sauce; below are some of our favorites:
  • Apples. Granny Smith apples are our favorite (sweet and tangy!). We also love Fuji and Honeycrisp apples in this dip. You could also make apple nachos by drizzling this sauce over thinly sliced apples and topping with crushed toffee bits. 
  • Bananas. We love dipping bananas in this sauce; make sure they aren't overly ripe or they'll break apart when dipping. One of our favorite treats is to dip bananas in this sauce, then dip them in melted dark chocolate, and then top with some crushed nuts. Freeze and enjoy!
  • Other treats: cubed Rice Krispie Treats®, brownie bites, large marshmallows, pretzels
  • Packaged cookies: Oreos®, Nutter Butters®, Pirouettes®, Milanos®, Girl Scout Cookies®, Graham crackers, chocolate Graham crackers.
Nutritional information does not include the optional toffee bits.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 406kcal | Carbohydrates: 69g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 42mg | Sodium: 232mg | Potassium: 52mg | Sugar: 69g | Vitamin A: 493IU | Calcium: 43mg | Iron: 1mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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