With ice cream season just around the corner I thought I'd share the recipe I use for caramel sauce. I tried this out for the first time a couple of years ago when I wanted caramel to top a pie, but didn't want to run to the store. After seeing how easy it was to make, I was determined to never buy the premade stuff again. The homemade is much better, easy to make, and I'm sure the cost is far less than the over-priced, tiny bottle you get in the grocery store (though I've never bothered to try and figure out a price breakdown). And, as an added bonus, you can pronounce every ingredient in it.
1 cup white sugar
6 Tablespoons butter - not margarine
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup - optional
You need to have everything ready and right beside the stove before you start. It's easy to burn the sugar so you won't have time to search for things once the sugar starts to boil. In addition to the ingredients, you'll need a fairly large, heavy bottomed pot (I use a 3qt. pot), a whisk, and a glass container to store it in - the sauce, not the whisk :). Also, it's important to use white sugar so you can tell when it's turning color.
Supposedly, you can just start by putting the sugar in the pot and turning on the heat, but that process never worked well for me, so I always add a little bit (no more than 1/2c.) of water to get the sugar to dissolve more easily without burning it right off the bat. Add your corn syrup now if you're going to use it. Set your pan over medium high heat and start to cook your sugar. You can whisk it until it starts to boil, but once it does you need to disturb it as little as possible while it cooks and starts to turn a nice amber color. You can tip the pan around a bit if it needs to be mixed. If you added the water this will take a little longer because the water has to boil out before the sugar will start to caramelize.
Once it has turned a medium to dark(ish-I don't like to risk burning it) amber color, you need to add in your butter and whisk. This is why you need a big pot. I know it seemed like overkill in the beginning, but once you put in the butter, it will foam better than a baking soda volcano.
After the butter is melted, remove it from the heat, count to three and whisk in the heavy cream. It will foam again. Let set for a minute or two before transferring it to a glass container for storage. A wide-mouth canning jar is good for this. You'll get a little more than 1c of caramel from this recipe. Allow to cool completely and then store in the fridge.
Some suggest brushing the sides of the pan with water to keep sugar crystals from forming there during the cooking process. You don't want the crystals to form because you get caramel candy instead of sauce if they do, but personally, I didn't like trying to brush the water around while the sugar was cooking. Maybe I was doing it wrong or something, but it just didn't seem to work all that well.
The corn syrup, while optional, is there for that very problem. By adding a bit of corn syrup, you'll help keep the sugar crystals from forming without having to worry about the water. Some recipes call for 1/4c. of corn syrup, but I don't like using more than I have to and a couple teaspoons will help. You may end up with a little crystallized caramel around the edges of the pan, but caramel candy has a place in the world too.
Another option is to add a teaspoon of vanilla in at the end. I've never done it, but it would probably be good.
I know it kind of sounds a little intimidating, but it really is easy to do as long as you pay attention while the sugar cooks. It's delicious and we put it on a number of things when I do make it, but I don't keep it often because then I would eat it often. If, however, you happen to have some leftover after making your homemade caramel sundaes, it's really good in your coffee.