vanilla bean bourbon caramel sauce

Though I usually don’t adulterate ice cream, I somehow convinced myself that I need this caramel sauce.  The intimidation must’ve come from the few tablespoons of bourbon a recent day of Hot Toddy healing left behind.  Save it, it was a small bottle.  And by the way, in case of illness, an army of Hot Toddies is your ally.  It lets you sweat out the sick, take seven naps in two hours and forget that you can’t hear anything other than the aggressive whistle of the tea kettle.

Caramel sauce isn’t just for ice cream topping.  It’s for filling cupcakes, spiking frosting, swirling ice cream ribbons, and, if you’re watching your calories, dipping apples.  This jar o’ meltedsugarbutterohyeah reminds me of why I take power walks.

Water meets sugar.  Syrup meets cream.  Vanilla and bourbon crash the party.  Not much to it, but do practice patience, and forget that a watched pot never boils.  If you don’t watch, this pot not only boils, but it’ll make you regret the last 17 minutes of your life.  Watch it.  Then get on with the indulging.  It’s sweater season.


Materials (makes about a cup)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter, cut into 1 Tbsp pats, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split, cut and scraped
1 tablespoon bourbon


1. Heat water and sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and allow to simmer on medium-low heat for about 18-21 minutes.  Don’t stir or whisk, but if you must, you can gently swirl.

2. After 15-20 minutes, the sugar will morph into a hardened, crystallized mass, but don’t worry.  Within a minute or so, it will melt back into a golden syrup that will shortly turn amber.

3. Lower the heat, and slowly and carefully pour in the cream (be careful: mixture will bubble and create a scalding steam).  Whisk until smooth.

4. Remove saucepan from heat, add butter, vanilla bean seeds and bourbon, and whisk to combine.

A few notes:

  1. Make sure you have a dedicated 25 minutes to this process.  It’s not all active time, but the sauce goes from ideal color and temperature to burnt in seconds.
  2. Have the cream measured out and ready to pour.  At this step, there’s no time to waste looking for anything.
  3. Because of the cream, this caramel sauce can’t be canned.  However, it does keep well in the fridge for about a week.
  4. Sugar will slightly crystallize at refrigeration, so just warm the sauce before use and it will return to its original smooth texture.