Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

This is my favorite, go-to salted butter caramel sauce. There are no real tricks or fancy techniques. And while staying in friend’s houses, I realized I didn’t have my usual arsenal of equipment so was limited in what I could make. This post raised the ire of some, who thought it wasn’t polite to bring cooking equipment when staying with others, but if you’ve tried to dice an onion with a paring knife that cuts like a butter knife or make a cake in an oven that has two settings; on, and off, you realize that good equipment does make cooking and baking easier.

I begged off baking anything because I’m in the midst of working on a book and wasn’t up for a scavenger hunt for ingredients and tools, which can happen in the countryside in France, when even food shops are closed, as everyone deserves a break. (Except for writers.)

While I am sort of on vacation this summer, when Romain made my ridiculously easy Chocolate Idiot Cake, and I was able to pull myself away from my writing to make add this sauce, to serve alongside.

it’s a shame that salted butter has been demonized by the baking community for so long. I, too, was probably guilty of that. But I’ve changed my tune and have apologized for it. Salted butter adds a deeper butter flavor to baked goods, like chocolate chip cookies, chocolate sauce, and French sablés (butter cookies), for example. The late Judy Rodgers made excellent puff pastry with salted butter as well.

Gone are the days when salt was added to preserve freshness (thankfully, most of us have refrigeration now) and the best quality butter I’ve had was in Normandy and Brittany, where salted butter is the name of the game.

In France, we’re fortunate to get beurre demi-sel, and butter with sizable crystals of sea salt in it. There are no hard and fast rules for how much salt is in salted butter, but if you want to use unsalted butter, for every 4 ounces/115g, there’s approximately 1/4 teaspoon of salt added.

Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
Print Recipe
About 1 1/2 cups (355ml)
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop, Revised and UpdatedThis sauce is easy to make. The trick is to get the caramel base as dark as possible, in step #2, close to burnt, but not quite. The caramel will start to smoke, and a few seconds later, will smell rich and caramelized. That's the moment to remove it from the heat and add the cream. For more guidance and photos, check out my post: How to make the perfect caramel.If you wish to use unsalted butter, you can add an additional scant 1/4 teaspoon of flaky salt to the finished sauce, or to taste. A few readers found the sauce to be on the salty side (I use fleur de sel de Guérande), but sea salts can vary. So you might want to start by using 1/2 teaspoon in step #3, then adding more, to taste.In lieu of the vanilla extract, you could add a half vanilla bean, split lengthwise to the butter and sugar in the first step.
6 tablespoons (3oz, 85g) salted butter, cubed
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream, warmed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon, or to taste (see headnote)
1. Melt butter and sugar together in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat, one that will hold at least 4 quarts (4l), but I recommend one that's larger, if possible.
2. Continue to cook the sugar and butter together, stirring frequently, until the color is deep golden brown and it starts to smoke. For best results, I cook the mixture until it smells a little smoky, too, but be careful to find the balance between well-browed, and the moment before it's burnt, which is when it's ready to have the cream added. It should be the color of an old copper penny.
3. Immediately remove from heat and gradually pour in the warm cream, stirring constantly, until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and salt.

Note: If for some reason the sauce seizes up when you add the cream, you've probably added it too quickly, or it wasn't warm. You can gently warm the sauce over low heat and stir into any bits of caramel are dissolved. If some stubborn bits remain, you can strain them out.

Storage: The sauce can be made up to two weeks in advance and stored in a jar in the refrigerator. It was be rewarmed by placing the jar in a saucepan of warm water, or in a microwave oven.


An incredibly delicious Salted Butter Caramel Sauce!

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43 comments

  • Claire
    August 21, 2018 3:50pm

    My very favorite sauce for all sorts of cakes and ice creams! I could drink this stuff!

  • A
    August 21, 2018 3:56pm

    I noticed that some recipes for caramel sauce include lemon juice. Is that something you’ve tested?

    • Dennis D
      August 21, 2018 4:21pm

      I believe it prevent recrystallization of the sugar during the cooking.

      • August 21, 2018 6:22pm
        David Lebovitz

        Yes, lemon juice is considered an “interfering agent” to prevent sugar from crystallizing when making caramel, usually when made with sugar and water. Since this is made with cream, I haven’t had issues with crystallization with this recipe and I’ve made it a lot.

  • littleblackdomicile
    August 21, 2018 5:14pm

    Such real photos make us all feel we are awaiting the next spoonful!

  • Mark Fredrickson
    August 21, 2018 5:24pm

    David,

    First Thank you for all the posts. We really enjoy. Love the touch of Paris you provide.

    Can you define the “candy thermometer temperature” for when to stop the candy at? ‘soft crack’ / ‘hard crack’ / … Thanks…

  • Lindsey Shere
    August 21, 2018 5:36pm

    One of my very favorite sauces! And thank you for standing up for salted butter-I’ve always liked using it.

    • August 21, 2018 6:22pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, salted butter is so good! : )

  • usi
    August 21, 2018 6:07pm

    I enjoy your blog – and cooking from your books – enormously; thank you for all those entertaining posts! And I want to support you in taking your essential gear when cooking in someone else’s kitchen. When people ask one to do something in their home, the request always comes with the unspoken expectation that it will be as good as what they had in your own place – but usually the batterie leaves something to be desired. Experience has taught me always to take my knives and even important serving pieces!

  • Charlene
    August 21, 2018 6:26pm

    Going to make this today! Once when visiting my husband’s elderly aunts, I needed to chop nuts for Christmas cookies and they handed me a 3″ paring knife and a cutting board the size of a dessert plate. Ever since, I have packed a chef’s knife and a flexible cutting mat. Since they also don’t have a decent soup pot, I have taken to packing my 6-qt. All-Clad stockpot, too! It really doesn’t take up that much room–you can fill it with clothes. One time we switched carry-on and checked bags at the last minute and yes, the chef’s knife ended up in my carry-on! TSA was nice enough to walk me back to the airline desk to get my bag checked!

  • june2
    August 21, 2018 6:58pm

    For all the vegans out there, this totally works with (puritans, close your ears!), alternative butters like earth balance and coconut milk from a can. I’ve made pralines too, which is almost the same recipe, and they are both delicious.

  • August 21, 2018 6:58pm

    100% agree on having your arsenal. So many people do not like to cook because they don’t know they need more than a paring knife. BTW, what cream do you buy in France for the caramel sauce?

    • August 21, 2018 7:02pm
      David Lebovitz

      I buy one of the liquid creams, listed here.

      • Paula H
        August 23, 2018 2:21pm

        I was just about to ask the same when I saw this…I’m now living in France (beautiful Uzès) and now make my own half and half for coffee. Did you use crème entière for this, and does it matter which heavier cream I Use?

        • August 23, 2018 3:04pm
          David Lebovitz

          Most “heavy cream” in France is around 30% butterfat and I’ve used that successfully, as well as American heavy cream, which is usually 36% butterfat. You can use either crème entière or crème liquide. You could also use full-fat crème fraîche, although the sauce would be thicker, and richer. I haven’t tried the lower-fat creams in France, but if someone does, let me know how they work out.

  • Bobbie
    August 21, 2018 7:00pm

    Cannot wait to make this if just to eat out of the jar with a spoon! I too travel with my own “equipment”; from measuring spoons, cups and ingredients to my KitchenAid mixer. I have a separate set of items just for traveling.

  • August 21, 2018 7:11pm

    Thanks for this recipe. I will make it soon.

    I always take my knives when i expect to cook at someone’s house. I also take my sharpening stones and put an edge on their knives if they are somewhat decent and will hold an edge.

  • Janet
    August 21, 2018 8:05pm

    I want to drink it…
    David, what is your new book about? When will I be able to preorder it?

  • Ray
    August 21, 2018 9:18pm

    Your honest writing just makes me laugh out loud! Thanks for your blog! Question: Do you think its possible to double the batch of caramel?

  • P Adams, Seattle
    August 21, 2018 11:23pm

    David, you can come to my house any time with your full arsenal. I can’t imagine anyone thinking it is impolite when you are bringing the gift of cooking. I once took my duck press to a friend’s house! Of course, we had a great production using it for a memorable gathering.

    I like salted butter too. Unsalted butter may make sense for a professional bakery with a need for precision recipes but, for the rest of us, the type of salt used to add it back in is going to make more of a difference.

    Think of all the time we miss out on enjoying perfectly lovely things like rose wine or iceberg lettuce because it may be out of favor. Instead of recognizing everything has its place, we make it a fad or demonize it.

    Thank you as always for your wonderful recipes and especially your delightful writing. I love caramel sauce and it’s probably what’s on for dinner tonight.

  • Kate
    August 21, 2018 11:59pm

    Romain made you cake, so sweet. I’ve been a bit meh at salted caramel but love your recipes. Also…More vacation time for you! Although it makes me laugh, part 2 of the instructions find the balance between well-browed. Please leave it until September. Frida’s Salted Caramel Sauce?

  • Sarahb1313
    August 22, 2018 1:17am

    OMG, that is my go to dessert- idiot cake with salted caramel sauce.
    Can I confess that I may add a splash of bourbon… to both?
    It has become one of the most requested treat that I make. Even at work for birthdays.
    Thank you. I have both recipes from your first book.
    One question, though- the idiot cake and orbit cake recipes are slightly different in proportions… any reason??

  • S. Lorenz
    August 22, 2018 2:17am

    Very random question, but for the flaky sea salt, do you measure it as is (big flakes), or do you crush it a bit and then measure? Thanks!

  • Maxim
    August 22, 2018 8:27am

    Thanks for this. I’ll add it to my short list of holiday gifts to make for coworkers.
    New book, aye? Can you tell us its theme?
    Thanks again and best wishes.

  • August 22, 2018 9:17am

    S.Lorenz: I just measure it in a teaspoon. Salt really varies so you can use your intuition as to how much you’d like to add. If unsure, start with a smaller amount, taste, and add more if necessary or desired.

    sarahb1313: I don’t know the particulars of any differences but I came up with that recipe over 20 years ago and have probably made a few minor tweaks over the years. Romain made it with 3/4 cups (150g) sugar, slightly less than the recipe, and it came out fine, so that’s his version : )

    Ray: Yes, this recipe can be doubled easily (or tripled, etc.)

    Maxim & Janet: Thanks for your interest. I’m still working on the book and it won’t be out for a while as it takes a long time to write an entire book (I wish it was faster!)

  • Nancy
    August 22, 2018 5:21pm

    Hi David,
    LOVE. YOUR. RECIPES. Just made this mouth-watering sauce but I do have a question. I used salted butter and added fleur de sel as well. Should I have? Found it a tad salty, when tasting it alone—and I am an absolute salt fanatic. I know it will be delicious on ice cream, because the sugar in the ice cream should balance the salt. But for future reference, should the amount of salt added change here when using salted butter?

    • August 22, 2018 6:02pm
      David Lebovitz

      hi Nancy: I’ve made this recipe a lot using the proportions here, and I use pretty salty salted butter and no one’s ever mentioned it was too salty. If your batch is, you could make another batch (or half-batch) without any salt, using unsalted butter, and mix them together. That should work!

  • CarolG
    August 22, 2018 5:45pm

    Making this today! I have 20 lbs of Gravenstein Apples I am working through and was going to use my old standby Caramel Sauce, but this will be ideal. Made French Apple Tart yesterday and will be making Julia’s “Apple Snow” today. Absolutely loved the old post on bringing your arsenal; I do too! Meyer Lemons top of list, with knives and olive oil. Immensely enjoy the blog, your books and the photography. Still using your new camera?

  • nicole
    August 22, 2018 9:51pm

    ooh, I can’t wait to try this. I’ve been working on a plain cake with peaches, and this might be just the thing to go with it. Thank you!

    • Sue Story
      August 22, 2018 10:43pm

      Oh yes peaches have a brilliant affinity with caramel, as do apples.
      I make a similar caramel sauce with cream but no butter. What difference does the butter make? Mine keeps for months in the fridge.

  • Erik
    August 23, 2018 11:14am

    Very tasty. Highly recommended.

  • BelleD
    August 23, 2018 6:10pm

    I grew up baking with salted butter because it was really the one butter I could find at the supermarket. I always made sure to leave out any salt in the recipe. Usually, leaving in the salt & using the salted butter, did not make a difference as far as I could tell. Then I stopped using salted butter because the experts were telling me that unsalted was so much better and you could control the amount of salt that way. Glad to see the tide is turning once again.

  • Caroline Turnbull-Hall
    August 24, 2018 12:29am

    Thank you for the idiot cake recipe. i made it at our holiday house and so easy and delicious.

  • Bebe
    August 24, 2018 10:44pm

    Generations of excellent cooks and bakers in my family used good salted butter. My late Mother said salted butter pointed up other flavors, especially sweet. So I have continued to use it.

    Frankly, I thought the unsalted butter fad was a conceit. It is good spread on a fresh croissant or baguette, but in cooking it causes a need for salt, so what is the point?

    Your very real approach to this is one of the reasons I’ve come to this site for so long. Excellent reporting on the Paris scene and your travels; great recipes; a common sense blogger.

    As for traveling with tools, there were so many times when I wished I could have done so. Many kitchens are pretty pathetic.

    Love reading you…

  • August 25, 2018 6:28am

    Thank you for standing up for salted butter! Also, yum!

  • Margaret
    August 25, 2018 8:59pm

    I’d like to make this along with the Chocolate Idiot Cake — if I can’t find Valrhona, would you recommend using Guittard or Ghirardelli chocolate (the two options at my supermarket besides Bakers) — thank you.

    • Margaret
      August 25, 2018 9:28pm

      I just found your chocolate FAQ’s…. thanks!

  • rainey
    August 28, 2018 1:35am

    I have been using salted butter in my baking for 50 years. I never was convinced that I should switch to unsalted because I find the flavor of unsalted really inadequate. As a result I really enjoyed seeing the ranks swell with such an authoritative voice!

    The sauce is lovely. A bit salty to my taste but that’s an easily adjusted personal preference.

    I’m not adept at caramel so I chickened out about pushing it to the boundary of burned and substituted a smokey sea salt instead. Now I am not referring to one of those oily carbonized things. This was a salt perfumed with smoke. (Falksalt for anyone in the US who’s interested.) And it worked like a charm to deepen the flavor while preserving my nerves.

    Thanks for an affirming entry and a great recipe!

  • Dana
    August 28, 2018 1:46am

    Best sauce ever. Seriously yum! Thanks.

  • Kristen
    September 2, 2018 4:57am

    Thanks for sharing! Your blog and instagram postings are so wonderful.

  • September 5, 2018 1:47am

    This looks amazing! There is so much you could do with this. I can’t wait to try it. Thanks for sharing!

  • Melissa
    September 6, 2018 3:03am

    TRIED to make this recipe this weekend. I have a question about using salted Irish butter. The couple times I’ve had to melt it seems to divide and does not mix into the recipe. I’m not giving up just yet! Try and try again!

    • September 6, 2018 8:37am
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve only baked with Kerrygold butter from Ireland, not any other Irish butter, and never had a problem with it breaking. If that’s happening, once the sauce is finished, and cooled, try blending it with an electric blender and see if that binds it together.