I tend to cheat when I make caramel by using brown sugar. It's easy to achieve the caramel color when you start with it, right? But the thing about using brown sugar is that the sugar doesn't caramelize, so it's not a true caramel. So this was the first time I've made a true caramel sauce, and it won't be the last.
I'm not going to lie to you and say it can be done in 10 minutes. Well, maybe it can but it took me much longer. One of the annoying things about making caramel sauce is that when you add the cream, it lumps together and then you have this clumpy mess and you're left with this inedible sugar rock and cream floating around it. Or maybe that's just me. But....if you keep cooking it on low heat, the rock of sugar will melt again and it will get smooth and creamy like the picture above. Or below. You just have to patient (which is definitely not my virtue). However, this is so worth it. When you stick a spoon of it in your mouth, you will want to sit with the jar, devour the entire thing, and then wonder accusingly who ate all the caramel. Trust me.
This took me an hour to make but I know how to shorten that time. Use a large pan. Either a saucepan or a skillet. I used a 6-inch saucepan, and it took forever. If you have a bigger surface area to caramelize the sugar, it will happen quicker (duh!). So I highly recommend doing that because the sooner you can get this in your mouth, the better. Seriously.
Vanilla Bean Salted Caramel Sauce Recipe
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1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in addition to the vanilla below)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large heavy bottom pan, spread the sugar in an even layer and turn the heat on medium low. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and add them to the cream. Heat the cream in the microwave for about 1 minute so it's not really cold.
Keep an eye on the sugar without stirring, and once the edges start to liquify, slowly stir the sugar together until it all melts and is liquid. If it starts to turn brown too quickly, turn the heat to medium. If it starts to clump, turn the heat to low and let it melt. Don't stir too often so it can liquify.
Once it's liquid and is a deep amber color (you can test a drop on a white plate if you need), slowly add the cream while whisking. Be careful because it will boil violently. If it clumps (good chance it will), return the pan to the burner on medium low and slowly whisk it until it melts. While you're stirring it, add in the sea salt and extract. Once the sauce is completely smooth, remove it from the heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes and then place it in a heat-proof container (like a mason jar). Store in the fridge for up to one month.
Source: Smells Like Home