Salted Caramel Sauce, always delicious, can be kicked up a notch with vanilla beans, bourbon, or ground ancho and cayenne chile pepper. It is easy to make, makes a great gift and lasts forever in your fridge. Affiliate links have been used in this post to link to items I am discussing.
This post had a somewhat twisty path coming to fruition. It started with the Caramel Swirled Cheesecake Bars, which I needed to make homemade caramel sauce for. Then, because I had it on hand, I decided it would be amazing on the Chocolate Meringue Nests with Salted Caramel Sauce and Cacao Nibs. At that point I fully intended to share with you a Salted Caramel Sauce–no fancy twists needed. But as you know, then I got sick and Christmas came, so I was busy with other baking projects.
In the meantime, and I am not sure why I became fixated on this, I decided I had to try making a Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce for my sister’s husband as a Christmas gift. He is a bourbon aficionado, and he enjoys it in his desserts. However, when I finally got around to making it, I started worrying. First, my sister hates bourbon and although she is not the world’s biggest caramel fan, I nonetheless started fretting her feelings would be hurt. Second, my brother’s wife has a big sweet tooth and I started worrying she might wish she got some. Then, there is my mom who is more obsessed with caramel than anyone I know–and my dad is not too far behind her.
Ack! What was a well-intending food gift giver to do! (Welcome to living in my neurotic brain–if I was featured in an Inside Out type movie I am afraid it would look like the inmates were running the asylum in my head.) Well duh, obviously make a huge batch of caramel sauce and then gift it out in various flavors.
I knew my mom would love any kind of caramel, but my dad also enjoys bourbon, so I gave my parents and my brother in law Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce. My brother–who doesn’t really like sweets–and his wife got Salted Caramel Sauce with some ground vanilla beans in it. And then Josie, my chile-head sister, got a Salted Caramel Sauce with ground ancho chile powder and ground cayenne chile powder.
There was some leftover of the vanilla beans and ground chile pepper sauces, so I mixed them into my jar of Salted Caramel Sauce that I keep stored in my fridge–and those are the flecks you see dotting the sauce. Me? I loved all 3 of them. So did my entire family. Even Alex, my heat-hating child, wanted to keep licking at the spicy version–and then drinking more milk and then repeating.
As for me, Salted Caramel Sauce has been a revelation, much like homemade Salty Vanilla Bean Caramels. I have never considered myself much of a caramel person, you see. Commercially it is often nauseatingly sweet and lacking in any subtlety. But homemade? Homemade is complex and rich, and most important, in my house it is always salted. I adore having this sauce in my fridge–and being pure sugar it lasts forever, so I feel no rush to use it up. But when I want it–as a final touch on a plated dessert, drizzled over ice cream, etc, it is there. And speaking of those Caramels, it turns out making caramel sauce is as simple as making the chews–only not cooking them quite so long. As with so much else I have learned regarding baking and desserts, I owe this to Alice Medrich and her fabulous cookbooks, in this case, Pure Dessert.
- 1 cup golden syrup, such as Lyle's Golden Syrup
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ t fine sea salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 T unsalted room temperature butter
- 1 T vanilla extract
- 1/4 - 1/2 t coarse sea salt
- 1 t ground vanilla beans
- 1/2-1 t ground ancho chile pepper
- 1/2-1 t ground cayenne chile pepper
- 2 T decent quality bourbon (nothing that breaks the bank but nothing cheap tasting or overly sweet either)
Have ready a heat-proof storage container. I like canning jars for caramel sauce.
Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and fine salt in a large (3-4 quart), heavy saucepan (stainless steel or copper, for example).
Place the pan on medium heat, stirring with a wooden or silicone spoon. Also keep a pastry or silicone brush in a bowl of water next to the stovetop--brush down the sides of the pan to wash the sugar and syrup from the sides. When the edges of the sugar mixture start to bubble, cover the pan and leave for 3 minutes.
After the 3 minutes, uncover the pan and wash down the sides of the pan once more.
Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan--do not let it touch the bottom--and let the candy mixture boil. Do not stir or disturb it. Keep an eye on the thermometer--as you do this more often, you will get a sense for which parts go fast and which go slow. For example, I know from marshmallows that 220 to 245 can take a while. But 260 to 300 seem to go by pretty fast, so definitely do not wander away. You are looking for 305 F--I think mine hit 310, so you should be ok if it goes a little over.
When the mixture reaches 305 F turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Slowly pour in and stir the cream. It will bubble and steam dramatically, so be careful. Adjust the heat--it will vary by burner--so that it boils, but is not boiling out of control. Stir until any syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved into the mixture.
Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 225-228 F (228 will make a thicker sauce).
Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. If you are making a Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce, now is the time to stir in the bourbon.
When the extract (and bourbon if using) has been mixed in, let the caramel cool down for about 1 minute.
Now is the time to mix in either the ground vanilla beans or the (lesser amount of) ground chile peppers.
Let it cool for another 2-3 minutes. If you made the bourbon or ground vanilla bean versions, mix in the salt to taste and then pour into the heatproof container.
If you made the chile pepper version, dip a spoon into the caramel. Let it cool for a moment and then taste--if you want it spicier, mix in more of the spices now. Then pour it into a heatproof container.
Let the caramel cool completely before placing a lid on it and storing it in the refrigerator.