The perfect caramel sauce reaches a deep amber color while still having the perfect amount of moisture in the sauce to be a thick but pourable consistency. If the water evaporates before the sauce browns, the sauce will just crystalize. You can sometimes recover from this by adding a little more hot water and allowing the crystalized sugar to dissolve back into the liquid. Then keep cooking until the sauce turns brown. The trick we have learned is to get the caramel to turn brown before the water evaporates. We use the ice water to cool the pot down while the sauce cooks to ensure that the water doesn’t evaporate too quickly.
- ½ cup hot water
- Ice cold tap water and ice cubes to fill a shallow pan
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup tap water
- Heat a tea kettle or small pan with water. You will be using ½ cup of this hot water later in the recipe. Keep this hot water on the back burner of your stove.
- Also have a pan of ice cold water nearby with ice cubes. (This will be used if the sauce starts to turn too dark and you need to cool the pan off a bit before continuing.)
- In a stainless steel sauce pan (do not use a nonstick pan) mix all of the sugar and ¼ cup of tap water and bring to a boil stirring just to combine, then turn heat down to a simmer. Once it starts to boil, DO NOT STIR this mixture at all. It must not be touched for the full cooking time. (We learned this the hard way; three times!) If you stir, it will not caramelize so just let it sit. Set the timer for ten minutes and keep your eyes on it. It will start to turn amber in color. If it looks like it is turning too dark on one side and not the other, just swirl the pan a bit but again do not let anything touch the mixture. If sugar crystals form on the inside of the pan, you can brush them down with a wet pastry brush but again, do not let the brush touch or disturb the mixture.
- As the sauce begins to turn brown – at this point you need to watch it VERY closely! Over the next five minutes or so it will turn darker and darker until finally it is dark amber in color (almost to the point of burning, but pull it from the heat just before it gets too dark) and a syrupy consistency. If it turns too brown too quickly, set the saucepan in the pan with the ice bath to cool then back on burner to finish.
- As it reaches the correct dark amber color, turn off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon. The mixture will be molten hot so do not touch the spoon! Now very carefully add the ½ cup of hot water but stand back, it will bubble and splatter! Stir the water in and then let the mixture cool to room temperature. At this point the sauce will be thick and amber in color, but it will not solidify due to the water added at the end.
- Store unused sauce in a tightly covered container at room temperature.