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Is there any flavor that tastes better than caramel? I know that there are some people out there who would actually vote for chocolate or even vanilla as the top flavor, but any food that has been caramelized and well-browned is seductively delicious. Not only are meat and vegetables better when caramelized, so is sugar. So why do people hesitate to make caramel? There are a few tricks to this simple sauce.

Place 1 cup white sugar in a large saute pan. Do not use a dark pan because it is too hard to see the color of the sugar changing. Add a 1/2 cup water. It does not matter how much water you add, because all of the water will boil away, but adding some water dissolves the sugar and slows down the caramelization so that you can control how fast the sugar browns.

Turn the heat on high. Do not stir the sugar. Stirring promotes crystallization of the sugar which is a fatal flaw. Cook the sugar until golden brown. Turn the heat off.

Slowly pour in 1 cup heavy cream, which will stop the sugar from browning further. Do not use any lower-fat substitute. Because of the temperature differential, the caramel (at 300 degrees) will harden when the 40-degree cream hits it. Simply turn the heat to high and cook until the sugar remelts. Remove from heat. The caramel sauce will be very liquid at this point; it thickens as it cools.

If desired, flavor the caramel with vanilla extract or 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate. But really, the supreme taste of caramel needs no additional flavor.

Note: Browning white sugar makes caramel. Melting brown sugar makes butterscotch sauce.

4 Comments for “Ask the Chef: Caramel Sauce”  

  1. Alanna

    There is upside to having no other pan except black cast iron (what my dad calls his ‘bacon skillet’) for making caramel … learning that caramel with underlying bacon flavor is magnificent!

  2. Chef

    The combination of salt and sugar is fabulous — that’s why peanut brittle is so addictive. I also love an Asian dish which calls for caramelizing sugar, then adding chicken stock instead of cream, and flavoring with ginger, garlic, chiles peppers and fish sauce. I serve this caramel with chicken or noodles.
    Sugared bacon (also known as pig candy) is always the most popular item at an appetizer party.

  3. mjo

    Scald the cream before you start the sugar and then set the cream aside. There will not be as large of a boil up when it comes time to add the cream because you have raised the temperature of the cream. It is very dangerous to add cold cream to the hot caramel.

  4. Chef

    I stopped heating the cream because it was another pot to wash. If you pour the cold cream very, very slowly into the hot caramel, there is no splatter. But then, I’ve been known to melt chocolate and make hollandaise on a direct flame and otherwise cook on the edge!