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Caramel So Easy, Even a Parent Can Make It

Caramel and I have a history, and it ain’t a good one. Catastrophic is more like it. I’m not a candy-maker, in fact even after the aforementioned debacles I still haven’t acquired a candy thermometer. I figure it’ll be used so infrequently, why bother?

Well, thank heaven for Cooks Illustrated, is all I can say. Towards the back of the March 2011 issue there’s a small piece about making caramel in the microwave. When I hit the last sentence, “Caramel doesn’t get any easier than this,” I was intrigued. I’ve been fantasizing about a new version of my homemade Samoas for a while now, and next weekend I’m attending an event that simply screams for them. Making my own caramel—one that seemed easy enough for a candy dunce like me—would be so much more exciting than opening several dozen wrappers from the store-bought kind.

Folks, I must testify: Praise be to Cooks Illustrated! This is life-changing, if caramel is as important to you as it is to me. I had a lovely jug of caramel sauce at the ready less than ten minutes after I started measuring. Can’t beat that, no how.

Now all I need is some vanilla ice cream. And maybe some apple pie…

Microwave Caramel Sauce
You don’t really want Weight Watchers info for this, do you?

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons of water
Small squeeze of lemon juice (a fraction of a teaspoon)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter, softened

1. Put the sugar, corn syrup, water, and lemon juice in a 2-cup microwave-safe measuring cup or glass bowl, and stir gently. Microwave on high for 5 to 8 minutes, until it’s just barely changing color. Watch carefully—if you wait even a few seconds too long, it will overcook and taste bitter.

The caramel, seconds after I pulled it out. It’s already a little too brown.
2. Remove it from the microwave and put it on a dry surface—leave it alone for 5 minutes, or until it darkens to a deep amber shade.

Here it is about four minutes later. Very, very brown. I started adding cream at this point, since I was afraid it would keep going.

3. While that’s sitting, heat the heavy cream in a one-cup glass measure—30 to 40 seconds on high should do it. Grab a whisk and drizzle in the cream, a bit at a time. The caramel will bubble furiously, so whisk away to keep it from going too nuts. When all the cream is added, add the butter. This’ll stay good in the fridge for a week or two, at least.

MAKE BABY FOOD: I don’t have to say it, do I? While this isn’t dangerous for babies (except when it’s hot—caramel burns are nasty), it’s a big vat of sugar. If your tot sneaks a fingerful off your plate no worries, but I wouldn’t exactly spoon this into a baby’s mouth.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Ann

    Yum. I am definitely going to try this. We all love caramel, my husband especially. Do you typically keep corn syrup in the house? How long does it last for? Are there other good uses?

  2. debbie koenig

    Ann, I do keep corn syrup in the house (Karo brand, it comes in light and dark but I only use light, generally). It's not the same as HFCS, so don't be scared! With caramel, it helps to prevent crystallization, and I've got a handful of other recipes that call for it. It lasts pretty much forever, when stored in a cool, dark place.

  3. Jess

    I keep Corn Syrup in the house too. I sometimes use it for 7-minute frosting if I don't want to do buttercream. (Egg whites + corn syrup…)

    It's not the same as HFCS?! Please explain. I feel guilty every time I use it.

    And it seems to keep forever, btw.

  4. debbie koenig

    Jess, this is from Karo's web site:

    "High fructose corn syrup and corn syrup are distinctly different products. When Karo was introduced in 1902, it did not contain high fructose corn syrup. Sometime in the 1970's, it was added to the Karo light and pancake syrups. As a result of consumer requests, the high fructose corn syrup has now been removed and all Karo products are high fructose corn syrup free."

    HFCS starts as "regular" corn syrup, I believe, and is then much more highly processed.

  5. Nisrine, Dinners and Dreams

    I like the title 🙂

    This does indeed seem easy.


  6. Moe Rubenzahl,

    Corn syrup is glucose (the most basic plant sugar), also known as dextrose. It's not as sweet as sucrose (table sugar).

    HFCS, high-fructose corn syrup, is made from corn starch and an enzyme reaction. Except for originating from corn and having a similar-sounding name, the two are completely different.

    Corn syrup is used in caramel and candies because it is a different kind of sugar and the similar-but-different molecules interfere with crystallization. You know how you make rock candy? Glucose in with the sucrose prevents that.

    Corn syrup is shelf stable and lasts for years.

    (Interesting that Karo used to contain HFCS. I didn't know that.)

  7. Kim

    This is awesome! I just finished making my first batch… I WILL be making this again :-). Thanks for the pictures, too… They were extremely helpful & made it less intimidating!

  8. debbie koenig

    Moe, thanks for that incredibly easy-to-understand science lesson!

    And Kim, YAY! So happy it worked for you. Thanks for letting me know.

  9. This is awesome! I just finished making my first batch… I WILL be making this again. Thanks for the pictures, too… They were extremely helpful & made it less intimidating!

  10. Carol Richards

    Watch it carefully is right! I have a newer Panasonic model SN667 and it took about 3 mins to get to the point where it was just starting to change color, almost exactly like your picture, which you described as a little too dark. I removed it from the micro, and it continued to darken, whereupon I began adding the cream after about another 3 mins, as it was still boiling away happily.

    Explosive would be the term for the reaction when I added the warm cream. Be ready for it, again and again and again.

    The final product is just a little bitter, but not too bad. Next time, I will take the sugar mixture out just a few seconds earlier. It will then sit a little longer than I dared let this one, and the consistency will probably be a little thicker (this one is a little thin), and should not have any bitterness.

    Wish me luck!

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