Vanilla Bean Salted Caramel Sauce

vanilla bean salted caramel sauceWhy in the heck do we find making caramel to be such a daunting task? I suppose it might be the risk of splashing oneself with molten sugar, which will peel the skin right off you. Or the fear of burning it all and making a big mess. Or of wasting some rather pricey ingredients if you do fail to achieve caramel nirvana.

Bah I say! It only seems scary until you do it a few times. First of all – you are going to be careful, right? And not let the baby stir the melting sugar, right? So, there goes fear number one – you will be perfectly safe. And so what if you burn it? No one will know unless you tell them, and it’s not that hard to clean up burned sugar, really. As for the expensive ingredients, by the time you get to those, you will pretty much know if you are going to succeed or not – if you burn the sugar, then don’t put in the rest. Sugar is relatively inexpensive, and it’s only a cup anyway.

See? All better, right? So, let’s give this a try.

You only need a few ingredients to get started, and I’ll bet you have most of them in your kitchen already.caramel_ingredientsYou might find it helpful to read David Lebovitz’s tips on making caramel, though this article isn’t referring to caramel sauce, just the caramelizing the sugar part. That’s the hard part – and he kind of de-mystifies it better than I ever could. I am neither a good enough photographer, not a good enough caramel maker to get any shots of the steps, but at the bottom of David’s article, there are some links to other places where you can find those.

Vanilla Bean Salted Caramel Sauce
There are caramel recipes that use water - called "wet method", but any water you put in has to be boiled back out again, and from what I can see the ones using water tend to be more temperamental, so though the dry method takes a bit more babysitting at first to make sure you don't burn the mixture early on, it is worth it for a faster, more reliable result.
Recipe type: Sauce
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon fleur de sel or other sea salt
  1. Use a heavy pan – about 3 quarts – to promote even cooking, and to prevent boil-overs.
  2. Measure sugar into the pan, and add the scraped vanilla bean seeds. Save the pods to make vanilla sugar, or add to your next batch of vanilla custard.
  3. Turn heat to low-medium, and stir sugar with a wooden spoon or silicone scraper, as it begins to melt. You will probably see some lumpiness going on, but don’t worry, it will dissolve. Continue stirring, just until the majority of the sugar has liquefied. After this, just kind of swirl the pan gently to keep things mixed together.
  4. You want a deep color – as deep as you can get without burning it, because that is where the flavor is. It should just start to have a few wisps of smoke coming off it, and be an even, dark amber color. I kind of lift it off the burner and inch or so while swirling to slow it down a bit, which lets you get a darker color without burning.
  5. Carefully add the butter and whisk until incorporated. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the cream. Take care when adding the butter and cream - the caramel with bubble furiously which is why you use a large pan to contain the flying bits. It may lump up on you a bit, or seem as though it’s not going to meld, but be patient and keep whisking. Once it is mostly smooth, stir in the salt, and keep stirring until it is completely smooth.
  6. Cool for a short time, no more than about 10 minutes, and then pour into a heat safe container – I usually use a canning jar. Cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Makes about 10 ounces of sauce.

vanilla bean salted caramel sauceIt will be wonderful on ice cream, over pound cake, or in a certain Apple Butter Caramel Bar recipe that will be showing up here in the next week or so. I have a feeling this batch will not last long enough to make it into the cookies. That is not a problem though – it’s no big deal to make more. Right? Right!

7 thoughts on “Vanilla Bean Salted Caramel Sauce

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