|dry method with butter & cream|
There a two methods for making caramel: wet and dry. The dry method is simply heating sugar in a dry pan until the sugar liquefies and browns. This requires careful attention to heat and color without a candy thermometer. Use a wide surface heavy fry pan for this method so the sugar is distributed in a thin even layer. This encourages more even browning. The technique for moving the melting sugar may be swirling the fry pan and never stirring or stirring the sugar a little in the beginning to get the flow going but after that point a stirring device will cause crystallization to form around the spoon so swirling is desirable as soon as the sugar starts to liquefy. Add, butter, cream and flavoring (salt & vanilla) once the sugar liquefies and you have a caramel sauce. The finished, cooled sauce should be smooth and thick enough to fall in a ribbon from a spoon. It will thicken more as it cools.
|perfect dry method caramel sauce|
|wet method cooking with a thermometer|
Know what temperature you need. Caramelization begins around 320 degrees when the sugar melts. At 340-350 degrees, the color progresses to medium brown and, when cooled, will still be hard but not brittle. At 365-380 the caramel is dark brown and will cool to a softer texture. This is where to add cream and butter, etc. to make sauces or candy. Anything above 410 degrees is "black caramel" typically only used by professional bakers.
I prefer the dry method for sauces and in making caramel. For this post both techniques did develop a few lump which I just strained out with a gravy stainer. Lowering the temperature will usually help them dissolve. Any recipe could dictate which method you need but it is the dedicated home cook who can master both, so give both some effort. Your friends and family will be impressed.
Beware of molten sugar. It's hotter than boiling water and can adhere to the skin and cause serious burns!! Don't taste until it cools.