Although it tastes like the decadently delicious, old-fashioned kind, this microwave caramel sauce is amazingly easy and involves less than 5 minutes of hands-on time!
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 enjoy... 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.
Who doesn't love a great caramel sauce?
And, it's the real deal, the kind of rich, silky-smooth, deeply golden-hued caramel sauce you'd find at a fancy little dessert café. The kind everyone goes crazy over. But we've figured out a way to take all the fuss and complication out of making a truly fine, real-deal, caramel sauce.
A super easy technique
I can't take credit for this clever microwave caramel sauce method. No, the brilliant folks at Cook's Illustrated 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 the process of being transformed into the perfect amber hue.
This Cook's Illustrated method relies on the microwave to eliminate all the traditional complications. I love that the hands-on time 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 and a drizzle of corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl (the corn syrup helps prevent crystallization). Give it a quick stir, pop the whole works in the microwave and let it do its 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 of making an old fashioned, really flavorful 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. The mixture will continue to cook after it's taken out of the microwave. So you want to pull it out just 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.
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, then 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.
The real deal
You might be wondering why I keep emphasizing that this is "real", authentic caramel sauce. It's 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 which, as we spoke about earlier, calls for caramelized sugar. I love now having both versions in my dessert arsenal and I'm still amazed that "real" is now just as easy as the Ridiculously Easy sauce! Wooohooo and thanks Cook's Illustrated!
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. After the first little taste, everyone will know it's "real" caramel sauce, but you don't have to tell them about the "easy" part. Just smile humbly and accept your newfound rock star status!
P.S. One last thing: you might want to go ahead and make a batch of this easy microwave caramel sauce. We have a fabulous new French Caramel Apple Cake recipe coming. The "caramel" part is (yes, you guessed it) this delicious sauce. It's spread on the bottom of the pan with a layer of chopped apples on top. I won't "spill all the beans", but it's so delicious and a perfect cake for all those fall holidays and special occasions coming up!
Café Tips for making this Microwave Caramel Sauce...
- Don't skip the corn syrup. When you are caramelizing sugar, a big problem is that it can easily crystalize in the process. Once sugar crystallizes, there's no going back. You have to throw it out and start over. A small amount of corn syrup works perfectly to prevent crystalization!
- Make sure to use a microwave-safe bowl to make this caramel sauce. The best type of bowl to use is a 4 or 8 cup pyrex measuring cup with a handle. The handle on these types of cups doesn't get hot. Don't try to make this sauce in a mason jar. Mason jars are not microwave-safe and get super hot.
- 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.
- This caramel sauce will thicken when chilled. To thin out just re-warm for 30-40 seconds in the microwave. Be sure you do it in a microwave-safe container!
- If you like a really thick caramel sauce, just give it another minute or two in the microwave after it's finished.
- Did the sauce get too thick? Just add a little extra cream and stir well.
- This sauce will keep well for several weeks in the refrigerator.
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Decadently delicious, old fashioned caramel sauce made with an easy, new-fangled method!
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Stir the sugar, corn syrup and water together in a 3-4 cup microwave-safe measuring cup or glass bowl.
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.).
Remove the caramel from the microwave and set aside for 5 minutes or until it darkens to a rich honey brown.
Carefully, add heavy cream (the mixture will be hot). If you end up with any lumps of caramel, just return the sauce to the microwave for 30 seconds and stir well again. Repeat as needed.
Add butter and vanilla. Whisk ingredients together till smooth. The mixture will thicken a bit as it cools.
If not using right away, transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. Warm slightly in the microwave before serving.
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated.
This recipe was originally published in August of 2016 but had gotten buried in the deep, dark Café archives. We've updated things, spiffed it up a bit and have re-published this delicious recipe for your culinary enjoyment!