Vanilla Caramel Sauce Without a Candy Thermometer


On my quest for my perfect brownie recipe – I currently have four brownie recipes on this blog including cheesecake and dulce de leche – I came across No Recipe’s Vanilla Caramel Brownie, which uses his vanilla caramel sauce as the sweetener. I tried to the brownie recipe and the taste is amazing, especially with extra caramel sauce drizzled on top. But the texture is still too fudgy/ truffle-y for me.

Vicky Pham-Le’s brownie recipe  has the perfect texture of chewiness and denseness, and I’m thinking of adding a bit of baking powder in my next iteration and seeing what happens. But we’ve gotten off topic, because that vanilla caramel sauce is the bomb! Your run of the mill salted caramel sauce has nothing on this!

Onto modifications. I don’t have a candy thermometer and one of my ongoing cooking demons is wet caramel, so I made a dry caramel instead. A wet caramel is made with water, while a dry caramel isn’t. Crystallization is one of the problems of caramel making (here’s a post where I talk more about caramel and vanilla beans), and for me, it’s always been easier without water. David Lebovitz has an excellent post about caramel with lots of helpful pictures. I also added a little extra heavy cream…because I had a cup and what was I supposed to do with a ¼ cup of heavy cream. This means that my sauce is still drizzle-worthy straight from the fridge!

No vanilla bean, no worries! You can use 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract in a pinch. Marc says so in his comments, so yea!

I suggest that you use a light colored pan, because you’ll get a more accurate gauge of the color of the caramel. Now, caramel making without a candy thermometer is like the game of chicken. I think I’ve written about that elsewhere. You want to get it as dark and complex –think nutty, smoky, and toasty—without burning it. Too late, and you got a pot of black tar. Too early, and it’s just brown sugar syrup. You can also check the color with a spoon.


Now, you do not want to make this in a small pot, because it will bubble up two or three inches once you add the heavy cream. For safety purposes, I put on a kitchen glove and grabbed the longest whisk in the kitchen. Marc cooks his caramel to 330F; I don’t have a candy thermometer so I’m not sure how hot my caramel is, but you don’t definitely don’t want any getting on your skin.

And lastly, no caramel post would be complete without cleanup. I fill my pots with hot water immediately and throw in my utensils as well. Then I return them to the stove over very low heat. Within minutes, most of the caramel has melted away. There is enough fat in the recipe that it’s not the glass-cement of your typical caramel, but I find melting the sugar with plenty of water makes for an easier dishes experience.

Vanilla Caramel Sauce

ADAPTED from No Recipes

1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of sugar
1 vanilla bean
3 tablespoons of salted butter
A few cracks of salt

Slit a vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds into a small pot. Add the cup of heavy cream and whisk until the seeds are evenly dispersed in the cream. Sometimes they clump together and it’s not as pretty. Gently warm over low heat.

In a medium sized heavy bottom pan, heat a cup of sugar over medium heat. Over the next minute or two, you’ll see the mound of sugar shift as it begins to melt. You don’t need to touch it until there are visible puddles of sugar lava, and then it’s only to nudge clumps of sugar into the lava. Once the color is dark enough, fish out the vanilla bean from your heavy cream mix, don appropriate safety gear, and gently whisk in the heavy cream little by little. It will fizzle up!

Marc says to take the caramel off heat at this point, but I left it on the lowest setting. The butter wouldn’t melt otherwise. Pour the warm (but not hot) mixture into a receptable of your choice. It’s a lot more pliant when it’s warm.


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