Making caramel sauce is simple, and additions of sea salt, lavender or even chilies take a basic sauce and make it into something special. This holiday season, I made mine boozy with an infusion of maple bourbon.
What's Maple Bourbon?
Maple bourbon is the most popular flavor of bourbon on the market now with big guys like Jim Beam and Knob Creek topping the list of producers. It's a sweeter style and works well in lots of hot cocktails, after dinner drinks and desserts.
Bring the sugar to a simmer over medium-high heat.
Cooking Caramel: Some Visual Tips
Cooking caramel doesn't require a candy thermometer, just some patience. You begin with a clean pot and and combine your sugar, water and corn syrup. You cook this until the sugar reaches an amber color. Not sure what amber is exactly? Let your bourbon be your guide. Once your sugar mixture begins to resemble the same color as your bourbon, you should remove it from the heat. Take a look at the progression above and use it as a reference when cooking your own caramel sauce.
Once you remove it from the heat, you want to let the sugar cool for a couple of minutes before adding the cream. And add your heavy cream very slowly or else it will bubble over (use caution and a long-handled whisk, as it will also steam up aggressively). After adding your cream and bourbon, your sugar may seize up a little bit (a.k.a. have some lumps). If so, simply place it back on the heat and stir until smooth.
Gifting Caramel Sauce
For any thick sauces or jams, I like to store them in wide mouth jars to make it easier to spoon it out. Be sure your sauce is room temperature before jarring it up for gifts. You don't want to crack your pretty glass containers with steaming hot caramel sauce.
Whether I'm dressing up a jar of my honey or bringing a bottle of wine, I always grab my shears and head outside for some seasonal flair. This time of year, evergreens or holly bushes make the best trimmings for presents, especially homemade gifts. Simply wrap a ribbon around the jar, and voila, you have a delicious homemade gift that's perfect for dipping fruit, drizzling on waffles or pancakes — and ice cream, too!
Maple Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Makes 2 1/2 cups
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup maple bourbon (see Recipe Note)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
In a medium to large saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and stop whisking or stirring after it comes to a full boil. Boil vigorously for 5 to 10 minutes until the sugar reaches an amber color (the same color as bourbon!). If you see smoke immediately remove the pan from the heat.
Remove the pan of sugar from the heat and let it sit for 2 minutes. Very slowly add in the cream, and whisk to combine. Use caution as the caramel will bubble and steam up aggressively. Add the maple bourbon, and stir to combine. If you see lumps in the sauce at this point, put the pan back on the heat for one minute, stirring or whisking constantly until smooth.
Remove the caramel from heat and stir in the vanilla. Cool completely before transferring to jars or bottles. This caramel sauce should be stored in the refrigerator and can be kept for up to 2 weeks.
- Maple bourbon is a style of bourbon made by several producers, like Jim Beam and Knob Creek. Pick one and give it a try!
- Let your bourbon guide you on color. Typically it is amber in color so aim to bring your boiling sugar water mixture to the same color.
(Image credits: Maureen Petrosky)