How to make caramel

How to make caramel
(Image credit: Future)

The only ingredient you need to make caramel is sugar. Caramel is essentially burnt sugar giving it a lovely toffee flavour and golden colour. However, if left to cook for too long the caramel will be very dark and have an unpleasant burnt bitter taste. So when making caramel you need to watch it closely as it can turn very quickly.

Caramel can be used in many ways. It forms the basis of classic desserts such as crème caramel and caramelised oranges, as a sauce it’s delicious drizzle over ice cream and pancakes, or it can be left to harden and broken into pieces or shards to decorate cakes and desserts. It can be spun into fancy spirals and shapes or it can be crushed into powder form to flavour custards and creams or decorate cakes.

Making caramel is not difficult but there are a few simple rules to avoid it crystalising. You can add a little water to the sugar in the pan but it’s not really necessary and it’s quicker to make caramel without it. Don’t stir the sugar when it is dissolving, this will only cause the sugar to crystalise again, just drag the spoon across the pan a couple of times. When the caramel starts to turn golden, swirl the pan gently occasionally to avoid hot spots so the caramel colours evenly.

When the caramel has turned a golden amber colour it must be cooled quickly otherwise the heat of the pan and the caramel itself will continue the cooking process and cause it to burn. Have a bowl of iced water to hand, large enough to hold the pan, so you can reduce the temperature quickly.

To clean the pan after you’ve made caramel, just fill it with boiling water and the sugar will dissolve.


  • 175g white caster sugar

Step 1

Place the sugar into a heavy-based saucepan and place over a medium heat until the sugar starts to melt at the edges. Shake the pan occasionally until all the sugar has melted. Stir just once or twice to make sure all the sugar crystals have dissolved.

Step 2

Once the sugar has dissolved increase the heat slightly and bring the melted sugar to the boil. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the melted sugar turns a dark amber colour. Gently swirl the pan once or twice to ensure the caramel colours evenly. Don’t walk away from the pan at any stage, stay close by and watch it carefully as it can burn very quickly.

Step 3

As soon as the caramel reaches the required colour, remove from the heat and immediately place the pan in a bowl of ice cold water to prevent it cooking any further.

Step 4

How to make caramel

(Image credit: Future)

Pour the caramel onto a greased foil-lined baking tray and leave to set, or drizzle the caramel from a teaspoon into shapes on the foil and leave to set. Caramel will keep for 1 week in an airtight container but will dissolve and become sticky when exposed to the air, so if using as a decoration add to the cake or dessert just before serving.