If you love the sweet, sticky taste of caramel, you need to learn how to make it yourself. There are so many things you can do with caramel sauce – toss it into popcorn, drizzle it on top of ice cream, dip apples in it, and even make your own caramel candy. If you have a sweet tooth, then caramel is like liquid gold.
It’s really easy to make your own caramel sauce. You don’t need any special equipment and there are no strange or hard-to-find ingredients. When you do it yourself, it always tastes better. You get to choose the ingredients and how much of each goes into your concoction. I remember when I made my own caramel sauce to make my own Caramel Popcorn – I was scared, but it turned out to be super-simple. Are you ready to turn your kitchen into your personal sweets factory and make your own caramel sauce? Here’s how to do it without any dairy.
1. What is Caramel Sauce?
First, let’s clarify what caramel sauce actually is. Basically, caramel sauce is sugar that is cooked until it becomes a dark liquid. The caramelized sugar gives you the sweet taste you love. Then cream and/or butter gets mixed in to give it that luscious, rich, smooth texture.
Caramel is not the same as toffee or butterscotch. While caramel is made with milk or cream, toffee is usually made with water and a lot more butter. It also has the sugar cooked until it’s hard enough to crack. Butterscotch is usually made with brown sugar and isn’t cooked as long.
When you want to make caramel sauce without any dairy, you just need to swap the milk or cream and butter with vegan versions of these ingredients. You can also use different types of sugar according to your tastes.
You don’t need any fancy equipment to make caramel sauce, not even a candy thermometer. You need a medium-sized saucepan (about 3 quarts) and a rubber spatula for stirring. That’s it.
3. Dairy Substitutes
There are a lot of choices when it comes to swapping out the dairy. Instead of dairy butter, you can use Homemade Vegan Butter. If you want your caramel sauce to have a chocolatey taste, try making this Homemade Cocoa-Coconut Butter.
You have tons of choices when it comes to the milk. Full-fat coconut milk is a popular choice because it is rich and thick, like cream. It’s best when you refrigerate the can of coconut milk for at least 4-6 hours or overnight, if possible. Then, use the thick cream and reserve the thinner liquid for something else. Coconut milk is used to make the caramel in these Gooey Salted Caramel Pecan Turtle Bars, Southern Pecan Caramel Sauce, and Maple Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce.
Other non-dairy milks can be used as well. Almond milk is used to make the caramel sauce in these Caramel Pecan Bars, Nutty Caramel Chocolate Buckwheat Slices, and Balsamic Caramel Swirl Bars. To help decide about non-dairy milks, check out Which Milk for What Recipe: A Non-Dairy Milk Guide for All Your Cooking and Baking Needs.
Besides butter and milk, sugar is the main ingredient in caramel sauce. Don’t worry, you don’t have to use refined white sugar if you don’t want to. Cane sugar is used to make these Churros with Lime Sugar and Caramel Sauce and this Panna Cotta with Caramel Sauce. I personally love using brown sugar, which contains molasses because it has a richer, deeper flavor. Brown sugar is used in this Caramel Apple Cookie Skillet and this Salted Caramel and Chocolate Cake.
Maple syrup and molasses are both rich, thick, and perfect for making caramel. They are used in combination in this Maple Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce. Maple syrup and brown sugar combine in these Peanut Butter Baby Cakes with Salted Caramel while this Caramel Cheesecake has both maple syrup and dates. Dates alone are used in this Healthy Date Caramel and Baked Cheesecake Stuffed Apples.
5. How to Make Caramel Sauce
Now that you know what ingredients and equipment you need, it’s time to make your caramel sauce. Here’s how I make mine. First, you need to caramelize the sugar. Melt 1/2 cup vegan butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Mix in about 2/3 cup sweetener and raise the heat to medium-high (alternatively, you can use sugar and water and skip the butter or add it at the end). Stir often and bring the mixture to a boil. It will start bubbling around the edges of the saucepan and then the whole mixture will start bubbling. Don’t get scared, it’s exciting!
Now, the color will start to change. Slowly, the sugar will darken; stir to make sure it cooks evenly. Keep cooking until the caramel sauce is as dark as you want it. The sauce will be lighter and sweeter if you cook it a short time. The longer it cooks, the darker it will get and the deeper the flavor will be. Usually, you will cook it for less than five minutes. Don’t let it start to smoke.
Once you have the color you want, you can add other flavors such as vanilla, salt, and even peanut butter, and bourbon as in this Peanut Butter Caramel Popcorn with Bourbon. Reduce the heat to low and keep stirring so the sauce is smooth. Now it’s time to add about 1/2 cup milk or cream.
Make sure the milk is warm or at least at room temperature so the sugar doesn’t seize. Pour the milk or cream in a little bit at a time, while continuously stirring. The sauce will bubble up; continue adding the milk while stirring.
Once the milk or cream has been added, turn the heat back to high and bring the sauce to a boil while stirring so the mixture is smooth. Cook it until it is as thick as you want it, about 5-10 minutes. Now it’s ready to use but if you aren’t going to use it right away, transfer the sauce to a heat-proof container, cover and refrigerate. To reheat your caramel sauce, just warm it back up in a saucepan or in the microwave and stir it to keep it smooth.
6. Raw Caramel Sauce
If you’re raw, you can still enjoy an ooey-gooey caramel sauce. All you need is a blender, some dates, coconut oil, and flavorings such as vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon or whatever you like. This Raw Vegan Chocolate Caramel Pecan Cake has a sweet, creamy spiced caramel sauce that’s raw. You’ll also want to try these Salted Caramel and Mint Chocolate Energy Bites, Raw Caramel Apples, and this raw Healthy Date Caramel. You get all the ooey-gooey goodness with no cooking. That’s a win-win!
7. More Recipes
Congrats! You’ve made your own caramel sauce. Here are some more ways to use it. Drizzle it over fresh-made doughnuts like these Mini Doughnut Balls with Caramel Dipping Sauce. Stir it into mousse like this Salted Chocolate Caramel Mousse or ice cream like this Hand-Churned Bourbon Salted Caramel Apple Ice Cream. Turn it into candy like these Salted Gingerbread Caramels, Chocolate and Salted Date Caramel Cups with Pecans, and Homemade Vegan Caramel Apples.
Indulge in this Snickers-Inspired Chocolate, Caramel and Peanut Butter Pie, Chocolate Caramel Doughnuts, and Almond Cacao Cookies with Salted Maca Caramel. Finally, you can also drink it in this Vanilla Caramel Smoothie.
Now that you know how easy it is to make your own dairy-free caramel sauce, all sorts of sweet deliciousness awaits you. What will you make with your caramel sauce? Tell us in the comments.
Lead image source: Mini Doughnut Balls with Caramel Dipping Sauce
Are there any options for oil or fat free versions?