100 Techniques

Technique #93: Make Real (and Really Easy) Caramel

We tested every possible variable to get a grip on what makes caramel succeed or fail and created a technique that every home cook can feel confident about.

Published July 31, 2023.

This is Technique #93 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

Each technique is broken into three sections: why it works, key steps, and recipes that use it. Learn these recipe building blocks and you'll be set up for a lifetime of cooking success.

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Part of what fascinates about caramel is the seeming alchemy involved in the transformation of odorless crunchy white sugar grains into aromatic, sweetly gooey golden liquid.

Making caramel candies and sauces involves nothing more than melting sugar on the stovetop and then usually adding cream and butter, but it’s tricky.

To break down its molecules correctly and trigger the cascade of necessary chemical reactions, the sugar must be heated slowly and carefully, or else it can melt unevenly and burn or it can seize and turn grainy.

But with our foolproof technique any home cook can create caramel at home without burning the candy (or yourself).

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An Updated Technique

Traditional recipes call for combining sugar and water in a pan, stirring to dissolve the sugar as it heats and brushing down the inside walls of the pot with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystallization.

But with our method, you add the sugar after the water, pouring it right into the middle of the pan, making stirring not only unnecessary but also undesirable.

Increasing the proportion of water to sugar prevents the sugar from traveling up the sides of the pot, making brushing down the sides also unnecessary.

To keep the caramel from turning grainy, incorporate corn syrup: The sucrose molecules of white sugar have a strong tendency to cling together in larger grains, but incorporating corn syrup (which contains glucose) “dilutes” the sucrose molecules and keeps them separate.

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Choose the Right Equipment

We strongly recommend using an instant-read thermometer for the most accurate measurements. Relying on color alone, as many recipes suggest, isn’t foolproof, since factors like the depth of your pan and its finish can affect how your caramel looks.

We suggest a large, high-sided saucepan; using a smaller vessel will most likely result in a Mount Vesuvius–style eruption when the caramel foams up after adding the cream. After adding cream, it’s imperative to stir the caramel so it doesn’t burn.

Please, remember the temperature of that caramel when you’re tempted to stick your finger in to taste the magical buttery mixture you’ve just made.

This easy and versatile all-purpose caramel sauce uses the same principles as our recipe for Salted Caramels.

Step by Step: How to Make Salted Caramels

Follow these foolproof instructions for chewy salted caramels that are virtually fuss-free.

Step 1: Add Sugar to Corn Syrup and Water

After combining corn syrup and water in pan, pour sugar into center of pan without letting it hit pan sides. Bring to boil.

Step 2: Don't Stir!

Cook without stirring over medium-high heat until sugar has dissolved, syrup is faint golden color, and temperature registers 300 degrees.

Step 3: Lower Heat

Lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook, gently swirling pan, until mixture is amber colored and registers 350 degrees. Tilt pan slightly for most accurate reading.

Step 4: Add In Cream

Remove from heat, stir in cream mixture (it will foam up), return to medium-high heat, and cook, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248 degrees.

Step 5: Add to Pan and Chill

Pour into prepared pan and smooth surface with a greased silicone spatula. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Step 6: Cut Caramel

Lift parchment sling out onto cutting board and peel away parchment. Cut caramel into pieces and wrap in waxed paper for storage.

Recipes That Use This Technique

If you're convinced that homemade caramel is easy and delicious, try one of the following recipes.


Salted Caramels

While we love chocolate, we find gourmet caramel candies sprinkled with sea salt to be the ultimate in sophistication.
Get the Recipe

Salted Caramel Cupcakes

The pairing of savory salt and sweet caramel is a hard one to resist.
Get the Recipe

Basque Cider Salted Caramel Sauce

A luscious sauce for drizzling on cheesecake and other desserts.
Get the Recipe

Salted Caramel Filling

Get the Recipe

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