Microwave Caramel Sauce (the real deal)

Although it tastes like the decadently delicious and old-fashioned kind, this microwave caramel sauce is amazingly easy!

I love making your life in the kitchen a little easier – and a little more delicious. Oh, and there’s one other thing I really love… It’s making you look like a rock star in the eyes of your family/friends/guests with minimal effort on your part. That’s exactly the scenario you’ll find when you whip up a batch of this super easy, never fail, crazy delicious Microwave Caramel Sauce (the real deal).

Horizontal photo of a Weck jar of Microwave Caramel Sauce (the real deal) on a marble slab with turquoise ice cream bowls and dinnerware in the background.

I can’t take credit for this clever microwave caramel sauce method. No, it’s the brilliant folks at Cook’s Illustrated who came up with an ingenious way to make old-fashioned caramel sauce in a new fangled way. If you’ve ever tried to make caramel sauce (the real, real deal) you’re probably well aware that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to execute. It has to be watched extremely carefully and there can be all sorts of issues with the sugar mixture seizing and/or burning, during it’s process of being transformed into the perfect amber hue.

A Weck jar of Microwave Caramel Sauce (the real deal) with turquoise ice cream bowls in the background.

This Cook’s Illustrated method relies on the microwave to eliminate all the traditional complications. I love that the hands-on time is is well under five minutes, and the only close watching that’s necessary is in the last few minutes.

Does this seem hard to believe?  Nope, check out how it works; combine sugar, water, a drizzle of corn syrup and a few drops of fresh lemon juice in a microwave safe bowl (both the corn syrup and the teeny splash of lemon juice help prevent crystallization). Give it a quick stir, pop the whole works in the microwave and let it do it’s thing. I like to set a timer for about 5 minutes, as that’s the point where you need to give the bubbling bowl a bit of attention.


The goal in making any caramel sauce is to cook the sugar syrup until it “caramelizes” and reaches a deep amber color. In the microwave however, it’s a little different – you need to be aware of the fact that the mixture will continue to cook after it’s taken out of the microwave. So you want to pull it out when it’s beginning to turn a light amber. Trust me on this one. I was a bit dubious the first time I made the microwave caramel sauce, and let it go too long resulting in a burned, bitter mess.

Closeup of a pouring shot of Microwave Caramel Sauce (the real deal) into a glass jar.

So carefully pull the hot sugar mixture out of the microwave when you notice the color change. Have patience and you’ll be amazed to see how much the hue deepens over the next five minutes. All that’s left is to add a splash of heavy cream, a dollop of butter, vanilla extract and a give the sauce a vigorous stir.  If you want to take it over the top, add a pinch of flaky sea salt (like Maldon). Voila! The deepest, richest, most decadent caramel sauce you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting.

Pouring photo of Microwave Caramel Sauce (the real deal) onto a bowl of scoops of ice cream.

You might be wondering why I keep emphasizing “the real deal”. It’s probably because for years, I made a “cheater’s” version of caramel sauce. I call it my Ridiculously Easy Caramel Sauce. It’s delicious (actually ridiculously delicious!) but really, it’s more of a butterscotch sauce (with brown sugar, cream and butter as the main ingredients) than a true caramel. I love now having both versions in my dessert arsenal and I’m still amazed that the “real deal” is now just as easy as the Ridiculously Easy sauce! Wooohooo and thanks Cook’s Illustrated!

Collage of photos of Microwave Caramel Sauce (the real deal) being poured onto scoops of ice cream in a turquoise bowl.

If you need a delicious, super easy, gourmet dessert in a hurry, pick up some good quality vanilla ice cream (or frozen custard!) and whip up a batch of this Microwave Caramel Sauce. Everyone will know it’s the “real deal”, but you don’t have to tell them about the “easy” part. Just smile humbly and accept your newfound rock star status!

Café Tips for making this Microwave Caramel Sauce…

  • Don’t skip the lemon juice and/or corn syrup. It’s added to help keep the caramel from crystallizing.
  • Be sure to remove the sugar solution from the microwave right when it turns a pale amber as it will continue to cook for a few more minutes and turn deeper amber.
  • Caramel sauce will thicken when chilled. To thin out just re-warm for 30-40 seconds in the microwave. But make sure you do it in a microwave-safe container!
Microwave (Real Deal) Caramel Sauce - decadently delicious, old fashioned caramel sauce made with an easy, new fangled method!

What I used to prepare and serve this Microwave Caramel Sauce


Microwave Caramel Sauce (the real deal)

Microwave (Real Deal) Caramel Sauce - decadently delicious, old fashioned caramel sauce made with an easy, new fangled method!

5 from 3 reviews

Decadently delicious, old fashioned caramel sauce made with an easy, new fangled method!

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup
  • Category: Dessert


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ⅛ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Stir the sugar, corn syrup, water and lemon juice together in a 2-3 cup microwave-safe measuring cup or glass bowl.
  2. Microwave on high (full) power until the mixture is just beginning to brown, 4 to 8 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave. Check at 4 minutes and every 15-30 seconds after.).
  3. Remove the caramel from the microwave and set aside for 5 minutes or until it darkens to a rich honey brown.
  4. Carefully, add heavy cream (the mixture will be hot). If you end up with any lumps of caramel, just return sauce to the microwave for 30 seconds and stir well again. Repeat as needed.
  5. Add butter and vanilla. Whisk ingredients together till smooth. Mixture will thicken a bit as it cools.
  6. If not using right away, transfer to a jar with a tight fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. Warm slightly in microwave before serving.


Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.







Although it tastes like a decadently delicious, old-fashioned caramel sauce, this amazing dessert topping is made using an easy, new-fangled method!

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