Apple Cider Caramel Sauce is one of those things that you probably didn’t know you needed in your life. Then you try it…and you wonder where the heck it’s been all along and why everyone’s been keeping it from you. Made from just 6 simple ingredients, the whole is absolutely more than the sum of its parts. It starts with fresh apple cider, which you reduce until you’re left with the syrupy essence of pure apple. And that, my friends, is what makes this caramel sauce extra special. It’s like a liquefied version of a caramel apple, and seriously, who wouldn’t want to eat that? On everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but many, many things. Pancakes. French toast. Waffles. Ice cream. Oatmeal. Yogurt. Fresh apple and pear slices. Crepes. Cinnamon buns. Toast with almond butter. Popcorn. A spoon. Your finger. Bring. It. On.
You know you want to stick your finger under that whisk to swipe a taste right now.
Aside from the fact that it’s magically, autumnally delicious, the best thing about this recipe is its non-fussiness. If you’ve made any type of caramel before you know it can be finicky, and if you haven’t, perhaps you’ve been avoiding it because the process can seem kinda scary. Not this time! There’s no need to track the temperature with a thermometer or wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush, and as long as you keep an eye on the flame there’s really no risk of scorching it. If you follow the instructions this sauce is pretty hard to screw up.
Caramel sauce usually calls for plain old granulated white sugar, but I prefer coconut sugar (or brown sugar as an alternative). Why? Because it already tastes a bit like caramel so it makes your sauce that much more caramelly. I know that’s not a word, but it should be. Anyway, coconut sugar (or brown sugar) is how I’m rolling. And since the reduced cider is already amber in color and the sugar is dark to begin with, don’t panic when your caramel sauce turns a deep, burnished brown. It’s supposed to look like that, and it’s a thing of beauty.
Look at that color. That is some serious caramelly goodness right there. (I know, I know. Not a word.)
Let’s talk milk products for a moment. Classic caramel sauce calls for heavy cream, and since I want this to be a truly decadent sauce that’s what I’m using. You can get away with half and half or whole milk, or even 2% in a pinch, but your sauce will need to simmer for much longer and may not reach that ultimate state of gooey, luscious caramel perfection. If you want to make a dairy-free version, full-fat coconut milk works beautifully. Which reminds me, I actually have a great recipe for vegan caramel sauce that I’ll get around to posting one of these days.
Moving on. Butter is a not-entirely-essential-but-definitely-useful ingredient in caramel sauce. You can make a great sauce without it, but it does lend a certain richness and body that you can’t really get from anything else. It doesn’t require a lot – I’ve seen recipes that call for way too much butter and it can make the sauce too slippery and milky for my taste. This recipe contains just enough butter to achieve optimal decadence and viscosity without going overboard. Please make sure to use unsalted butter since we’re adding salt to the sauce, and if you’re trying a dairy-free version with coconut milk, obviously omit the butter.
The last two ingredients are vanilla and salt. I don’t always add vanilla to caramel sauce, but it plays so well with the apple flavor that I love it in this recipe. As for the salt, yes, I always add at least a pinch to my caramel – and every other sweet recipe – because it balances the sugar and makes all the other flavors pop. The amount of salt in this sauce is more than you’d add to a regular caramel sauce but less than required for a true “salted” caramel. The salt enhances the apple and caramel and lends a note that’s just shy of savory, but it’s not enough to announce its presence as SALT. Make sense? Great. Now go make some Apple Cider Caramel Sauce!
Keep an eye on that bubbling sauce. It can boil up in the blink of an eye, and that is NOT a mess you want to be cleaning off your stove for the next month.
- 16 oz (2 cups) fresh apple cider
- 135 grams (1 cup) coconut sugar or brown sugar
- 4 oz (½ cup) full-fat heavy cream
- 42 grams (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or extract
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Simmer cider in a 3-qt. saucepan over medium heat for 25-30 minutes until reduced to ½ cup for a thinner sauce, or ⅓ cup for a thicker sauce.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and whisk in sugar, heavy cream, and butter. Increase heat to medium and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until bits of thickened sauce cling to the whisk when you pull it out of the pan. Please don’t wander too far from the stove while the sauce is simmering. If it gets too hot and bubbles over, that's a dangerous and sticky mess to clean up.
- Remove the pot from the heat, whisk in vanilla and salt, and set aside to cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools.
- Transfer sauce to a jar and store in the refrigerator. If it's super thick when you go to use it, scoop out the amount you want and warm it briefly on the stove or in the microwave to liquefy.