Sweet and a little salty, buttery and deliciously caramel, this homemade caramel sauce is heavenly on just about everything from ice cream to apples!

Homemade caramel sauce is one of those things that everyone needs to conquer.


Drizzling homemade caramel sauce on ice cream.

And second of all, it’s one of those rock star recipes. As in, you’ll feel like a rock star when you make it. There’s nothing quite like it.

No easy caramel sauce recipe will ever come close to the real deal. It can be argued there is a time and a place for both (and there is), but today, we’re diving into the land of buttery, silky, cooked sugar caramel sauce. And it’s not hard, I promise.

Homemade caramel sauce in glass jar.

This ridiculously amazing homemade caramel sauce is perfect for everything from ice cream to cheesecake to apples. 

And, you know, just digging in with a spoon. 

It is irresistible. 

Dipping apple slice in homemade caramel sauce.

Caramel Sauce Guaranteed

It’s pretty much a guarantee that I will always have a jar of this caramel sauce in the refrigerator. It keeps forever. 

Which is actually a non-issue, because we eat it up long before forever gets here. 

I haven’t tried freezing it. I pour the warm caramel sauce into jars, add a lid, and store in the fridge that way. 

homemade caramel sauce in glass jar with spoon

Making Homemade Caramel Sauce

A lot of homemade caramel sauce recipes start with just sugar…but melting and caramelizing sugar on its own can be tricky, and it can burn easily. 

This caramel sauce starts with a simple mixture of sugar and water. And we’re going to cook that until it darkens a little bit. 

Cover with a lid and cook for a couple of minutes.

Cooking sugar mixture for homemade caramel sauce.

After the lid comes off, continue cooking until the color starts darken. 

While it cooks, if you notice any hardened sugar crystals on the sides of the pan, wash them down with a wet pastry brush. 

That really is the only risk to this recipe – if those sugar crystals make their way back down into the caramel sauce, it can turn the whole batch grainy and crystallized. 

It’s not really anything to worry about as long as you brush down the sides of the pan as needed.

Brushing sugar crystals off sides of pan.

Keep the heat moderated at a medium level; you’ll notice the color start to change from a light golden brown to a deeper honey color. 

Cooking sugar mixture for homemade caramel sauce.

Continue cooking until the color is a deep amber. 

Fair warning: it can go from deep amber to too dark (and burned) pretty quickly, so keep an eye on it. It’s better to pull it off too early than to cook it too long. 

Cooking sugar mixture to amber brown for homemade caramel sauce.

Add the butter and stir until melted. Then add the cream. 

Stirring butter and cream into homemade caramel sauce.

Last additions: vanilla and salt. 

Adding vanilla and salt to homemade caramel sauce.

The sauce will bubbly to a frenzy after the vanilla is added. Stir until combined. 

Stirring homemade caramel sauce.

Let the sauce cool in the pan, stirring every once in a while, until it is warm room temperature. 

Pour into a jar or container and pop in the refrigerator. If you’re planning on using/serving the sauce within the next 4-6 hours, it can hang out on the counter. 

Pouring homemade caramel sauce into glass jar.

This homemade caramel sauce is divine. It’s our go-to for build-your-own ice cream sundae nights. Or to toss into a milkshake.

It’s wonderful drizzled on these caramel apple cheesecake bars or any variety of dessert or treat. 

I mean, really, there’s no wrong way to enjoy this stuff. 

Homemade caramel sauce over vanilla ice cream.

If homemade caramel sauce has intimidated you in the past, I encourage you to try it! 

Following the steps in this recipe, it’s not hard at all…and it comes together really fast. Much faster than your holiday batch of caramels, for sure. 

One year, I made batch after batch of this homemade caramel sauce, poured it into smaller jars, and gave it to friends and neighbors in place of the traditional Christmas cookie plate.

It was wildly accepted, and to this day, I still get asked if there’s any chance I’ll be making caramel sauce in December again. 🙂 

Spoon drizzling homemade caramel sauce into glass jar.

One Year Ago: Kitchen Tip: Menu Planning 101
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Crunch Snack Balls
Three Years Ago: Chiang Mai Noodles

Recipe Source: from Joy of Cooking
Recipe originally published Jan 2011; updated May 2020 with new photos, recipe notes, etc.

Glass jar of caramel sauce with a drip coming down the side.

Another quick look at a step-by-step tutorial for the caramel sauce:

Step-by-step collage of making caramel sauce.
White bowl of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce and hot fudge sauce and topped a cherry.

Homemade Caramel Sauce

4.76 stars (37 ratings)


  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup (212 g) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (113 g) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt


  • In a small, heavy saucepan, slowly combine the sugar and water, taking care not to let any of the mixture splash up onto the sides of the pan.
  • Cook the mixture over low heat until the sugar is mostly dissolved, stirring slowly (so sugar crystals don’t splash up the sides of the pan).
  • Increase the heat to medium and bring the syrup to a boil. Cover the saucepan and let the syrup boil for 2 minutes.
  • Uncover, reduce the heat to medium, and continue to boil, without stirring, until the edges start to turn golden brown. If there are hardened sugar crystals on the sides of the pan above the sugar mixture, wash them down with a wet pastry brush.
  • Continue cooking until the syrup turns a deep amber brown (see the pictures in the post), about 5-7 minutes. It will take more or less time depending on the heat of the stove, so watch closely.
  • Remove from the heat and add the butter. Gently stir until the butter is fully melted. Stir in the cream. If the sauce becomes lumpy and isn’t whisking together, set the pan over low heat and stir until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt. It will bubble when the vanilla is added.
  • Let the sauce cool until warm before transferring to a jar or other container to store in the refrigerator. Reheat on low on the stove or in the microwave as needed.


Double: this recipe can easily be doubled.