This easy caramel sauce recipe will show you how to melt caramel candies into a sauce that's great for pouring over ice cream sundaes or dipping apple slices.
Do you struggle to make a simple caramel sauce to serve with your favorite desserts, but end up with a burnt caramel mess?
Have you tried different methods and recipes only to end up dissatisfied with the results and are ready to give up on making a homemade caramel sauce?
Fret not! This easy caramel recipe will become your go-to recipe when you need a no-fail approach that's also so simple, even the most novice cook can master it on the first try!
If you've ever wondered if you can melt caramel candies into a sauce, then ready on to find out exactly how to do it.
Use this sauce to make my homemade caramel whipped cream!
It has a touch of coffee flavor: Did you know mocha is actually coffee not chocolate? This sauce infuses instant espresso powder to give it that mocha caramel taste.
Quick and easy recipe: This delicious sauce comes together in about 20 minutes thanks to the quick melting caramel candies used in the recipe. This is my secret weapon when it comes to making a caramel sauce.
Simple ingredients: You only need four easy to find ingredients to pull off this recipe. This version is made with evaporated milk, not sweetened condensed milk or heavy cream. The other ingredients include maple syrup and instant espresso powder.
It's a versatile, no fail sauce: one of our favorite ways to serve this delicious caramel sauce is over vanilla ice cream for an easy dessert. Use it for drizzling over my apple dump cake, Starbucks caramel ribbon crunch frappuccino, my homemade apple spice cake, or your homemade apple pie. Also great as a dipping sauce for your favorite fruit slices.
Scroll to the bottom of the post for precise amounts and printable recipe card.
Evaporated milk - this is a pantry staple that is shelf stable. That means it can be kept at room temperature for a long time as opposed to fresh milk. It's cooked through the canning process and that's what makes it creamy and a nice ingredient for caramel sauce instead of using heavy whipping cream. It differs from sweetened condensed milk in that it does not have any added sugar.
Caramel candies - did you know that you can melt caramel candies into a sauce? It's the no fail way to make a homemade caramel sauce perfect every time! I used the Kraft brand.
Maple syrup - maple syrup is my go to sweetener with natural ingredients. You can substitute with dark brown sugar, brown sugar, white sugar, or corn syrup.
Instant espresso powder - this concentrated powder dissolves easily and turns this into a mocha caramel. You can skip this ingredient if desired.
Flaked Sea Salt - optional to sprinkle over the finished sauce or added to make salted caramel.
How to melt caramel candies into a sauce
STEP ONE: Unwrap the caramel candies and place them in a cold, medium saucepan. Mix the evaporated milk and instant espresso powder together in a small bowl and stir until the powder dissolves.
STEP TWO: Add the evaporated milk mixture to the pan with the caramels. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. When the caramels have completely melted and the sauce is smooth, stir in the maple syrup until the perfect consistency is reached.
Salted caramel sauce
Salted caramel is a popular variation that tasted great on caramel macchiatos. You can make this homemade sauce into a salted caramel. Just simply add one teaspoon of salt when you add the maple syrup. Stir well until it is completely dissolved. If you don't want to add salt to the sauce, you can add a little bit of salt (the flaked kind) to the sauce after it's served.
It's super important to stir the sauce as the caramels melt. Turn to medium-low heat, or low if you notice burning as the caramel cooks.
If you don't want to add instant espresso powder, you can leave it out. It adds just a hint of coffee or "mocha" flavor.
This is a thicker caramel sauce. Add more evaporated in small increments to thin it out.
Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and/or ½ teaspoon cinnamon for a flavor variation. Or experiment to find a flavor you like (see variations below).
Storage and reheating
Caramel sauce can be kept at room temperature for about three days. Use a glass jar for best results.
Keep cooled, leftover caramel sauce in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. We prefer using a glass container such as a mason jar or Weck jars.
Reheat caramel sauce with a microwave using a microwave safe container. Heat on 50% power in 30 second increments until desired heat level is reached. Or use the stove and heat on low very gently to prevent burning.
Can I make caramel sauce ahead?
Yes, this caramel sauce can be made ahead. Store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Can I freeze homemade caramel sauce?
You can freeze caramel sauce in a freezer-safe container for two months. When ready to use, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. If the sauce separates, stir it well and reheat on the stove over low heat to prevent burning.
Do I need a candy thermometer to make caramel sauce?
It's a good idea to use a candy thermometer to make a traditional caramel sauce. The great thing about this recipe is that you'll learn how to melt caramel candies into a sauce so you won't need a candy thermometer.
Can I boil a can of condensed milk to make caramel sauce?
According to Carnation, boiling isn't recommended because it can lead to the can bursting.
Variations to try
Vanilla and salt are the most common flavor variations to switch up a traditional caramel sauce. Try these other ideas:
- Bourbon or Whiskey: A splash can add a smoky and rich dimension.
- Cinnamon: For a warm, spiced flavor.
- Nutmeg: For a bit of nuttiness.
- Cardamom: For an exotic twist.
- Chili Powder or Cayenne: For a spicy kick.
- Citrus Zest: Orange, lemon, or lime zest can add a refreshing note.
- Coffee: Instant coffee or espresso powder can be mixed in for a coffee-infused caramel.
- Chocolate: Melted chocolate or cocoa powder can be added for a chocolate-caramel sauce.
- Nuts: Toasted pecans, walnuts, or almonds can be stirred in for a nutty flavor and added
- Coconut: Coconut milk can be used in place of evaporated milk for a touch of coconut flavor.
More easy dessert recipes you'll like
- No Bake Chocolate Pie
- Pumpkin Bundt Cake made with cake mix!
- Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
- Peanut Butter Truffles
How to Melt Caramel Candies into a Sauce
- 14 oz package caramels I like Kraft
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- 1 ¼ teaspoon instant expresso powder
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- Place unwrapped caramel candies in a medium sauce pan.
- In a separate bowl, combine evaporated milk and instant espresso powder. Add mixture to pan.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until completely smooth. Stir in maple syrup.
- It's super important to stir the sauce as the caramels melt. This will keep it from burning.
- If you don't want to add instant espresso powder, you can leave it out. It adds just a hint of coffee or "mocha" flavor. You can use instant coffee, but the flavor will be even more mild and may not come through.
- Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and/or ½ teaspoon cinnamon for a flavor variation.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.