Make this classic easy homemade caramel sauce in as little as 15 minutes. Have a jar of this sweet, buttery sauce on hand for drizzling on cakes, making fancy coffees, or pouring all over your pancakes!

Caramel in a jar, dripping down sides of jar, a spoon hovering over.

A recipe for homemade caramel sauce is something you’ll keep coming back to because it’s so much better than anything from a store. It’ll have a ripple effect on your journey to exploring even more homemade syrups, sauces, and toppings!

About this recipe

There is nothing better than an easy homemade caramel sauce! Except for maybe a homemade chocolate syrup but really, who are we kidding, there’s room for both (there’s room for strawberry sauce and blueberry sauce too, we didn’t forget about our fruit).

A sweet, rich, and velvety caramel sauce, it’s perfect for pancakes, dripping over cakes, drizzling on ice cream, as a dip for apples, and as the finishing touch when you’re making a homemade version of a Starbucks caramel iced coffee. It is a simple way to add something extra to all your favorite treats!

Sure, it’s readily available in your local grocery store but what’s the point? This easy recipe, made with just 7 simple ingredients comes together in 15 minutes. Just standing in line at the grocery store would take you longer than that!

Its flavor is unmatched, and having a jar of homemade caramel sauce on hand is great to add that last-minute touch to so many of your desserts and anything else that could use a sweet and sticky, deliciously buttery, drizzle, dip, or coat! Who could resist it on vanilla ice cream?

Caramel being drizzled on vanilla ice cream.

Difference Between Caramel, Toffee, & Butterscotch

All of these tasty treats are based on a foundation of boiling sugar and water. The major difference is that caramel and butterscotch have added cream, and toffee does not. Caramel and butterscotch are cooked at a lower temperature to create a softer texture, and toffee is cooked higher to achieve a crunch.

The difference between butterscotch caramel is that despite containing the same ingredients, butterscotch is made with brown sugar instead of white. This is what gives it the difference in taste.

Jar of caramel sauce on a light grey surface, a spoon next to it covered with caramel.

What you need

  • Granulated Sugar – The main ingredient in caramel. When boiled with water and reduced to a golden color, that’s the magic!
  • Water – Needed to boil the sugar and prevent burning.
  • Corn Syrup – A very common ingredient in caramel. Not 100% necessary, but does make a difference in taste, color, and consistency. It also makes the recipe slightly more fool-proof which is never a bad thing!
  • Pinch of Salt – To bring the flavors together. Depending on the amount, you could go from caramel to salted caramel in a pinch.
  • Heavy Cream – The cream, added adds richness and fat needed for texture. It also mellows out the sweetness as well as the color.
  • Unsalted Butter – Use unsalted butter so it won’t overpower the sweetness. If you only have salted butter, leave out the pinch of salt. Either way will work!
  • Pure Vanilla Extract – A warming flavorful note always welcome in a caramel sauce. For a different twist, try using rum or bourbon extract.
Overhead view of ingredients needed for recipe: cream, vanilla, butter, salt, corn syrup, sugar.

How to make it

Boil sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling occasionally, but not stirring. Cook until caramel is the color of iced tea, about 10 minutes. 

3 images showing how to make caramel

Remove saucepan from the heat and add heavy cream, whisk to combine. It will foam up and and steam, so be careful! Whisk in butter and vanilla.

3 images showing how to make caramel

Transfer to a bowl or a jar to cool completely. It will thicken quite a bit as it cools. Store in fridge for 1-2 weeks.

Caramel sauce being poured from a pan into a glass jar.

TIP! Watch your sauce closely! It takes some time to start turning golden brown, but once it does, it can go from perfect to burnt very quickly.

FAQs

What is the difference between caramel and caramel sauce?

Caramel candy and caramel sauce contain the same ingredients. The difference between the two is the process of getting carbonized sugar and the amount of each ingredient used to achieve it. It’s a science that requires paying extra attention to corn syrup, cream, and butter. You will need a separate recipe for caramel candies, as caramel sauce doesn’t usually set up hard enough for candy. Although this recipe does not require a thermometer, if you ever try your hand at caramel candy, you’re going to want to invest in one!

Does homemade caramel go bad?

Homemade caramel has a long shelf life. It’s at its peak taste and freshness for the first month in the fridge, but anything after that you’ll want to keep an eye on it for mold. Anything longer than a month, you should transfer it to the freezer. If it looks and smells good, you should be good to go. Use your judgment!

Close up of caramel dripping off a spoon into a jar.

How to make this recipe your own

  • Use salted butter or extra salt for salted caramel.
  • Add a tablespoon of rum or bourbon in at the same time as the cream for an infused flavor in the sauce.
  • You can substitute whipping cream for heavy cream if preferred. They’re very similar and will both work in this recipe.
  • Switch the white sugar to brown sugar and make a butterscotch sauce for a twist!

Make Ahead Ideas

This sauce is a great make-ahead recipe because it lasts so long when stored in the fridge. Having a jar on hand at all times just makes sense. Make it up to 1 month ahead of whenever you need it. If you want to make more than the recipe suggests, do not increase the amount of anything or you might risk altering the results. Just make a few separate batches.

Storage Suggestions

It will be okay at room temperature for the first day in a jar with a tight lid. This is great if you’re wanting to keep it liquid enough to pour. After that, transfer it to the fridge for up to 1 month. This freezes really well in an airtight container. Keep frozen for up to 3 months.

Reheating Tips

Heat in a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm or in the microwave at 50% power in 45-second intervals, stirring well each time. 

Caramel in a jar and dripping down sides of jar.

What to put it on

Besides eating it straight off the spoon, homemade caramel is great on so many things. Try it on these pancake recipes:

Caramel in a jar and dripping down sides of jar and off spoon.

Get the Recipe: Homemade Caramel Sauce

Make this classic easy homemade caramel sauce in as little as 15 minutes. Have a jar of this sweet, buttery sauce on hand for drizzling on cakes, making fancy coffees, or pouring all over your pancakes!
5 from 4 votes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Boil sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling occasionally, but not stirring. Cook until caramel is the color of iced tea, about 10 minutes.
  • Watch it closely! It takes some time to start turning golden brown, but once it does, it can go from perfect to burnt very quickly.
  • Remove saucepan from the heat and add heavy cream, whisk to combine. It will foam up and and steam, so be careful! Whisk in butter and vanilla.
  • Transfer to a bowl or a jar to cool completely. It will thicken quite a bit as it cools. Store in fridge for 1-2 weeks.

Notes

  • Makes about 1 1/2 cups. Store in fridge for up to 1 month, discarding if you observe mold.
  • To reheat: Heat in saucepan over medium-low heat until warm or in microwave at 50% power in 45 second intervals, stirring well each time.
  • If desired, add a tablespoon of rum or bourbon at the same time as the cream.
Serving: 2tablespoons, Calories: 144kcal, Carbohydrates: 20g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 24mg, Sodium: 7mg, Potassium: 9mg, Sugar: 20g, Vitamin A: 262IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 8mg, Iron: 1mg