You are simply not going to believe how simple this caramel sauce recipe is! Granted it's not as simple as opening a bottle of store bought caramel sauce, but I took a look at the ingredients on one of those bottles recently and found no less than 20 ingredients, including more high fructose corn syrup and sugar than milk, along with a myriad of dyes and preservatives. Blech!
In contrast, this homemade caramel sauce (also knows as dulce de leche) requires only sweetened condensed milk! I was happy to see that the brand that I chose lists only milk and sugar as the ingredients, so that's a far cry from store bought caramel sauce.
But the very best part about this caramel recipe is that it doesn't require you to stand over the stove for long periods of time, stirring and watching, or repeatedly microwaving until your desired level of caramelization occurs. I make it right in my slow cooker, which allows it to cook at a low temperature for a long period of time, so there's virtually no chance of burning it.
While we're on the topic of slow cookers, have you seen these adorable patterned Crock-Pot Slow Cookers at Walmart? They caught my eye when I was picking up another box of jelly jars for this recipe. As much as I love my basic stainless steel slow cooker, I've been seriously considering picking one of these cuties up to brighten up my kitchen.
Some of you may have made homemade caramel sauce in the past using a similar method where you boiled an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk on the stovetop. Please, I beg you, don't do this again! Not only is it very difficult to tell when the caramel is finished cooking, but it's also extremely dangerous because the cans can explode. Not to mention there are surely numerous chemicals leaching from the can into your cooked caramel...
Instead, transfer the sweetened condensed milk into a clean jelly jar, place a lid on it and tighten the band down well. I filled my jars up to the 6-oz. line to allow for expansion during cooking. As these jars are made to withstand the home canning process, they're much safer, and they allow you to visually check the caramel for doneness.
Place the jars in your slow cooker and then fill the slow cooker up with water to about one inch above the top of the lids. Place the lid on your slow cooker and cook on low for 7.5-8 hours, making sure not to let the water drop below the lid level. I didn't need to add water at any point, but I'd still recommend checking for safety's sake.
After the caramel sauce has cooked for about 7 hours, you'll want to check it periodically to see if its reached your desired doneness. You should be able to do this just by looking through the slow cooker lid so that you don't let the heat escape. When it's done, remove the jars from the water and allow them to cool for about 20 minutes.
Note that you may hear the lids sealing themselves as the caramel cools, but they are not sufficiently processed for long term shelf storage.
You may notice that the caramel seems a little chunky at this point. No worries -- it's absolutely delicious and I have no problem scarfing it down with some of the beautiful seasonal apples available right now. But if you want a silky smooth homemade caramel sauce, simply whisk it briskly until any lumps are gone.
Store leftover caramel in the refrigerator -- that is if there is any! Bring it to room temperature before serving or heat until warm, about 30 seconds at a time in the microwave, whisking between each heating.
What would you use this yummy and easy caramel sauce recipe on?