For the love of cookies

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

Is caramel sauce easy? Depends on who you ask. The ingredients are simple, but the technique can be tricky. Caramel is a jealous recipe; you cannot leave the kitchen for a minute to do another task. In the minute you are away from the stove, the caramel will lean into its dramatic nature and burn making a huge mess. This will leave you defeated once again as you complete the walk of shame to the sink to clean out burnt sugar from your pan once again…

Maybe caramel and I have somewhat checkered past? A love-hate relationship? Perhaps it was at the beginning but nowadays is nothing but love. Something I am not ashamed to admit is how many failed attempts I have had at making caramel over the years. There have been countless burnt sugar mishaps along with sugar so burnt on my pan I had to throw it out.

When I finally got it right however, the end results are nothing shy of heavenly. These learning mishaps I will acknowledge proudly as these blunders in the kitchen have helped me to compile an in depth and intricate list of tips for making caramel sauce to share with you. You can make caramel at home, and you don’t have to be afraid or apprehensive to do so. Although, it will require determination and a strong whisking arm. Here is my fool proof recipe for caramel sauce along with helpful advice on how to make caramel sauce at home.

*Note* This recipe is for caramel sauce. You can use this on top of cookies but not stuffed inside. It is too loose and will not stay in the center during baking. I will be sharing a recipe for soft set caramels soon that you can use to stuff cookies with later this holiday season. Stay tuned cookie friends!

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce, you will want to put it on everything!

Why I Love This Recipe

Flavor- Sugar, cream, and butter are the ingredients used for most caramels and with these simple ingredients you can transform them into something indulgent. At its base form caramel is sugar heated to the point of, you guessed it, caramelization. The process of this transforms the sugar molecularly while also creating yet another flavorful brown food. The act of caramelization brings out warm, slightly acrid flavors in the sugar since we are essentially burning sugar in a controlled environment. When butter, heavy cream and salt are added they transform this new substance into a rich, creamy, very sweet, and buttery sauce that is highly addicting. The flavor of homemade caramel sauce pairs well with vanilla bean paste and darker liquors like bourbon, rum, or whiskey which further develop the deep flavors of caramelized sugar.

Texture-For a sauce you can pour this caramel is perfect warmed up. It can be drizzled over pretty much anything you would like to add a toasty flavor to and is quite runny when warm. It is very similar to a thick maple syrup when warmed up and is great to add to warm drinks as well. Did somebody say caramel coffee? When the caramel is left at room temperature it is soft but thick and sticky and has a lovely texture that melts in your mouth. When refrigerated and cold, the caramel is very thick and can be scooped up in heaping spoonfuls. The texture is chewy and thick and is reminiscent of a soft caramel although a tad softer when bitten into. There are many different plays on the texture of this caramel sauce as it pertains to the temperature you serve it at, how fun!

Makes a Great Gift-I’m not sure I know of anyone who doesn’t love caramel as a gift. This caramel sauce can be packaged in mason jars with a bow tied around for a homemade foodie gift this holiday season. This sauce will keep fresh in the fridge for a month and can be made in advance of holiday season.

Versatility-I love using caramel on top of and inside of cookies any chance I get. This caramel sauce can also be added to a variety of foods and desserts for an extra kick of rich sweet flavor. Here are my favorite uses:

-Drizzled on top of ice cream.

-Drizzled on top of cookies.

-A layer spread thin on top of brownies.

-A few teaspoons added to hot coffee.

-A spoonful inside of a shortbread sandwich cookie, must use the caramel cold.

-A small spoonful as a filling for chocolate caramel thumbprint cookies (recipe coming soon).

-Used as a caramel dip for apples, sliced pears, and grapes.

-Paired with an extra mature Gouda, or any strong aged cheeses.

-Add a ½ teaspoon extra salt to make a salted caramel sauce for cheesecakes. Can sprinkle additional salt on top.

-Used as a filling for cakes and cupcakes. Also, it can be drizzle on top of frosted cupcakes and cakes.

-Drizzled on top of fresh baked banana or pumpkin bread.

-If making boozy caramel sauce with bourbon, rum, or whiskey, it can be poured over bread pudding with fresh whipped cream and candied pecans. One of the few places I feel a boozy caramel sauce is a necessary accompaniment.

The options are endless, I hope this list helps inspire you to create something delicious with your caramel sauce.

Ingredients You Need

-Butter-softened to room temperature and cut into 5 equal pieces.

-Granulated sugar

-Vanilla bean paste-I used Neilsen Massey vanilla bean paste, it’s one of my favorites. A vanilla bean pod with the seeds scraped out would be the best. You can sub the paste for vanilla extract as well, use 1 teaspoon.

-Apple Cider Vinegar-this will help the sugar from crystalizing and creating crunchy lumps in your caramel sauce. You will be able to smell it while cooking the water and sugar down to an amber color, but I promise you will not taste it in the end result. You can substitute with lemon juice as well.

-Heavy Cream-this needs to be at room temperature. I measured mine out an hour before starting to make caramel and it was room temperature by then. You can substitute with whole milk but your caramel will be more runny.

-Bourbon, Whiskey, or Rum- very little of this is used, if used at all totally up to the maker. Darker liquor pairs well with the flavor of caramel and is stirred in at the end to make a boozy caramel sauce.

-Salt- I used Maldon Sea Salt which is less salty than kosher or table salt. If you are using kosher or table salt, you might want to adjust the recipe and start out with less salt just to be safe. You can always add more to taste but you can’t take away. Especially with table salt, a little goes a long way!

Tips on Caramel

The caramel sauce is wonderful drizzled on cookies.

I am going to share with you my tips for caramel I have learned over the years. Some of these are quite simple and will help you to approach making caramel sauce with ease of mind and confidence.

  • Get all your ingredients ready and at room temperature. This includes chopping up the butter, measuring out the heavy cream, placing vanilla bean paste or scraping out seeds close by, measuring out the salt and booze (if using). Have them accessible to you wherever you are making caramel. You don’t want to leave the stove when you are making caramel sauce.
  • Gather your equipment and utensils. Have your whisk (you will need a long-handled whisk to keep your hand away from the steam when whisking in butter and cream), measuring spoon (for the vanilla or vanilla bean paste), and spatula ready at the stove. I place all my utensils on a dinner plate to keep it semi organized. Also, have a clean mason jar ready to pour caramel into when it is done. Make sure it has a tight-fitting lid as well.
  • NOT. LEAVE. THE. STOVE. I am so easily distracted, and it takes less than a second for my mind to wander and for me leave the stove “really quick” to get something done. Don’t do this. 9 out of 10 times my sugar burns as soon as I step away from the stove. If it is your first-time making caramel, set aside 15-20 minutes to be focused solely on the caramel. Sugar burns so quickly and you must keep an eye on it. Grab a drink and a snack if you need to before you start but stay at the stove during this process.
  • Keep lid on the caramel for the first 5 minutes or so. The steam from the lid will help keep the sugar from crystalizing on the sides of your pan.
  • Use an acid to help prevent sugar crystallization. In this recipe I used ACV, but I originally used lemon juice. I was out of lemon juice at the time I was making caramel this weekend and was looking to see what other acids I could use in its place. Any acid should do, as we are using such a small amount of it.
  • As soon as the sugar and water mixture starts turning a honey color, be on alert to remove the caramel very soon. As I stated earlier, sugar burns remarkably fast. As soon as I see the caramel turning a honey color, I have all eyes on the pan and swirl continuously for an additional 20-30 seconds before I see an amber color and remove completely from heat.
  • Add butter one tablespoon at a time and whisk vigorously after each addition so the butter emulsifies into the sugar and does not separate.
  • Be prepared to whisk quickly. And a lot. I switch off arms to whisk when one gets tired but the key to great caramel sauce that is smooth and not clumpy is to whisk quickly while adding small amounts of room temp butter followed by a slow drizzle heavy cream. Consider this a great bicep workout or a nice warm up for upper body day.
  • Have a bowl of ice water nearby. It happens to the best of us, a drop of molten hot sugar lands on your hand as you are whisking like a maniac. Panic sets in. Then pain. Giving your hand a quick dunk in ice water will lessen the severity of the burn and provide immediate relief from the hot sugar. Please use caution when working with hot sugar and hopefully you will not have to use it.

Let’s Make Caramel Sauce

The vanilla bean flecks in the caramel sauce is so dreamy.

Now that you have read my helpful tips for making caramel sauce, let’s make caramel sauce!

In a saucepan that has tall sides, I mix the sugar, apple cider vinegar, and water. I stir gently just to combine them in the pan.

I place the lid on and place on the stove over medium heat. I wait for it to come to a boil; this takes a few minutes.

As soon an as it starts to boil, I set a timer for 5 minutes and let it simmer. I swirl the pan a few times as it’s simmering to make sure the sugar is dissolving evenly in the water.

When the 5 minutes is up, I remove the lid from the pan and continue to let it simmer. Keeping the lid on the pan will help the sugar dissolve in the water and prevent crystals from forming on the sides of the pan. The steam from the lid will drip down and keep the sides of the pan tidy.

The mixture will smell strongly of apple cider vinegar, but this is temporary. When I remove the lid from the pan my sinuses are hit by the strong acidic smell but within a minute or two it dissipates. The vinegar is used to prevent sugar crystallization and the flavor is nowhere to be found when the caramel sauce is done.

The sugar mixture will start to look like a thick syrup. I continue to swirl the pan every minute or so and it should start to develop a little color.

At the 7 ½ minute mark was when my sugar syrup turned a beautiful honey color. It may turn color sooner or later depending on the heat of your stove etc. but I wanted to include this as a guideline to exactly how I made this recipe.

Around 20-30 seconds after it reached a honey color, I am swirling the mixture more frequently now, the sugar had reached an amber color and I immediately take off the heat.

The room temperature butter and whisk are prepared and ready within reach for me to add to the sugar. I drop one tablespoon of butter at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition.

USE CAUTION-the sugar is at a temperature over 300*F at this stage and I am adding room temperature butter around 72*F. This means the sugar will hiss, bubble, and steam from adding in an ingredient that is much cooler than the sugar. Use caution and stir with a long-handled whisk and be careful not to splatter the sugar onto you. If you are sensitive to heat and steam, a long sleeve shirt can help to cover your skin. If you get hot sugar onto your hands it will burn. Keeping a bowl of ice water nearby so you can dunk the afflicted skin is very helpful. I have a handful of sugar burn scars on my hands when I used to make crème brulée every holiday. Please, be careful!

After I have added the butter and have whisked like a mad man, I grab the heavy cream that is at room temperature and measured out within reaching distance. I very slowly drizzle the heavy cream while still mixing vigorously until it is all combined.

The caramel will smell heavenly at this stage and will look smooth, very runny, and have a rich caramel brown color.

I place the caramel back on the stove and turn my burner on medium to bring the caramel to a boil again. I boil the caramel for one minute then turn off the stove and remove the caramel from the heat.

At this time, I add a large pinch of salt, you can add more salt if you want a salted caramel, the vanilla bean paste, and the liquor (if using). I stir gently to combine then let the caramel cool for 5 -10 minutes before pouring into a glass jar with a lid.

This caramel sauce will be very runny when it is hot, but it will thicken as it cools and is very thick when stored in the fridge.

My recipe with helpful tips takes the guess work out of making homemade caramel sauce at home. This wonderful, flavor-packed sauce is the perfect recipe to add to my Apple Snickerdoodle Cast Iron Cookie with cold ice cream on top. Coming soon for #cookiethursday stay tuned!

What’s better than caramel sauce? Cookies and ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce!

If you try this recipe and love it as much as I do, please tag, follow, and like @sunshinetxcookies on Instagram and Facebook. New posts every Thursday so be sure to follow me for more delicious cookie recipes. Happy Baking!

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

Chrissy Grundy
Caramel sauce with vanilla bean paste is silky and perfect for topping cookies, ice cream, cakes, and more.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Course Breakfast, Dessert, Drinks


  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tspn apple cider vinegar
  • 5 tbsp butter softened, room temperature.
  • ½ cup heavy cream room temperature
  • ½ tspn sea salt
  • ½ tspn vanilla bean paste
  • 2 tbsp bourbon, rum, or whiskey OPTIONAL for boozy caramel.


  • In a tall saucepan combine sugar, water, and apple cider vinegar. Stir to combine then place on stove over medium heat. Do not stir after this.
  • Place lid on the pan and bring the sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat. You can swirl the pan gently while the mixture is cooking to make sure there are no hotspots.
  • Cook on medium heat for approximately 5 minutes. Remove the lid and swirl the pan to make sure it is cooking evenly. The mixture will start to thicken.
  • Continue to cook until the sugar mixture begins turning a golden honey color. Keep a watchful eye to not let it get too dark or burn as this happens quickly at this stage.
  • Once the mixture turns an amber color (this took 7½ minutes from the start of the boil time for me) take off of heat immediately.
  • With whisk ready, add room temperature butter one tablespoon at a time whisking vigorously after each addition. The mixture will bubble and steam considerably so use caution while whisking.
  • After all the butter is added, continue whisking quickly as you slowly drizzle the room temperature heavy cream.
  • After the cream is added, place the caramel back on the stove over medium heat and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute, remove from heat and turn off the stove.
  • Add vanilla bean paste, salt, and alcohol (if using) and stir with either the whisk or wooden spatula to combine.
  • Allow the caramel to cool for 5-10 minutes before pouring into glass jar. It will be very runny when it is hot and will thicken as it cools.
  • Store in a covered jar in the fridge for up to a month.
  • Enjoy!
Keyword caramel, caramel sauce, vanilla bean

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Chrissy Grundy

Content Creator

Howdy! I love creating delicious cookie recipes. I enjoy spending time with my kids and husband in Buda, Texas and I am a huge supporter of local Texas producers. I am so happy you are here! Let’s start baking!

Chrissy Grundy

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