Divine Caramel Sauce
*Makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
In a small, heavy saucepan, slowly combine the sugar and water, taking care not to let any of the mixture splash up onto the sides of the pan. Set the pan over low heat and stir the mixture gently until the sugar is dissolved, 6-10 minutes. Again, don't stir vigorously or else the syrup will splash onto the sides of the pan which can cause crystallization issues later. To be sure the sugar is dissolved, I'll dip a spoon in the sugar mixture and then gently slide my finger over the mixture on the spoon and take a taste. If the sugar is dissolved, the syrup will be smooth and not at all grainy. If you still feel grains of sugar, keep stirring over low heat until it is completely dissolved. Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved before letting the mixture come to a boil. If you notice any sugar particles on the sides of the pan, gently wash them down with a clean wet pastry brush. As the caramel boils, it can crystallize if those undissolved sugar particles get incorporated into the caramel.
Once the sugar is completely dissolved, increase the heat to medium or medium-high and bring the syrup to a boil. Cover the saucepan and let the syrup boil for 2 minutes. Uncover, reduce the heat to medium, and continue to boil, without stirring, until the edges start to turn golden brown. It is critical not to stir the caramel during stage while it boils covered and then turns a light golden color because this is where it is most likely to crystallize if it is going to do so. Again, the crystallization happens due to undissolved sugar grains and other possible substances that fall into the syrup while it is boiling. By not stirring, the syrup doesn't move around as much which reduces the chances of any undissolved sugar granules falling into the caramel.
Once the syrup has turned a light golden brown, carefully and gently stir the syrup or swirl the pan until it turns a deep amber, caramel color. On my stove, this takes about 5-7 minutes. Do not stir vigorously or quickly and don't scrape down the sides of the pan while stirring. Simply move the spoon or rubber spatula slowly over and around the bottom of the pan.
Remove from the heat and add the butter. Gently stir until the butter is incorporated. Stir in the cream. If the sauce becomes lumpy and isn’t whisking together, set the pan over the still-warm burner and stir until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt.
Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature. Store the sauce in a jar or airtight container, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Reheat on low power in the microwave or in a saucepan, adding a tablespoon of two or water, if needed, if the sauce is too thick.