Salted Caramel Sauce has to be one of the most popular sweet French sauces. Best served warm as a topping on any of the classic desserts, enjoy it on crêpes, ice cream, waffles, rice pudding and apple desserts. It’s taste with that salt makes it rather deliciously addictive.
However, many people are scared to even try making caramel, as it can be finicky to make. Have no fear! This is not only a quick recipe but it’s so easy, it’s foolproof thanks to using science.
Who Invented the Salted Caramel?
Fans of salted caramel have Henri Le Roux to thank. He created the CBS® (Caramel au Beurre Salé) in 1977 in Quiberon, the location of his first chocolate shop in Brittany (Bretagne). Brittany is The French region where salted butter is added to most local specialities. In fact, salted butter is so important there, that last year we even spotted graffiti saying “Together Against Unsalted Butter!”
Since Henri Le Roux invented it, salted caramel has been world famous, so he wisely registered it in 1981.
So, who would have known that salted caramel is a recent discovery? Now Henri Le Roux is all around France and appreciated as one of the top chocolate shops in Paris, known as Caramélier.
What is Salted Caramel Made Of?
Caramel is made out of three ingredients: sugar, unsalted butter and cream. The French always use cream (30% fat), not condensed milk. So what’s the difference between caramel and salted caramel? It’s simple: salted caramel is made with either salted butter or with added salt (good quality fleur de sel). Speaking of which, please also use good quality butter. In this recipe I prefer to use good unsalted butter and dose the salt by adding separately at the end of cooking.
Does it taste salty? Well, there’s a good dose of salt in the sauce, so as the caramel is particularly sweet, the salt just takes on an intriguingly addictive flavour to it. The resulting taste is simply sublime.
Foolproof Salted Caramel Recipe – Using Science!
Salted caramel sauce is reputed to be quite difficult to make as it’s quite finicky cooking the caramel first. To give you an idea of making a wet caramel, see my video and recipe for Crème Caramel or Flan. It’s quick and easy – but since discovering this foolproof method for making this salted caramel sauce, I’ve never looked back. The sauce’s flavour is round and even creamier than the traditional way of caramelising the sugar first then adding the butter and cream afterwards.
This recipe method comes from French food scientist, Raphaël Haumont. I had the fortune of meeting him on the jury at the previous Amateur Pastry Competition run by Christophe and Julie Roussel in La Baule – he works with Thierry Marx and has even made Thomas Pesquet’s favourite French classic food to be enjoyed in Space! To give you an idea of how Raphaël beautifully explains making caramel, see his latest video of Allo Docteur for La Magazine de la Santé (it’s in French).
By cooking the butter and sugar slowly together to create a caramel, it creates the Maillard reaction – whereby proteins in the butter react with the sugar molecules. If you love science and food, I recommend reading his fabulous books. Raphaël further explains caramelisation in his book, Les Couleurs de la Cuisine.
First heat the butter and sugar together, stirring constantly. When the butter melts and sugar dissolves completely, the mixture begins to mousse. Keep stirring as the mousse bubbles away until it starts to change colour and caramelise.
As soon as it turns a deep golden caramel colour, add the cream (I like to slightly warm the cream first but it’s not crucial). Continue stirring until the sauce blends well together and add the flower salt (fleur de sel).
How Do You Thicken Salted Caramel Sauce?
This sauce naturally thickens as it cools and actually hardens when stored in the fridge. However, if you think that your sauce is a bit too runny, just simmer for a further 5-10 minutes.
How Best to Serve It
Salted caramel sauce is best served warm. So, when ready to serve, spoon into a small pouring jug and reheat gently for a few seconds in the microwave or for a few minutes in a saucepan. Dribble or zig-zag it over ice cream, waffles, profiteroles, chocolate ginger fondant cake, crêpes, rice pudding, poached pears, or any kind of apple dessert.
Perhaps the most simplest pleasure is a spoonful on a few plain tart apple slices (e.g. Granny Smith). Try it. The resulting taste with the salt and acidity of the apple is divine.
How Long Does Salted Caramel Sauce Last?
Not only is it a handy sauce for all sorts of desserts, the bonus is that this salted caramel keeps for 3 weeks or up to a month if sealed well in the refrigerator. However, if truth be told, it doesn’t stay for long in our house.
Variations for Different Salted Caramel Flavours
Add your own touch of additional flavours to the caramel, to accompany or personalise your desserts. Add at the end of cooking, after adding the cream once the sauce comes together. Here are a few ideas:
- Vanilla: scrape out the seeds of a vanilla bean/pod or 1/4 tsp of vanilla powder or good quality extract;
- Coffee: Add a tablespoon of granulated coffee to the caramel for a perfumed coffee caramel;
- Citrus: Add the zest of an orange for extra zing – or excellent with limes, kumquats or lemon.
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 140 g (5oz) granulated sugar
- 75 g (3oz) unsalted butter good quality
- 150 g (5.5oz) whipping cream 30% fat (crème fleurette) warmed
- 1/2 tsp 'fleur de sel' salt
- Weigh both the butter (chop up roughly) and sugar directly into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Weigh the cream in another pan, heat gently and set aside. Alternatively, heat in a glass in the microwave for 30 seconds (do not boil).
- Using a wooden spoon, stir both the butter and sugar constantly over a medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolves. The mixture should start to foam and bubble gently. Keep stirring until they turn a more golden, caramel colour - it should also start to smell like caramel. This should take about 10 minutes maximum.
- As soon as the butter/sugar are a nice deep golden/straw caramel colour (don't wait until it's amber, otherwise the sauce will be bitter), add the warm cream, stirring constantly. Turn down the heat, keep stirring until thickened and add the salt. After about 5 minutes pour directly into a sauce jug or into sterilised jam jars. Leave to cool then seal.
To thicken the sauce even more, reduce by simmering for another 5-10 minutes. Butter: I use unsalted butter in this recipe as good quality salted butter can be difficult to find outside of France. If you do have access to quality salted butter from Normandy or Brittany, then use it and omit the extra salt. How Long Can the Sauce Keep? The caramel can last for 3 weeks or up to a month if stored in a sterilised sealed jar in the fridge. Method of Cooking: This alternative approach to cooking the salted caramel sauce is thanks to food scientist, Raphaël Haumont. However, if you prefer to use the classic method, then first make a caramel by stirring the sugar with a tablespoon of water in a pan. Over a medium heat without stirring, leave until a caramel forms (about 10 minutes) then as soon as a golden caramel forms, lower the heat and add the butter then the warmed cream.
This post was first published 23 February 2011 but is now completely updated with more explicit step-by-step instructions, new images and a different method of cooking the sugar and butter together initially.