Used in a number of different desserts, caramel sauce is a common topping for all dishes, from crème brûlée to leche flan. Sweet, rich, and delicious, this sauce is actually quite easy to make as long as you use the right ingredients and techniques. Read this article to learn how to make caramelized sugar on your own stove in just a few minutes. Choose the wet caramelization method, which uses water, or the dry caramelization method, which uses only sugar.
Method 1 of 3: Wet caramelization
Step 1. Prepare your ingredients
To make caramel using the wet method, you will need 473 g of granulated white sugar, 118 ml of water and a quarter teaspoon of lemon juice or cream of tartar.
- If you only need a little caramel, you can reduce the amount of the above ingredients in half: 236 g sugar, 60 ml water, and 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice or cream of tartar.
- Depending on the desired thinness or consistency, your sugar to water ratio may vary. The thinner the caramel sauce you want, the more water you'll need to add.
Step 2. Mix sugar and water in a sauce pan
Use a quality metal sauce pan with a high rim and a thick bottom.
- Cheap, thin-bottomed sauce pans will often have hot spots that can burn the sugar and spoil your caramel.
- Also, it's best to use a saucepan made of a light-colored metal, such as stainless steel, as this will allow you to see if the sugar is caramelizing properly or not.
Step 3. Heat the sauce pan over medium-high heat
Keep stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until the sugar begins to dissolve.
- To turn sugar into caramel, it must first dissolve or melt, which happens at about 160 degrees Celsius.
- At this point, the sugar syrup should be clear.
Step 4. Add lemon or cream of tartar
Add the lemon juice or cream of tartar (which you'll need to dissolve in a little water first) to the sugar syrup. This will help prevent the sugar from crystallizing again.
Step 5. Heat the sugar and water until it boils
As soon as the sugar has completely dissolved, and the mixture begins to boil, you need to stop stirring.
Step 6. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes
You want the sugar syrup to simmer slowly, not to a very high boil.
- Cooking times will vary depending on the water to sugar ratio, the type of stove, and other factors.
- So when you're caramelizing sugar, it's best to use the mixed colors as your guide.
Step 7. Do not stir
It is important not to stir the mixture while the water has evaporated and the sugar is starting to caramelize.
- Stirring will only introduce air into the mixture and lower the temperature of the syrup. This can prevent the sugar from caramelizing properly.
- Also, the hot caramel will simply stick to the spoon or spatula, and can be very difficult to clean.
Step 8. Pay attention to the color
The best way to judge the progress of your caramel is to pay close attention to its color. The mixture will change color from white to light gold then to dark brownish yellow. This can happen very quickly so don't leave your pan! Burnt caramel is not edible and must be thrown away.
- Don't worry if the dark yellow-brown color appears to only appear in a few squares. All you have to do is lift the pan and rotate the contents to even out the color.
- Also, it's important not to touch or taste the caramel while it's cooking. The caramel has usually reached around 171°C by this point, and can injure your skin.
Step 9. Know when the caramelization has finished
Watch the mixture closely until it reaches an even, rich brown color. When the entire pan has reached this even color and has thickened slightly, you know that the caramelization process is complete.
- As soon as the caramel has reached the desired color, remove it immediately from the stove.
- If you leave the caramel too long, it will turn almost black and have a charred, bitter smell. If this happens, you will have to start over from scratch.
Step 10. Stop the caramelization process
If you want to make sure the cooking process stops and the sugar doesn't burn from the residual heat in the pan, soak the bottom of the pan in ice water for about 10 seconds.
However, if you remove the pan from the stove too quickly, you can just let the caramel sit for a few minutes, and the process will continue
Step 11. Use the caramelized sugar immediately in the dessert
Use your caramel to coat flans, make caramel candy, or confectionery, or just drizzle on top of ice cream!
- Caramel hardens very quickly once it cools down. If you wait too long to use it in your dessert, the caramel will become too hard to pour or spread.
- If this happens, reheat the caramel over low heat and wait for the caramel to melt again. Rotate the pan instead of stirring it with a spoon/spatula.
Method 2 of 3: Dry caramelization
Step 1. Put the sugar in a thick-bottomed sauce pan
Add an even layer of granulated white sugar to a light, heavy-bottomed saucepan or flat pan.
- Since this method does not require any other ingredients, the exact amount of sugar is not important.
- Just add 236g or 473g of sugar, depending on how much caramel you need.
Step 2. Heat the sugar over medium heat
Watch the caramel carefully as it heats - the sugar should start to melt at the edges, turning from a clear liquid to a golden brown color.
- As the sugar begins to caramelize, use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to move the melted sugar from the edge of the pan to the center of the pan.
- This will ensure that the sugar on the outside doesn't start to burn before the sugar in the middle melts.
- If you have a very thick layer of sugar in the saucepan, be careful not to burn the sugar at the bottom of the saucepan before you know it.
Step 3. Deal with lumpy sugar
The sugar may not melt evenly, so don't worry if it looks lumpy in some places but is runny in others. Just reduce the heat and keep stirring it. This will ensure the caramel doesn't burn while you wait for the lumps to melt.
- It's okay if you can't melt all the pieces - you can easily sift your caramel later to remove the lumps.
- Be careful not to over-mix the caramel either - otherwise the sugar may start to clump before it has a chance to melt.
- However, don't worry. If this happens, just reduce the heat to very low and don't stir until the sugar starts to melt again.
Step 4. Keep an eye on the color
Carefully watch the caramelization of the sugar until it reaches the right color - no more, no less. The perfect caramelized sugar should be a dark yellow-brown color - almost the color of a copper coin.
- You'll know your caramel is ready when it's just starting to smoke. If you remove it from the stove before it smokes, the caramel will be slightly undercooked.
- You can also judge whether or not your caramel is ready by smelling it - caramel should be deep and rich, with a hint of nutty flavor.
Step 5. Remove the caramel from the stove
After your caramel is finished, don't waste time, immediately remove the caramel from the stove. Caramel can go from perfect to burnt very quickly, and burnt caramel tastes bitter and unusable.
- If you are using caramel to make flan or crème caramel, you can pour the caramel directly from the pan into the mould.
- If you're making confectionery, it's important to stop the caramelization process by submerging the bottom of the saucepan in ice water. Otherwise, the residual heat from the pan may burn the caramel.
- If you are making caramel sauce, immediately add butter or cream to the caramel. This will stop the caramelization process and create a cream-like topping for ice cream and desserts. Just be careful, though, as the melted caramel can splatter when the dairy is added.
Step 6. Done
Method 3 of 3: Colored caramelized sugar
Step 1. Pour organic sugar into a thick bottomed saucepan
Heat on low-medium heat.
Step 2. Drop some liquid food coloring into it while it is heating
Add every about 5 minutes.
Step 3. Eventually, the sugar will become very dry and will resemble powder or stickiness
Step 4. Add hot water to the powdery or sticky mixture
Add 1.2 L of water for every ounce of sugar.
Step 5. Cook until the sugar caramelizes
The color is as pretty as caramel.
Step 6. Done
- Use the lowest flame that will still caramelize the sugar. This gives you the most control and helps prevent the caramel from overcooking or burning.
- When you caramelize sugar, the caramel can go from browning to scorching very quickly. Keep a close eye on your caramel mixture, and when it's cooked (or almost done), remove it from the heat immediately.
- Add a little lemon juice to your water and sugar mixture. This will give it a bit of flavor, and help prevent the caramel sauce from hardening.
- Caramelized sugar can reach very high temperatures and can hurt your skin if splashed. Consider wearing oven mitts and a long-sleeved shirt when you caramelize the sugar, or keep a bowl of ice water close by so you can immediately soak your hands in the hot caramel.
- Caramelizing sugar requires your full attention. Don't cook other things that require your time or attention at the same time. Otherwise, your caramel will likely burn.
- Do not cook in a pan that is not completely clean. Any dirt remaining on the bottom of the pan can cause crystallization.