Sugar Cooking Article -
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Sugar Cooking

How do you make caramel sauce? You just melt plain ol' white sugar.

Before You Get Started

There are two methods for cooking sugar: "wet" and "dry." For either method, you need a perfectly clean saucepan and clean white sugar--stray crumbs of any sort can cause the caramel sauce to crystallize, become grainy, and seize up.

    Dry Sugar Cooking Method

    For the dry cooking method, you simply heat sugar in a heavy saucepan until it melts and begins to brown. You don't stir the pan at all--you just watch it all happen from a safe distance. The browning (caramelization) of the molten sugar happens quickly.

    • To help prevent the caramel from crystallizing, you can add an acid to the sugar before you begin: add about half a tablespoon of lemon juice to each cup of sugar and mix it with your hands; it should be the consistency of wet sand.
    • Heat the sugar over medium-high heat until it melts. You can shake the pan gently to redistribute the melting sugar, but don't stir.
    • When the sugar is melted and caramelized, immediately remove the pan from the heat and submerge the bottom of the pan in a water bath to stop the cooking process. (You need a heavy pan for this step, or your cookware can warp.)

    Many of our recipes use the dry sugar cooking method:

    Wet Sugar Cooking Method

    Personally, I like this method better. I think that it's easier to get good results, because it gives you greater control over the degree of caramelization--you can stop at pale gold, or take it all the way to a deep amber…or even a mahogany color, for a burnt-sugar taste.

      Step 1

      You can use the wet sugar cooking method for any caramel sauce recipe: simply add 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of water to every cup of sugar in your recipe.

      To make the caramel, pour the water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar and heat over medium-high heat.

      • You can stir the pan to dissolve the sugar, but once the mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring: the agitation can promote crystallization, which will result in grainy caramel.
      • You can also use a lid on your pan to speed up the boiling process, but once it's boiling, leave the lid off: all of the water needs to evaporate before the sugar can start to caramelize.

        Step 2

        The water is boiling off and the sugar is just beginning to color.

          Step 3

          This is one of those tasks during which you "tie your apron strings to the stove," as one of my chef instructors used to say. You don't want to walk away, because sugar changes from golden to mahogany brown very quickly--you need to watch it constantly once it begins to color. (It's also a good idea to have ice water nearby, just as a precaution. Sugar burns are extremely painful, so be careful when working with caramel.)

            Step 4

            When you get to a nice medium caramel color, pull the pan from the stove and pour the caramel into ramekins if you're using the caramel for flan.

            Step 5

            If you're adding other ingredients like butter or cream, now's the time to do it. It'll spit and foam and rise up the sides of the pan, so be careful.

            Turn off the heat and keep stirring until the butter melts and the ingredients are all incorporated. (Adding cold cream will cause the caramel to harden; if that happens, keep cooking the sauce over low heat until it melts again.)

            Adding butter and cream to hot caramel will keep it soft and sauce-like--otherwise, it'll firm up solid and need to be melted again before you can use it (see the sidebar for a basic caramel sauce recipe). Drizzle your caramel sauce over ice cream, cheesecake, bread pudding, or in recipes like these:

            Sep. 1, 2009 7:29 pm
            The idea of adding homemade caramel sauce to an apple pie is ...I like to say...OMG (Oh My God!) Can't wait to try this one!
            Sep. 2, 2009 2:05 am
            Try this in apple pie (flavor of Taco Bell's), also in flan, for sauce on ice cream, etc.
            Sep. 2, 2009 10:54 am
            This sounds like it won't be difficult and what an extra "great" addition to an apple pie!
            Sep. 3, 2009 10:26 am
            My family's favorite is caramel apple pie, now I won't have to buy the ice cream topping or melt the caramel squares. Thanks!!
            Oct. 5, 2009 5:11 pm
            i would love to try this one
            Oct. 9, 2009 5:17 pm
            Going to put it on Chocolate cake tonight.
            Oct. 17, 2009 5:16 am
            sounds GOOOD
            Oct. 18, 2009 2:54 pm
            I use brown sugar...even better!!!!!!!!!!!
            lara s.j 
            Oct. 19, 2009 5:31 am
            glad i found this about how to make caramel i will try to make it and let you know it came out thank you ps i like caramel popcorn can you use it for that
            Oct. 20, 2009 1:35 pm
            OMG! I can't wait to try this! I always wondered how to make it! the recipe i had never ever worked!
            Dec. 9, 2009 2:30 pm
            i wonder if this is how i can make hard sugar drizzled is caramel in color and made of sugar and hard....
            Apr. 27, 2010 9:56 pm
            can't wait to try this and drizzle over popcorn!!
            Apr. 30, 2010 11:47 am
            This sounds great, i'm going to try it. Can't wait!
            Jun. 13, 2010 9:04 pm
            you can also try it on pancake stuffed with banana.....yummmmmmmy
            Sep. 28, 2011 6:52 am
            Don't know if anyone else knows this trick or if you can use it in these recipies but my mom always made caramel by placing a can of sweetend condensed milk in a pan of boiling water. When you open the can its caramel. We mostly used it with apples.
            Nov. 22, 2011 7:31 am
            I never knew white sugar melted into caramel - I'm really excited to try all the variations!
            Jan. 26, 2012 8:30 am
            Too bad Chef John didn't give this recipe for caramel when showing how to make caramel apple pie mine was swimming in liquid as he didn't give quantities
            Jan. 26, 2012 8:31 am
            Too bad Chef John didn't give this recipe for caramel when showing how to make caramel apple pie mine was swimming in liquid as he didn't give quantities
            Shelly & Tim 
            Feb. 11, 2012 9:42 pm
            When I make the caramel for my French Apple Caramel Raisin Pie,After I cook the apples in pan w/ all my sugar I remove the apples turn the heat up on the caramel syrup and while boiling add 1-2 tsp's of cornstarch...but I sift it in very little at a time all the while wisking to prevent clumps. Then remove the syrup from the pan and put into a bowl to cool for about 15 min. by then I can pour over the apples in the pietin. All readu to top w/pastry and bake. YUMM
            Shelly & Tim 
            Feb. 11, 2012 9:45 pm
            I won a blue ribbon at the fair two years in a row, both times I submitted my pies. First time I had ever won at the fair after many years of trying too! So it works!! There is no running juices in pie either. It stays together wonderfully when dishing up on plate. Incredible tip my grandmother shared with me and she had baked for over 70 years! Thanks Gram, I miss you sweetie!!
            May 23, 2012 1:33 pm
            Thanks for this, will use this info ASAP :)
            Jul. 15, 2012 12:01 pm
            can't wait to try to make it. We cook a lot of this in the Phils.
            Aug. 19, 2012 6:43 am
            very interesting to try recipes. Thanks
            Oct. 12, 2013 10:06 am
            trying for ths first time today, with a gord filling!
            Jul. 21, 2015 8:58 am
            Fal,when you use brown sugar you are making butterscotch not caramel.
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