The Savory-Sweet Caramel Sauce I'm Drizzling Over Everything

From fudgy brownies to crispy chicken wings.

June 23, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food & Prop Styling By Alexis Anthony.

We've partnered with Hood Cream, makers of great-tasting, high-quality cream, to share a contest-winning caramel sauce that gets its silky-smooth texture from heavy cream.

Watching granulated sugar melt down, simmer, and transform into golden caramel is one of my fondest childhood cooking memories. The syrup, destined to line the bottom of the baking dish that we used exclusively for crème caramel, smelled both buttery and bitter as it morphed into amber magma. I burned myself more than once trying to taste it.

These days I keep a jar of caramel sauce handy at all times, and find myself reaching for it often. Like, for example, when a sad bowl of plain yogurt presents itself for a makeover. And while it may be a little bit decadent, a swirl in my morning coffee puts an extra pep in my step.

But no matter what I’m making in the end, the unfailing magic of the caramel transformation has never failed to excite me. How in the world could three ingredients—just granulated sugar, heavy cream, and water—combine to make something so special?

Caramel 101

It’s all about flavor compounds. When you heat sugar, it breaks down into glucose and fructose. Those molecules then break down further and react with one another—this creates countless new flavor compounds. All to say, caramel is much more than the sum of its parts; it’s buttery, bitter, malty, and nutty all at once.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“This seems similar to Alton Brown’s advice to add soy sauce to caramel candies. Been using soy sauce in my caramel sauce for years and it really is amazing!”
— SandraMostacci

Some caramel recipes start by melting granulated sugar on its own in a heavy-bottomed pot. This method works well, but takes a little practice to get right. Without any water, the sugar will brown quickly and somewhat unevenly. Because of this, I tend to prefer recipes that call for both sugar and water; the water encourages slow and even browning, which makes the process easier to manage. Just be sure not to stir the sugar and water together with a spoon or swirl the pan before the mixture starts to brown. Simply stand back and let it do its thing. Once you see the sugar browning in spots, give the pan a gentle swirl.

For a full-flavored caramel sauce, cook the sugar to somewhere between 365°F and 380°F—or until it’s a deep amber color—before adding the heavy cream. A light-colored pot makes this easier to spot, and keeping a candy thermometer to measure the temperature more accurately is always a good idea. But if you’re at all nervous about the caramel burning, keep a bowl of ice water by the stove (you can set the bottom of the pan in this to instantly slow down the cooking process).

As soon as your caramel reaches the correct color, it’s time to turn off the heat and add the heavy cream. The liquid and fat of the cream are essential to mellowing the bite of the sugar, and rendering the texture satiny-smooth. At first, it may bubble up and sputter like a volcano getting ready to erupt, but it should calm down quickly. If you notice the caramel seizing up at all, put the pan over low heat and stir vigorously until everything is smooth and combined—that should do the trick.

Classic Caramel Sauce—With a Miso Twist

As if regular old caramel sauce weren’t inviting enough, this contest-winning caramel has even more magic mixed in: white miso paste, which has been an essential part of Japan’s culinary tradition for centuries. It's made by fermenting legumes (like soybeans and chickpeas) with salt and koji (a grain that’s been inoculated with a special mold).

Over time, the paste develops an earthy, super-savory flavor that makes a rich addition to all sorts of dishes, from a simple salad dressing to a glaze for roasted fish and meats. In sweet dishes, like this caramel, it brings a welcome salty kick, along with a can’t-put-it-down punch of umami.

If it’s your first time making this miso caramel, start simple: Try it on anything you’d normally eat caramel sauce with. This means ice cream, French toast, fruit galettes and pies, and of course, brownies (they’ll go from ho-hum to sensational in one single dollop of the stuff).

I like to sauté chopped dates in butter and drizzle them with miso caramel, chopped walnuts, and more heavy cream—it takes just 5 minutes and hits all the right salty-sweet notes (with a bit of good funk from the miso). If you really want to up the ante: Fold about a cup of miso caramel in this no-churn coffee ice cream right before freezing; it gives the dessert a salty edge and balances the bitterness of the coffee.

This miso caramel plays well with savory foods, too. Broiled, skin-on chicken thighs, basted in miso caramel, emerge from the oven deeply burnished, charred in spots, and utterly irresistible. (Just be sure to line the pan with foil.) Carrots and cauliflower also love a caramel bath before a good roast. Try it on ribs, roast chicken, or maybe even a side of salmon.

As for me, I’m going to swirl it with some fresh chiles, grated fresh ginger, and orange zest to slather on my next batch of chicken wings.

This magical miso caramel sauce clocks in at just four ingredients—sugar, water, white miso, and great-quality heavy cream from our partner Hood Cream—and is as versatile as can be. Drizzle it on sweet treats (hello, fudgy brownies!) and savory dishes (glazed chicken wings, anyone?) alike. It’s pretty much impossible to go wrong.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • SandraMostacci
  • Lanbriget
Writer. Baker. Sticky bun maker.


SandraMostacci June 24, 2020
This seems similar to Alton Brown’s advice to add soy sauce to caramel candies. Been using soy sauce in my caramel sauce for years and it really is amazing!
Lanbriget June 23, 2020
Omg absolutely sold on this.
How long would this last for (obviously refrigerated).
Many thanks :)