Instantly elevate any dessert with this rich, decadent homemade bourbon caramel sauce. Your favorite ice cream or baked good may be delicious on its own, but with a drizzle of this caramel sauce, you can turn any dessert into a gourmet treat. As a bonus, you don’t need a thermometer to make this bourbon caramel sauce.
You want to know the secret to creating an irresistible dessert every time? Top it with this homemade bourbon caramel sauce and call it a day. I've used this homemade caramel sauce for years on so many desserts, and it always gives them a special touch that store-bought caramel can't come close to delivering.
Honestly, it feels like cheating because this homemade caramel sauce is ridiculously easy to whip up, but it’s oh-so delicious. As if that's not enough, you can also make this boozy dessert sauce in under 20 minutes. How’s that for a dessert hack?
Say goodbye to store-bought caramel sauce. After one taste of this quick and easy homemade caramel sauce recipe, you'll never go back.
If you're new to making caramel, you'll wonder why you haven't made a batch yet once you see the simple ingredient list. All you need is the following.
- Heavy cream
- Vanilla extract or paste
Now that we have our ingredients ready to go, we can start making caramel without bothering to use a thermometer. Rather than using a thermometer, we simply monitor the caramel's color. The process couldn't be easier.
We start by adding sugar and water to a pan and cooking over medium-high heat. About every 20 seconds, we grab the pan handle and gently shake it back and forth a few times, but we never stir the water and sugar mixture.
We continue to shake the pan throughout the cooking process. The mixture will bubble up and gradually begin to darken. First, the mixture will turn a light tan color, but it will continue to darken until it becomes a lovely amber hue, which is what we want. Here are some photos of the darkening process for a point of reference.
Once the water and sugar mixture turn amber like the above photo, we immediately turn off the heat and whisk in our heavy cream. The caramel will bubble like crazy, so don't panic. That's totally normal. Check it out.
Now we stir in some butter, vanilla and bourbon. Just like the heavy cream, the caramel will bubble up but not quite as much. Just keep whisking until it all smooths out.
While I love the flavor bourbon adds and never leave it out, you can certainly do so if need be. I've tried this sauce prior to the bourbon addition, and it's still wonderful. No other recipe tweaks are necessary if you leave out the bourbon.
And, of course, you're welcome to use other liquors and liqueurs. Both dark rum and Kahlua are delicious substitutions. I bet amaretto and brandy would also be tasty options.
How to Store
Simply store this caramel in an airtight container in room temperature or the refrigerator. The sugar acts as a preservative, so even though this caramel includes cream, it's perfectly safe sitting on your counter. But if that makes you squeamish, go ahead and keep a jar in the refrigerator.
How Long Does It Last?
This bourbon caramel sauce should last for about two weeks at room temperature. That said, I’d be surprised if it keeps that long. You’ll want to eat this caramel by the spoonful, but if you can find some self-control, expect a good two-week shelf life.
If storing in the refrigerator, you can stretch that timeline to about a month. But, seriously, what are you doing with your life if you still have this caramel sauce after a month? You need to enjoy more desserts. True story.
Whenever I pair a beer with a caramel dessert, I almost always reach for a barleywine. With a barleywine, we get plenty of sweet toffee and dried fruit notes that match perfectly, and the residual sweetness from the high alcohol content makes it a good partner to stand up to the rich caramel.
Like the barleywine, an aged tawny port is my go-to pairing for wine and caramel desserts, and this move has never been a bad call. Tawny port has a lot of the same characteristics of a barleywine --- dried fruit, toffee and a touch of nuttiness. As you can imagine, those flavors are all delicious partners to our homemade bourbon caramel.
When you need to give any dessert an extra decadent boost, I hope you try this bourbon caramel sauce.
Got a Sweet Tooth?
- Fudgy stout brownies
- Bourbon-pumpkin ice cream
- Butterscotch-coconut-bourbon cookies
- Apple spice cupcakes
- Praline sauce
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Bourbon Caramel Sauce (No Thermometer)
- Large skillet
- 1 ½ cups white sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup heavy cream room temperature
- 6 tablespoons salted butter diced into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
- Add the white sugar and water to a large skillet. Do not stir. Cook over medium-high heat. About every 20 seconds or so, grab the skillet handle and give it a gentle shake back and forth a couple times. As the mixture cooks, it will begin to boil and start to darken.
- Once the water and sugar mixture turn to an amber color, immediately turn off heat and whisk in heavy cream. The mixture will furiously boil up. When it subsides, whisk in butter, bourbon and vanilla. Store in an airtight container and pour over your favorite desserts. Enjoy!
- To reach room temperature for the heavy cream, let it sit on the countertop for 30 minutes or heat it in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
- While you can make this in a nonstick skillet, a stainless steel skillet is easier because you can see the color change better.
- The caramel will thicken as it sits. If you need a more pourable consistency or to warm, simply warm in the microwave in short intervals and stir. Continue until it reaches your desired consistency and temperature.
- You can store this caramel in room temperature for about two weeks or in the refrigerator for about a month.
- Once the caramel starts to darken, it caramelizes quickly, so I recommend prepping and measuring all your ingredients before cooking.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.