5 Ingredients or Fewer

Espresso Caramel Sauce

May 13, 2019
3 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Makes about 1 cup
Author Notes

While most caramel sauces are tooth-achingly sweet, this one is anything but. The secret? A big spoonful of instant espresso powder, which takes a cue from Starbucks-famous caramel macchiatos, and turns this sauce into something bittersweet and complex. A couple other tricks: Take the sugar as dark as possible, which brings out all the malty, butterscotchy flavors of a truly good caramel. And salt it to taste. I call for a ½ teaspoon—a good starting point—but once it’s cooled down a bit, try it for yourself and add more until it’s good enough to go back for another spoonful. Adding an acidic ingredient, like vinegar or lemon juice, as soon as the sugar turns clear helps sidestep crystallization (aka, messed-up caramel sauce). This is, of course, great on ice cream. But don’t let that stop you from pouring it all over a slice of pound cake, or a walnut brownie, or a blondie, or even some apple slices. You get the idea. —Emma Laperruque

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream, warmed
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  1. Add the sugar to a small, sturdy saucepan, then slowly pour the water on top. The goal is to get as few sugar granules as possible on the side of the pan; if you notice any, just use a wet pastry brush (or even your fingers) to push the granules back down.
  2. Set the pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Don’t stir at this point at all. As soon as the mixture goes from cloudy to clear, pour the cider vinegar evenly over the top.
  3. While the sugar keeps cooking, stir the espresso powder and salt into the warm cream until combined.
  4. When you start to notice the caramel turning golden in certain places, you can gently swirl the pan to encourage it to cook evenly, or even just rotate the pan on your burner. The goal is to disturb it as little as possible (mixing can cause crystallization—not what we want). As soon as the color is a deep, chestnutty brown, carefully pour in the espresso-cream while whisking. (It’ll splatter and steam, so be careful.) Cut the heat.
  5. Let the caramel cool for a little while, until you can taste it, then adjust the salt and espresso powder accordingly.
  6. You can serve this right away or keep it in the fridge, in a tightly sealed jar, for weeks.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
  • JaneMiami
  • Mercergirl
  • Kelly Studer
    Kelly Studer
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

5 Reviews

JaneMiami May 19, 2022
Great tip about putting the water into pan first, then the sugar. Total game changer..but had to really test it out, by eating at least two tablespoons of the caramel before taking along for a dinner party tonight. lol Delicious. Great balance
Mercergirl May 19, 2019
Put the water in the pan first, then the sugar. That way the water won't push the sugar granules up the side of the pan.
Emma L. May 20, 2019
Great tip, I can't wait to try it!
Kelly S. May 19, 2019
What if you do have an espresso machine...what would be the liquid equivalent of the powdered espresso? Or does that change everything and you wouldn’t recommend the substitution?
Emma L. May 20, 2019
Interesting Q! Here's what I would try first: I'd start with a shot of espresso, drop the heavy cream quantity to 1/2 cup, and mix those together. Then you can adjust the espresso and cream to taste at the end. If you give it a try, please let me know how it goes!