The key ingredient in caramel may be sugar, but this classic dessert sauce is much more than just sweet: It has an irresistibly nutty, buttery, bittersweet flavor. Caramel gets its complexity from a process appropriately known as caramelization: When sugar is heated to high enough temperatures, it undergoes an array of chemical reactions that create new flavor compounds. For our classic caramel, we made our recipe foolproof by adding water to ensure that the sugar fully dissolved, avoiding the common pitfalls of burning and crystallization (which occur when the sugar cooks unevenly). This method lent itself nicely to flavor variations, like our Caramel-Chocolate-Pecan Sauce.
Makes about 1½ cups
We prefer an instant-read thermometer for measuring the temperature of caramel. To ensure an accurate reading, swirl the caramel to even out hot spots, then tilt the pot so that the caramel pools 1 to 2 inches deep. Move the thermometer back and forth for about 5 seconds before taking a reading.
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
⅓ cup water
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
¾ cup heavy cream
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, chilled
½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
1. Bring sugar, water, and corn syrup to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is straw-colored, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, swirling saucepan occasionally, until caramel is amber-colored, 2 to 5 minutes. (Caramel will register between 360 and 370 degrees.)
2. Off heat, carefully stir in cream; mixture will bubble and steam. Stir in chocolate and butter and let sit for 3 minutes. Whisk sauce until smooth and chocolate is fully melted. Stir in pecans, vanilla, and salt. Let cool slightly. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; gently warm in microwave, stirring every 10 seconds, until pourable, before using.)