This caramel sauce is amazing. And I'm not just referring to the flavor or silky smooth way it melts in your mouth. The way you make it is just so crazy and kinda fun. You see, my previous "caramel" sauce recipe was just melted down brown sugar with butter and whipping cream. Yummy, but nothing that would knock you on the floor in amazement. This recipe, however, is caramelized white sugar combined with whipping cream. I'd never actually caramelized sugar until recently. This is the "dry method," where you throw sugar straight into an empty pot and the heat will melt it and turn it into an amber syrup. Like magic!
I snapped a few photos of the process, so you could see how things look as the sugar begins to melt and caramelize. (There's also a photo of where I went wrong and how to salvage things.)
My tips are these:
When in doubt, lower the heat a little bit. Do not do anything else while you're making this sauce; once the sugar melts it goes straight to caramelized in the blink of an eye. And, the longer/hotter you cook the sauce, the deeper the color, and the smokier(?) the end flavor. It will have a milder, creamier flavor if you don't take it too dark.
I had elaborate visions of using this sauce on the Chocolate Truffle Cakes or cookies, but honestly it's absolute heaven over a really good vanilla ice cream. Oh dear, it was so, so good.
Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce
adapted from Annie's Eats
1 c. sugar
1¼ c. heavy cream
¼ tsp. coarse salt or sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, optional
Measure out the heavy cream in a liquid measuring cup and add vanilla bean paste. Microwave for one minute and set aside.
Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium-low heat (dial set to 3 on my stove), watching carefully. When the sugar begins to liquify around the edges, use a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon to gently stir it towards the center. Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir or allow sugar to clump up.
If you shake the pan after it's been cooking, you'll see the layer of melting sugar hiding underneath:
The sugar is turning to liquid and turning a golden color. Aka "caramelizing." Weeeee!!!
Give it a gentle stir to make sure all the sugar granules are dissolved.
The sauce will bubble and steam like crazy when you add the first half of the cream.
Stir constantly to completely incorporate the caramel and cream.