4 Ingredient Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Several months back I received an email from Joanna at Cup of Jo asking if I’d like to participate in her “Best __ Ever” series. This delicious series seeks to present the best recipe for classic dishes like hummus, chocolate ice cream and brownies. Given the choice of a dozen or so categories, my eyes were immediately drawn to the Best Sundae Ever pick, as ice cream is my all time favorite food. Ask John, he can vow that seldom three days pass before I’m aching for a double scoop. (Lucky for me, he always delivers.)

Though my deadline was weeks away I began brainstorming and dreamt up the perfect recipe: One scoop each of chocolate and vanilla ice cream from a local dairy in the Midwest, sliced bananas, chocolate syrup, homemade caramel sauce, fresh whipped cream and crushed salted peanuts. This combination, I thought, hit on salty and sweet and was altogether satisfying. I’m here to tell you my friends, it was.

Wanting to include an aspect that was unique, homemade and of course, simple, I decided on making caramel from scratch. If you’ve never made caramel from scratch it’s incredibly easy. This recipe (shared on Cup of Jo as well) requires just four ingredients and 15 minutes of your time and the result is a sinfully delicious and decadent bourbon caramel sauce that is perfect for topping sundaes, cookies, cakes, pies, crisps and everything in between. Find the recipe below and then check back on Saturday for another recipe using this tantalizingly simple recipe in another fantastic dessert setting. Trust us – you don’t want to miss it.

5.0 from 9 reviews
4 Ingredient Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Cook time
Total time
A dreamy 4-ingredient bourbon caramel sauce that makes the perfect addition to sundaes, crisps, cookies, cakes and more.
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 20
  • 1 cup sugar (+ 1/4 cup water)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp bourbon*
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  1. Simmer sugar and ¼ cup water on medium heat, swirling pan NOT stirring for about 15 minutes or until a deep amber color is reached. Watch closely as not to let it burn.
  2. Turn off burner and remove from heat and slowly add cream while stirring.
  3. Add pinch of salt and bourbon and place back on still-warm burner for another minute while stirring.
  4. Transfer to a heat-safe dish or bottle and let cool. Store covered in the refrigerator and bring to room temp or heat in a warm water bath before serving. You can also just simply microwave the jar for 30 seconds before each use without affecting the texture or flavor.
* We used Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, but use whatever high quality bourbon you have.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 20 1 Tbsp servings; per serving: Calories: 51 Fat: 1 g Saturated fat: 0.5 g Carbohydrates: 10 g Sugar: 10 g

adapted from Martha Stewart

danaHi, I'm Dana! I am a food stylist, photographer, and author of the Food Photography School and the 31 Meals Cookbook.

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Talk About It

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    • Dana says

      It’s worth a shot, but I can’t guarantee it won’t give a curdling effect. I did try soy creamer once and it worked fine, though the flavor is much different. Hope that helps!

      • says

        I just used the full fat coconut milk in the can from Trader Joes and its perfect and DELICIOUS! No curdling at all.
        Fabulous recipe! Just found your stuff and Im loving it! Making the cheesecakes as we speak. Im vegan and GF so Im really excited to try these. Thank you!

      • gabi says

        Hi I just made this with full fat coconut milk but the color of my sauce is not dark amber it’s more thick white. I swirled pan didn’t stir and it was on the fire 17 minutes not becoming amber and didn’t want it to burn….any ideas what could be wrong?

        • Kate says

          Hey! I’m vegan so I will be making this sauce with the canned coconut milk, also. One thing I think might work (from other sauces I’ve made) is adding or subbing dates for the sugar. They tend to add more of a caramel- like color to my sauces! I’ll let you know if it works after I try! :)

  1. S says

    Thanks for your post on A Cup of Jo! I am glad to have found your website. I am wondering: how long does the sauce keep? Could I make it as a gift for a friend?

    • Dana says

      The sauce keeps for so long, that’s the best part! I’ve literally had it in my fridge for close to 3 months now and it’s still so fresh and delicious! You could absolutely gift this to a friend. I would just recommend having her put it in the fridge as soon as she opens it. Hope that helps!

      • Finn says

        Are you sure? :O
        I havent tried but its got cream in it and that Martha Stewart thing says it will only last for 1 week.

  2. says

    I have been on a bourbon quick lately, so this rendition of caramel sauce will have to be in order asap. Beautiful styling by the way! Love your blog :)

    • Dana says

      Based on my research bourbon is gluten free. However, if you’re still hesitant simply leave the bourbon out of the caramel sauce.

    • J. says

      Unless it says gluten-free on the bottle, bourbon is not gluten free. HOWEVER if you have Celiac/sensitivity, most who have bourbon are okay and have no adverse gluten reaction.

  3. Teri O. says

    OMG I died and have gone to heaven. I could have eaten the entire batch in one sitting!!! It was so easy to make. I used Makers Mark. I don’t know bourbons very well, but MM worked nicely!! I’ll be making this for Christmas gifts!!!

  4. Andrea says

    Served this with pumpkin break pudding for Thanksgiving. It’s AMAZING and I’m thankful there are leftovers. I keep sneaking spoonfuls from the fridge. Followed the recipe as written with a heavy pour of Bourbon.

  5. Kaecie says

    I made this with almond milk instead of cream. I don’t know how the texture will be when it cools, but I put a little bit in some cider before it cooled and HOLY MOTHER OF AUTUMN WAS IT GOOD.

  6. says

    This recipe is perfect!! I used 2% milk instead of heavy cream and had equally fantastic results. I waited for the caramel to cool and cracked in some pink sea salt. I used Maker’s Mark, maybe a little heavy handedly, and it has a nice kick-finish. Thanks for such a great recipe!!

    I also had results with the sugar clumping when I added the milk, perhaps not stirring vigorously enough as I added the milk, or maybe it was because I used 2%. I put the pot back over low heat and continued to stir until smooth. I ended up pouring it over a small sieve when I put it in the storage container and just had a couple pea-sized crystallized sugar pieces. Other than that — perfect!

  7. Dorrie says

    I simmered this for over 30 minutes and was the getting the deep amber color. Should it come to a boil or not. Tried bringing to a boil and started to crystallized. What am I doing wrong?

    • says

      Dorrie, keep it on medium heat. It should be lightly bubbling, not boiling. Once you get that deep amber color remove from heat and add the cream and bourbon. Hope that helps!

    • says

      Yes! Sub coconut cream for the whipping cream, only up it a little more as it doesn’t give off the same level of creaminess that whipping cream does. Hope that helps!

  8. Lindsay says

    Mine did not work at all. I read all the instructions and comments before beginning. I had the same issue as another poster, my sugar never darkened. I kept it at a near boil, with little bubbles for 25 minutes. I eventually figured it must have it to low so I turned it up, but just a bit, and it crystallized. Too bad, I really wanted this to work.

    • says

      Lindsay, so bizarre! I just made my third batch of this and didn’t have any issues. Did you use white granulated sugar? It’s best. Also, did you stir? That can ruin the process. It shouldn’t be taking more than 20 minutes. Just to confirm you’re using 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water?

    • Amber says

      Hey Lindsay! Letting the sugar dissolve in the water (use a granulated sugar with small grain) before turning on the heat will keep it from crystallizing. Also, keep the heat at medium once you turn it on and “swirl” the pan occasionally.

  9. Finn says

    Like I said, I’m going to do this at once :D
    Can I use this sauce for Brownies somehow? (like, instead of butter?)
    Did you try pouring it into coffee?


  10. Amber says

    I made 3 batches of this tonight with a can of full-fat coconut milk, and it was so easy and delicious!

    *****Let the sugar dissolve in the water a bit before turning on the heat, and be sure to swirl the pan occasionally (just lift the pan slightly off the burner and “slosh” the caramel by shaking the handle gently)–these steps, along with keeping the heat at an even medium, will keep the sugar from crystallizing.
    *****Also, stir the milk in FAST–otherwise you will get chunks!
    *****I used a whisk like this one: http://www.dille-kamille.nl/image/100c818ecdda/360/360/garde-gebogen-roestvrij-staal-28-cm.jpg

  11. sylvie says

    I tried this with whole milk and xylitol (diabetic-friendly) and the consistency is quite thin. The liquid turned a slight shade of amber, but it’s definitely not as dark as the photo. Quite runny at the moment–will have to incorporate into a banana pudding.

  12. Heather says

    I’ve tried this twice and have failed miserably :( I’m not sure what I did wrong because I’ve been able to do other caramel sauces. Bummer!

    • Dana Shultz says

      So weird. Are you making any substitutions? What exactly is going wrong? I’ve never had an issue with this recipe…

  13. De says

    Turned out wonderfully…made it to top some mini cheesecakes and it was a hit. Making more tonight to make caramel popcorn. Thank you so much for this!

  14. Carole says

    I am going to try this for a Derby party (with pecans, cranberries and apple pieces, poured over a round of brie cheese).

  15. Faith says

    I made this a couple of months ago and the sugar crystallized and the cream curdled a bit, but it was still salvageable and delicious over ice cream. It didn’t last long in the fridge — not because it went bad but because I enjoyed it so much I used it up quickly. Now that I’ve read the comments I see the mistakes I made, so I am going to try this again and hopefully fix the texture issues that I had. Thanks for such a wonderful recipe.

  16. Laura Jones says

    Just made this for my frappe tomorrow morning, and it’s sooo so good. I thought that the bourbon would overpower the taste of it, but it just made it that much better. I made mine vegan with coconut milk (full fat), and I had some old white refined sugar that I needed to use up. Next time, I will try a healthier and more organic sugar. I wonder how coconut Palm sugar would fare…? Hmmmm… thanks for the recipe! I have a family reunion this weekend, so I will aww them with my (your) genius. :D

  17. Amber says

    I may be searching in vain, but I was wondering if it possible to make caramel sauce using something other than granulated sugar?

    • Dana Shultz says

      You can make it with dates! I haven’t tried it in a saucepan yet but rather just making it raw in the food processor. But it does taste seriously close to the real thing! Hope that helps. I also think Oh Ladycakes has one that calls for sucanat not sugar…

  18. Ava B. says

    I must be doing something wrong. It always comes out so thin and watery. Am i not getting it to the right color of amber, or is there an additional step to heating it up after the cream and bourbon?

  19. Lisa says

    First two batches crystallized due to (I’m guessing here) my heat not being quite at medium (for fear of burning it), and they also never reached a deep amber color. So, I gave it another shot only this time, I set the temp just at medium heat but also used Whole Foods Organic Pure Cane Sugar as opposed to the plain ‘ole extra fine granulated white sugar I used in the first two fails. Within 15 minutes I had the perfect shade of amber, stirred in some fresh heavy cream, a pinch of extra fine sea salt and 2 1/2 tbsp of Maker’s Mark (we love our bourbon in KY!). As soon as it cools, it’s going into a squeeze bottle for the apple crisp I’m going to be baking. Perfection. Thank you!

  20. Kelly says

    This looks amazing, what size containers would you suggest per recipe? I am thinking this would be great for my “cookie” exchange!

  21. Kristyn says

    Hi Dana & John! Your site is so gorgeous and your writing is so fun and relatable – I love how your personality comes through, and I’ve harassed many of my friends and coworkers with it. :)

    I’m also trying this one with coconut instead of dairy milk – I tried coconut cream, but just over 1/2 c, and it made it too thin (which seems counterintuitive?). Would you say it needs more coconut cream or less?

    Thanks so much! :)

    • Dana Shultz says

      Ah, thanks for sharing our site, Kristyn! Great question on the recipe. Altering this to make it vegan definitely doesn’t provide the same effect, but similar. It will be a little bit thinner. But upon refrigerating it, it will thicken. Then just reheat for serving. I haven’t tried adding MORE coconut cream, but if you do, let me know if that helps!

  22. Frieda says

    Hi Dana.

    I’ve been using this recipe with coconut cream and has always been awesome! But, I just made it better. Using coconut milk I added another can and made a salted caramel ice cream! Heaven!

    Thank you!

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