4-Ingredient Bourbon Caramel Sauce

GFV

Bottle of bourbon and bottle of caramel sauce made with the bourbon

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.)

Bright blue tray with bourbon, sugar, and a bottle of homemade Bourbon Caramel Sauce

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.

Drizzling our homemade Bourbon Caramel Sauce onto a sundae

4-Ingredient Bourbon Caramel Sauce

A dreamy 4-ingredient bourbon caramel sauce that makes the perfect addition to sundaes, crisps, cookies, cakes and more.
Author Minimalist Baker
Print
Drizzling homemade Bourbon Caramel Sauce onto a sundae
4.79 from 23 votes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 20
Course Dessert
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Vegetarian
Freezer Friendly No
Does it keep? 1 Month

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp bourbon*
  • 1 pinch salt (optional)

Instructions

  • Simmer sugar and 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.
  • Turn off burner and remove from heat and slowly add cream while stirring.
  • Add pinch of salt and bourbon and place back on still-warm burner for another minute while stirring.
  • 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.

Notes

*We used Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, but use whatever high-quality bourbon you have.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate.

Nutrition (1 of 20 servings)

Serving: 1 g Calories: 51 Carbohydrates: 10 g Protein: 0 g Fat: 1 g Saturated Fat: 0.5 g Fiber: 0 g Sugar: 10 g

adapted from Martha Stewart

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  1. Campbell says

    Soooo good! I used coconut cream instead of heavy cream! And it put it on top of the salted bourbon caramel ice cream! I will definitely be making this again!

  2. Eva says

    First of all, I’m not a caramel person but this came out so great! I used Hennessy instead. I drizzled on top of my Hennessy infused chocolate cupcakes and it’s a hit! This was my first time making caramel and I almost burned it lol

    How long does it last in the fridge? I made it last weekend.

  3. Kathy says

    This sauce was scrumptious! I made a spice cake and drizzled this over the cake and it was like biting into a heaven! Thank you for this simple and elegant recipe.

  4. Nancy Reid says

    I tried making this tonight. The mixture dried up and crystallized after being heated for about 10 minutes. What did I do wrong? I had it on medium heat. It didn’t have a chance to get to dark amber.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      Sounds like the sugar was either not fresh, it was heated too quickly, it was stirred too much, which can cause crystallization! Try it again but without stirring much, only at the end!

    • AJ says

      I was running into the same issue, I had to add more water to stop the whole thing from turning into a solid crystal block and then I upped the temp from medium to medium high (glass top cook range). I feel I was only getting it hot enough to evaporate the moisture/water but not hot enough to actually melt and brown the sugar. Once I had the temperature up, the sugar actually melted and began to brown.

      I find I needed a lot more bourbon and salt to satisfy my tastes. (Hic!)

    • Amanda Barrows says

      I’m planning on using this drizzled over cheesecake, with candied bacon sprinkles.
      My question is:
      To save time, I have a store bought, (yes, shame on me!), Caramel sauce.
      If I’m adding just the bourbon, do I need to bring the caramel sauce to a boil? Or would this burn it? Also, additional thoughts on what I could add to “Jazz” it up?
      Thanks!

  5. Naomi Dunsen White says

    Great recipe. I used Hennessey. Reduced 1 TBSP of the cream and added another of the Hennessey. It is delicious! Thank you.

  6. Dawn Koetting says

    I finished an extravagant bread pudding with meringue topping with this sauce for out of state company. Most people went back for “thirds”. Says it all. Making the caramel does take some time ( I got a bit worried), but my, my, my what a sauce!

  7. Jamie LeBourveau says

    My dad gave me a huge cinnamon coffee cake on Christmas Eve. So instead of baking the dessert I originally planned, I googled bourbon caramel sauce and found this recipe. I was drawn to it because of the short ingredient list and it didn’t look too complex. I followed the recipe exactly. The sugar/water mixture took longer than I thought it would but the finished result was delicious beyond my expectations. I served the cake with the caramel and freshly whipped cream with homemade candied pecans. Everyone loved it. I’ll use this recipe over and over and find all kinds of new uses for it. The only thing I might change is adding a bit more salt, but it’s delicious anyway. Thanks for sharing such an easy yet impressive recipe that really elevated Christmas dessert.

  8. Jackie Good says

    Great recipe!! I added toasted walnuts and used it over pumpkin raviolis, topped with whipped cream, garnish with a ginger snap! Outstanding!

  9. Candace says

    I made this for one of my customers. I used Hennessy and it taste amazing. Being that I don’t drink I thought it may not taste too good but to my surprise ??

  10. Karen says

    Easy and awesome! Next time I make this, I’ll use it to make Banana’s Foster. This morning, I made pancakes, a side of cooked ripe peaches and drizzled the sauce over the peaches. Emeril Lagassi would be proud! Stored the rest in a jar for ice cream later tonight. Thank you!!

  11. Gail Caines says

    Have you ever tried to veganize this sauce. I just pinned your Vegan cheesecake recipe and would love to be able to do the bourbon caramel flavor too!

  12. Sarah Greenheck says

    My daughters and I love your recipes! It’s our ‘go-to’ site for ideas! Have made many and love each one we’ve made!! We are wanting to make the Snickers Ice Cream (my fav bar as a kid) and want to use the caramel sauce-with the coconut cream but without the refined white sugar. Do you have a suggestion to replace the sugar? I’ve read to use dates but would that have a grainy type texture? (Same recipe instruction process?) Has anyone tried coconut sugar? Or Maple Sugar? And what were the results? I’m sorry for all the questions. Notice how I haven’t asked for a Bourbon replacement? ;)

  13. Noni says

    This sounds amazing! Was just wondering, since it has done alcohol, do you suppose it will stay alright without refrigeration for a couple of days in about 30 C /85 F type weather? I know it’s a pesky specific question, but just relying my luck to see if you’ll have an idea :) thank you!

  14. Megan says

    Hi! Wondering if this is safe for children to eat? Not sure if the alcohol burns off and just leaves the bourbon flavor. Was asked to make this for a birthday cake filling, and just want to make sure it is safe for children, and if not, how could I make it kid safe while still having the bourbon flavor?
    Thanks!

  15. Tom says

    Late update: Though my caramel was grainy from the Swerve, it worked beautifully in the chocolate caramel almond butter cups. They were divine and it added a very slight crunch, like a Reese’s cup, but better! I tried another blogger’s caramel sauce recently and was very disappointed. This one is great!

  16. Tom says

    I tried making this with Swerve sweetener because I’m diabetic. The taste is good but mine also crystallized. I still made the recipe, they’re in the freezer, they will still be pretty good, I’m guessing. I have leftover caramel sweetener, I’m thinking this might be good in a baked item, like brownies.

  17. Michele Latch says

    I made this to accompany the vegan cheesecake bites. I’m not sure what happened, but it never thickened. I doubled the simmer time, added coconut heavy cream, let it cool before I put in the fridge and still was left with caramel “water.” Any ideas? BTW I love your recipes. They are my go to for every holiday!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hmm, know that coconut cream doesn’t quite thicken as much as real cream. However next time, try reducing the water by half – that should help!

    • Meg Castellano says

      Hi there! I made this recipe last night, with my own dairy free tweaks… so the coconut cream definitely works well, and I agree with Dana that you should halve the water. It makes it much more watery with the coconut, and it gets really soupy. And I also ran into the problem of the amber color disappearing when the coconut cream was added. To solve that, I ended up adding about a half of cup of coconut sugar, and voila! it was perfectly golden brown. Its definitely not as thick as normal caramel but it holds up really well after being refrigerated. Not too stiff, not too thin. Hope this helps!

      • Holly says

        Hi Meg…you added 1/2c of coconut sugar…was that on top of the already 1cup of regular sugar? Or would you recommend subbing the 1cup of sugar for coconut sugar entirely? I’m also trying to make this dairy-free and swirling it into Dana’s vanilla bean coconut ice cream.

  18. Theresa G! says

    I made this tonight to go with brownies for a pot luck tomorrow. I made two batches: one with bourbon, the other with Bailey’s. I’m not sure which I like better! The first batch did seize up and solidify some when I added the cream. I removed the lumps and the rest is holding up fine. On the second batch I used a whisk instead of a spoon when adding the cream and it worked out much better. No lumps. There was some crystallization on the sides of the pan, but once I poured it into another container it didn’t seem to affect the texture at all.

  19. Susanne Hannigan says

    I made this as a topping on a plain cheesecake for Thanksgiving dessert….it was outstanding! I did not use heavy cream, but substituted sweetened condensed milk, and the result was amazing. I will be using this recipe for years to come…with several of my favorite desserts.

  20. Megan says

    This turned out fantastic, vegan style. I used trader joes coconut cream & vanillabean paste instead of bourbon. Going to use it for a salted caramel layer cake!

  21. Sara says

    Amazing! I love how simple the indgredients are. This was my first time making carmel and EVER…..but it turned out perfect. Thanks!
    My suggestion to others is to watch videos of people making carmel so you know what everything should look like. ☺

  22. Kristin says

    A friend sent this link prior to showing up for a pizza and movie night saying we needed dessert. Oh my! I’m such a sucker for ice cream and caramel though I try to not eat much sugar. Yep we made it for the group. Half a batch with double the bourbon. ;)

    Fan-freaking-tastic! I’m sending this link to everyone I know who might be interested. Why would you buy caramel sauce in a jar when you can have this?

  23. Kathleen says

    Thnx for this great recipe! If i pour it into glass bottles and close/seal, how long will it stay good without refrigeration? Would love to mail as gifts!

  24. Christine says

    I am allergic to corn, barley, Brewers yeast so whiskey and most any alcohol are not an option for me. What can I use??

    Thanks,
    Christine ?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      I’m not familiar with what grains go in liquors, so I’d just suggest leaving it out! Or, as your local liquor retailer!

    • Kriste says

      Alcoholic beverages all start with yeast and sugar for the yeast…corn for bourbon, barley for scotch and sugar for rum (this you may get a way with, especially spiced rum [which I’ve made this with and it was WONDERFUL]). Brewers yeast has been manipulated to withstand higher alcohol content.
      Try making the caramel without the alcohol and drizzling a reduced mulled wine on top, if you can drink wine. Beer usually comes from malted barley and there are some fantastic seasonal specialty ones on the market that should do nicely incorporated into sugar and cream.
      Best of luck.

  25. 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!
    Frieda

    • Ivy says

      Is the coconut cream that you use the separated cream that you find in the coconut milk can, or is it a product labeled as coconut cream?

  26. 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! :)

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker 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!

  27. Kelly says

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

  28. 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!

  29. 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?

  30. 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?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker 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…

  31. 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

    • Gita Goldberg says

      Hi Laura, did you try it with coconut sugar? I’m curious how it turned out…

      NB I made it today as per the instructions (except I used scotch whiskey instead of bourbon) and it turned out beautifully! I had to act quickly when I stirred in the cream though because it started bubbling like crazy, and the steam it let off nearly burned my hand! It was an exciting recipe to make!
      I used the caramel sauce on your mini cheesecakes which are still setting in the freezer, so I don’t know yet what deliciousness awaits me! That being said, I can imagine the outcome from all of my mini taste tests along the way :) Thanks for your great and simple recipes!

  32. 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.

  33. 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).

  34. 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!

  35. 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!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

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

  36. 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.

  37. Amber says

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

    IMPORTANT:
    *****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

  38. 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?

    Yam!

  39. 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.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker 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.

    • Melissa says

      I think I figured out the issue! I did 2 batches with a nonstick pan and it boiled for all of time and finally crystalized and turned into a rock. When I used a stainless steel pan on the 3rd try-caramelization!

  40. 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?

  41. Megan Jenkins 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!

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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!!!

  45. Vespa Woolf says

    I love caramel sauce and this sounds fabulous! Bourbon is so delicious in sweets. I look forward to trying this.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker 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.

      • Lynn says

        Bourbon is gluten-free. Gluten is a protein that cannot get through distillation. Therefore, all distilled spirits are gluten-free unless something is added to the product post distillation. True bourbon by definition cannot have anything added. If something is added, it must be noted on the front label, and it can no longer be called bourbon. Celiac.com clearly states “all distilled alcohols are gluten-free.”

  46. Morgan 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 :)

  47. 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?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker 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.

  48. Sarah says

    Ohhhh baby. I saw this post on Cup of Joe and had to come and take a look at your site – this looks absolutely spectacular!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker 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!

      • Traci 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!

        • Sarah says

          Hello! I just used coconut milk as well, but I’m not sure it worked. I’m always confused as to which part of the milk to use…the creamy fat at the top, the liquid underneath, or does that get mixed together before using? Thanks!

      • 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! :)

        • Kara says

          It’s the sugar that creates the amber color. Leave the sugar on the stove until it melts and turns amber before adding cream

  49. Kelli H (Made in Sonoma) says

    This looks ridiculously good…

    My favorite sundae is vanilla, toasted coconut, and a heavy drizzle of salted caramel sauce.