As I was purchasing my favorite vanilla bean ice cream a few months ago, a friendly cashier asked me if I had tried a flavor called Homemade Vanilla. He enthusiastically reported that Turkey Hill Dairy uses twice as much vanilla in this variety, which was all the push I needed to speed walk back to the frozen section and make a quick swap.
Since receiving that tidbit of information, “homemade” vanilla has been my go-to flavor. (And let’s face it, no one ever asks for less vanilla flavor, right?) Although divine in its own right, a simple sauce can elevate a humble bowl of ice cream to a truly special dessert. In fact, on Christmas Day, my family foregoes pie in favor of vanilla ice cream and a platter of cookies. It’s easy and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser–especially when the ice cream is accompanied by a drizzle of homemade caramel or salted hot fudge sauce.
Until now, I hadn’t shared my classic caramel sauce recipe because the process was inherently finicky. Generally speaking, caramelizing sugar presents a very small margin of error. The traditional method of cooking the sugar and butter until the perfect amber shade is reached is subjective and hard to time precisely. Misjudging by just a few seconds causes the sugar to burn—and even the tiniest burn ruins the flavor of the entire batch. Of course, if you happen to nail that step, there’s still a mad splattering of hot sugar to be faced when the cream is added.
But there’s a better way…
As it turns out, the secret to a foolproof caramel sauce offers the added bonus of streamlining the whole process. Combining all of the ingredients at the beginning makes it harder to singe the sugar and easier to control the final outcome.
To ensure a perfect drizzling consistency and make this recipe truly reliable, I timed the process precisely and included tips to judge whether the heat should be adjusted. This helps account for minor differences in stoves, pots, etc., and renders a thermometer unnecessary.
During the holidays, I sometimes replace the cream in my classic recipe with egg nog. I use Turkey Hill Egg Nog, which contains pure cream, fresh milk and touch of nutmeg. Those who don’t care for eggnog never know it’s in there, yet the warm spices offer a little something special. I wouldn’t recommend light or reduced fat eggnog options in this recipe, and keep in mind that fresh cream can be used when seasonal eggnog isn’t readily available. Come to think of it, I bet you could melt just enough of that mouth-watering ice cream I was talking about–or even Turkey Hill’s special edition Egg Nog ice cream–if that’s what you have on hand.
- 1/4 cup (56 grams) butter (I use salted; unsalted is fine, too)
- 1 cup (200 grams) lightly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) eggnog
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- Chop the butter into four pieces. Add the butter and all of the remaining ingredients to a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, whisking or stirring the whole time.
- Cook, stirring constantly, for 7 minutes. At the 5-minute mark, the mixture should be starting to simmer. (See tips.) For the final 2 minutes, the sauce should be at a good simmer but not a full rolling boil. After 7 minutes, remove from the heat. The sauce should be a little thinner than you would like it to be, as it will thicken upon cooling. (Resist the urge to taste without cooling because the mixture will be HOT.)
- Allow the sauce to cool slightly and serve warm, or cool completely and transfer to a jar. The caramel sauce will keep in the refrigerator for approximately 2 weeks. Reheat gently.
- Preheat the burner if your stovetop is electric.
- The mixture should be starting to simmer at the 5-minute mark. Adjust the heat up slightly if the mixture is not beginning to simmer at this point, or down if it begins to simmer before.
- Use a medium-size pot. It offers a little more surface area than a small one, and the sauce will cook more evenly as a result.
- Stir or whisk constantly.
- The sauce should be a little runny when you remove it from the heat. It will thicken as it cools—but won’t be too thick.
- I don’t recommend doubling the batch. When additional sauce is needed, I have better success making separate batches.
The above-mentioned Homemade Vanilla variety was sold out when I purchased this container of ice cream…I guess I’m not the only fan! Optionally, for those who want a double dose of seasonal flavor, keep your eye out for Egg Nog ice cream, below.