Made with some good bourbon and a pinch of sea salt, this homemade Bourbon Caramel Sauce is a simple recipe with a rich flavor profile. Drizzle it over desserts, give jars of it as holiday gifts or eat it by the spoonful.
Bourbon Caramel Sauce recipe
It’s “Freaky Friday” again! I love when a bunch of bloggers get together and swap recipes — it’s such a fun celebration of food every time.
This caramel sauce is the absolute best for mixing into drinks or drizzling over dreamy desserts like ice cream sundaes.
It’s like regular caramel sauce, but with the addition of sweet, oaky bourbon for an extra layer of flavor.
In fact, my husband and I chose a vanilla wedding cake with vanilla buttercream and a layer of salted bourbon caramel sauce in the middle. It was so dreamy! I miss that cake…
Why you’ll love this recipe
Bourbon caramel sauce is the bee’s knees. It has an intense depth of flavor and I just know you are going to want to eat it by the spoonful! (I won’t judge if you eat the entire jar…)
- Caramel sauce is very inexpensive to make and it tastes way better homemade. No corn syrup here!
- You can use your favorite bourbon to flavor it. (Or not — it’s still caramel sauce without it!)
- It’s easy to make. You don’t even need a candy thermometer.
Lynn’s recipe is the BEST caramel sauce. It’s super easy and I know you will love making this recipe again and again.
About Fresh April Flours
Lynn is the baking mastermind behind the blog Fresh April Flours.
She used to have a baking business where she focused on cakes, so you know her baked goods are amazing! Later she started her blog to share her favorite recipes in a different way.
I am so excited to try some of Lynn’s recipes this season, including these pumpkin spice cookies and these candy bar blondies. I also have my eye on her funfetti sugar cookie cake for a future birthday party.
One thing I love about Lynn’s recipes is the way she can break down difficult recipes into easier steps. I have burnt caramel so many times, but this recipe is so easy to follow.
Her bourbon caramel sauce is the perfect sauce and I dare you not to eat the whole jar with a spoon!
What is caramel sauce?
Caramel sauce is made from sugar that has been cooked just until it’s almost burnt.
Some people love burnt caramel flavor, so it can be cooked to be just barely burned if preferred.
The almost-burnt sugar is then mixed with butter, cream and salt to make a sticky sauce that can be drizzled over breakfast dishes, ice cream and desserts.
Bourbon caramel sauce has bourbon whiskey mixed in for a deeper, woodsy flavor.
Caramel sauce is different than caramel simple syrup, which is especially great for stirring into coffee and flavoring cocktails.
You only need six simple ingredients to make this amazing caramel sauce. This is what you’ll need to grab at the grocery store:
Since we are making caramel syrup, it’s important that we use white, granulated sugar or pure cane sugar.
If you use brown sugar, you will wind up with butterscotch sauce instead. There is a slight difference in the flavor, so if you’re looking for a caramel taste, stick with white sugar.
I prefer to use filtered water when cooking caramel because the pure, filtered state of the water helps the finished syrup last longer and doesn’t affect the flavor.
However, you may use bottled water, distilled water or filtered water from your fridge.
Use real butter, not margarine, in this recipe.
Quality butter like Kerrygold Irish Butter will make a big difference in the final caramel sauce.
You can use salted or unsalted butter in this recipe. No changes to the salt in the recipe are necessary.
Heavy cream is the same as whipping cream. Either is fine for this recipe, but do not use milk. The cream makes caramel sauce ultra creamy and oh-so-decadent.
The addition of bourbon brings a sweet, oaky, vanilla-like flavor to the caramel sauce. It adds a deep, complex intensity that works with the sweetness of caramel.
You can add a splash or the whole 2 tablespoons to adjust the strength of the bourbon flavor. However, you can leave it out entirely and you’ll end up with regular ol’ salted caramel sauce, which is perfectly wonderful too.
As for which bourbon to use, you can use your favorite if you have one. My go-to brands are Old Forester, Bulleit, Angel’s Envy, Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve bourbon.
Check out my crash course on this spirit, Bourbon 101, for more about this amazing, versatile spirit.
If you’d like to make a salted caramel sauce with bourbon, you will want to add a pinch of sea salt to your syrup while it’s warm so the salt can dissolve.
I keep fine sea salt on hand in my kitchen, but a pinch of table salt will work too. Be sure to stir it in thoroughly until it dissolves, then taste it. Repeat until your desired saltiness is achieved!
If using a larger, coarser salt, add 1 teaspoon, taste, and add more if necessary.
If you are concerned about too much salt, add ¾ teaspoon, taste, and add more if desired.
But do not leave salt out completely. If you don’t want “salted” caramel sauce, reduce the amount needed to ½ teaspoon.
Wet caramel vs. dry caramel
There are two ways to make caramel, known as the “wet method” and the “dry method.”
To make the wet version, you need water. To make the dry version, you do not. That’s the difference!
This recipe uses the wet method, which allows the sugar to dissolve before it cooks. With the dry method, you melt the sugar right in the pan.
Lynn says the dry method can sometimes lead to a grainy caramel sauce and it can oftentimes clump together while cooking.
How to make Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Making bourbon caramel sauce at home is easier than you’d think! Here is how to make caramel sauce with the “wet” method.
First, in a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar and water, stirring gently and often.
Once the sugar is completely dissolved, turn the heat up to medium-low and bring the mixture to a low boil.
Note: Keep an eye on the sides of the pan in case sugar crystals start to form during the cooking process. You can use a wet pastry brush that’s been dipped in water to keep crystallized sugar at bay, brushing it gently on the sides if needed.
As the sugar low boils/cooks, it will start to turn colors, which is how to know when it’s done. The progression is champagne color to light brown to light amber to dark amber.
When it is dark amber (a golden color with a hint of reddish brown), remove it from the heat.
Next, immediately and carefully add the butter. The mixture will start to bubble, but stir quickly with a wooden spoon, spatula or whisk to incorporate the butter as it melts.
When the butter is melted, slowly drizzle in the heavy cream while continuing to stir the mixture. It will bubble rapidly.
Once all of the heavy cream is incorporated, add the salt and bourbon to your liking.
Allow the mixture to cool before using. It will be runny when warm, but it will thicken as it cools.
You can use it within a few minutes if you want to spoon it warm over some ice cream. Once it has cooled completely, you can store it in a jar for future use.
How to store caramel sauce
Caramel will be fine at room temperature for a day or two if it needs to travel.
Store caramel sauce in the refrigerator up to 1 month. This is necessary because it contains dairy products (butter and cream). Warm it up in the microwave or on the stovetop before using.
Caramel may be frozen, up to 3 months. Thaw in refrigerator and warm as needed.
I used these 6-ounce jars with gold lids, which hold approximately one batch of caramel sauce.
These 4-ounce jars would hold about half a batch, so you could give away one jar and keep the rest for yourself.
Variations and substitutions
Here are a few ways to modify this caramel sauce:
Salted caramel sauce: Add a bit of extra salt for a slightly saltier flavor. Add a pinch at a time, then stir and taste before adding more.
Caramel sauce without bourbon: You can make this caramel sauce without bourbon. You may wish to flavor it with a bit of vanilla instead.
Rum caramel sauce: Use white rum, aged rum or spiced rum instead of bourbon in this recipe for a different flavor.
Brandy caramel sauce: Sweet brandy makes a lovely addition in lieu of the bourbon.
Vanilla caramel sauce: Stir in a teaspoon vanilla extract, to taste, for a vanilla flavor.
So what is Freaky Friday? Every once in a while, some fellow bloggers come together to swap recipes on our blogs. Michaela from An Affair from the Heart is our host for the event, and she assigns the participating bloggers to another blog to remake a recipe of their choosing.
We try, photograph and write about the recipe as if it were our own, then we share them all on the same Friday and link to each other. It’s a great way to meet other food bloggers and try new recipes. I hope you find a new blog to fall in love with!
See all of our 2022 Freaky Friday Fall Edition RecipesHosted by – An Affair from the Heart
- An Affair from the Heart – Pepperoni Pizza Bread
- Aunt Bee’s Recipes – Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup
- The Culinary Compass – Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk
- Devour Dinner – Instant Pot Chicken and Wild Rice
- Family Around the Table – White Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Martini
- Feast + West – Bourbon Caramel Sauce
- Fresh April Flours – Butterfinger Poke Cake
- Home Cooked Harvest – Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes
- Hostess at Heart – The BEST Pumpkin Pie Recipe
- Kathryn’s Kitchen Blog – Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Life Currents – French Onion Bruschetta
- Off the Eaten Path – Jalapeño Cream Cheese Dip
- The Speckled Palate – German Pancake
- Sue Bee Homemaker – Pumpkin Cheesecake Bites
- Take Two Tapas – Crockpot Pizza Dip
- The Wimpy Vegetarian – Air Fryer Brussels Sprouts
Uses for caramel sauce
Drizzle caramel sauce over all kinds of desserts. It would be amazing over the ultimate ice cream sundae: scoops of Lynn’s salted caramel brownies topped with praline ice cream topped with whipped cream and homemade sprinkles.
Another way to use it is to drizzle it into glassware for gorgeous cocktails. Try it in these caramel macchiato milkshakes, boozy butterbeer, an apple cider mimosas or a twist on the classic old-fashioned cocktail.
It even works on breakfast foods. Try it on pancakes, waffles, French toast or Lynn’s caramel cinnamon rolls.
More boozy desserts
Lynn and I both love a good boozy dessert. Here are a few of our favorite recipes:
- Guinness Cake
- Red Wine Brownies
- Bourbon Ginger Ale Cake
- Gin and Tonic Cake
- Champagne Cake
- Piña Colada Bars
- Mimosa Muffins
More syrup and sauce recipes
- Hot Fudge Sauce
- Vanilla Syrup
- Burnt Sugar Syrup
- Brown Sugar Simple Syrup
- Pumpkin Spice Syrup
- Chocolate Syrup
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup (60mL) water
- ¼ cup (57g) butter (salted or unsalted), room temperature, cut into 4 pieces
- ½ cup (120mL) heavy whipping cream, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons (15-30mL) bourbon
- In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar and water. Use a wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula to stir frequently but gently. Once all of the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up just a touch to medium-low and let the mixture come to a low boil. Keep an eye on the sides of the pan in case sugar crystals start to form during the cooking process. You can use a pastry brush dipped in water to keep crystallized sugar at bay, brushing it gently on the sides if needed.
- As the sugar low boils/cooks, it will start to turn colors. Keep a careful eye on the color to determine when it's done. The progression is champagne color to light brown to light amber to dark amber. When it is dark amber (a golden/red brown), remove it from the heat.
- Immediately but carefully add the butter. Mixture will start to bubble, but stir quickly with your wooden spoon or spatula (or switch to a whisk, as I prefer) to incorporate the butter as it melts.
- When all of the butter is melted, slowly drizzle in the heavy cream while continuing to stir or whisk the mixture. It will bubble rapidly. This is ok.
- Once all of the heavy cream is incorporated, add the salt and bourbon to your liking. Allow to cool before using (it will thicken as it cools). Store leftovers in the refrigerator up to 1 month. Heat in microwave or on the stovetop before using. Caramel will be fine at room temperature for a day or two if it needs to travel. Caramel may be frozen, up to 3 months. Thaw in refrigerator and warm as needed.
- Butter: salted or unsalted butter is fine in this recipe. No changes to salt in recipe necessary.
- Heavy cream: this is the same thing as whipping cream. Either is fine for this recipe, but do not use milk.
- Salt: use regular table salt, kosher salt, or sea salt. I prefer “fine sea salt.” If using a larger, coarser salt, add 1 teaspoon, taste, and add more if necessary. If you are concerned about too much salt, add ¾ teaspoon, taste, and add more if desired. Do not leave salt out completely. If you don’t want “salted” caramel sauce, reduce to ½ teaspoon.
- Bourbon: leaving out the bourbon in this recipe will give you plain ol’ salted caramel sauce. Two Tablespoons gives a very strong bourbon flavor. If you’re worried about too much of a bourbon flavor, start with ½ Tablespoon, taste, and add more if desired.
Do not double this recipe. Cooking sugar is a very finicky technique. Make multiple batches if necessary.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: ½ ounce
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 11Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 133mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g