The words “salted caramel” make a lot of people start to drool. For anyone who ever loved potato chips and chocolate together, the salted caramel craze takes that flavor obsession of salty and sweet to the ultimate heights. Long may this particular food fad live on! Unlike store-bought caramel sauces, which tend to have a one-note flavor—very sweet—this one has mellow depth, sweetness, and complexity from the homemade caramel, the salty butter, and the hint of vanilla. Don’t be tempted to increase the vanilla. You want a delicate hint, not an overwhelming top note. Kids don’t love alcohol in their desserts, to put it mildly, but if you were making this for adults only, I would highly recommend stirring a tablespoon or two of bourbon into the jug of warm sauce right before giving it to guests to pour over individual bowls of vanilla ice cream.
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter
- ½ cup whipping cream
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon kosher or flaky sea salt
- Put the sugar in the bottom of a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and pour in ⅓ cup of water slowly. Without stirring but watching all the time, heat the pan until the sugar melts and starts to brown. When it does, swirl the pan very gently to let the mixture brown evenly. (If you stir the sugar before it melts, you’ll push sugar crystals up the sides of the pan, and later these may cause your beautiful caramel to abruptly crystallize again.)
- Cook the caramel for 5 to 7 minutes, until it’s a rich, golden brown. Remove it from the heat and add the butter, stirring gently to melt it. Pour in the cream and stir to combine. Last, add the vanilla and salt.
- Cool the sauce completely and store it in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. It will firm up somewhat in the fridge, but you can reheat it gently to soften it before serving it again.