Some of the best things in life for instance custardy and warm apple pies involve homemade caramel sauce. Despite the fact that it is universally pleasing, making caramel is a technique that intimidates many home cooks. Below are some of the most common caramel sauce mistakes and how to avoid them.
Using the wrong pot: Preparing caramel sauce with a thin or flimsy pot is a bad idea. The sugar around the edges of the pot will turn hot too quickly and burn before the rest of the caramel has cooked. To avoid, opt for a heavy-bottomed pot, like an enameled Dutch oven.
Dumping in all of the sugar at once: Adding all of your sugar in one go means that it will not liquefy uniformly. Avoid getting sugar that is a perfect amber in some places and clumpy and raw in others by adding it in one or two layers. Some recipes call for two rounds of cooking. In which case, you can add in the first part and swirl the pot, moving the sugar around its surface to account for any hot spots. Once the first addition has liquefied and taken on some color, add the rest.
Not setting up your Mise en Place: Setting up mise en place means having all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start the cooking process. This is always helpful, but imperative when making caramel sauce. At its most basic, caramel sauce is cooked sugar combined with cream and butter (any other flavoring agents, like vanilla, are welcome additions). The dairy is what gives the caramel its pourable, spoonable texture. Adding it to the hot sugar also immediately arrests the cooking process—the cool or room-temperature ingredients drops the temperature of the caramel—so it is important to have them next to the pot. Wait a few seconds too long to add them, and your caramel could overcook.
Pulling the caramel too soon: The deeper the color, the more complex the flavor. Remember that it will stop cooking as soon as you add the butter and cream, so take it right to the edge. Deep amber is what you should be aiming for. Unlike a steak, which will have ‘carryover’ cooking time after you remove it from the heat, a caramel sauce will not keep darkening once you pull it. That said, it can go from deep amber to burnt very quickly, which brings us to the last common mistake.
Trying to multitask: Do not attempt to juggle multiple kitchen tasks while cooking caramel—and definitely do not walk away from the stove. Distraction can lead to a blackened disaster. Stay focused and stay present, and your caramel will be picture-perfect, every time.
Caramel sauce: To prepare apple caramel sauce, combine one cup sugar, one pinch of cream of tartar and ¼ cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook, without stirring and occasionally swirling the pan for even cooking, until the mixture turns amber color.
Remove from heat; slowly add ¼ cup fresh apple cider, ¼ cup heavy cream, one teaspoon vanilla extract and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (mixture will bubble vigorously), whisking to combine.
Return pan to medium heat and bring to a vigorous boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring to dissolve any caramel bits for about a minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Set aside.
Caramel sauce can be made a week ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm slightly before using.