This weekend I tried making salted caramel following a recipe from Bon Appetit's Test Kitchen (The caramel part from https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/salted-caramel-chocolate-tart).

I noticed a little foam during the caramel formation but it did not give me much trouble at the moment, but later, when I added the butter, everything has gone awfully bad.

I took it off the stove to add the butter but it started to gain a sandy texture and a light yellow color. I put it on the stove again and kept adding butter hoping to solve it but it did not help.

In the end, I resolved by using half a glass of water, that lowered the temperature and melted everything back to a smooth deep amber sauce. After adding the cream and trying to reduce it to remove the added water, it went ok.

What did I do wrong? What happened?

P.S. In the recipe it asks for cream of tartar but I did not have it so I did not use it, is it the cause? I've seen other recipes without it, so I thought it was ok.

  • Generally, if you make a caramel sauce that includes cream (or any other liquid), crystallization after the caramelization is finished is not a big problem, because the crystals dissolve in the added liquid. It is only a problem if crystallization happens before the caramelization is finished or if you want to use the caramel without added liquid.
    – Tinuviel
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 11:00
  • @Tinuviel Could I have avoided the water and go straight to the cream? the amount was really small, I halved everything in that recipe because I didn't need as much.
    – bracco23
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 11:03
  • Oh you're right, it is a very small amount, I didn't notice before. You could have first added the cream, and then added more water if the cream is not enough to dissolve everything.
    – Tinuviel
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


Acids, such as cream of tartar, can interfere with the formation of crystals by inverting sugars. Without it, you need to be more careful/lucky...

To quote Cooks Illustrated [It's for simple syrup but point still holds]:

Simple syrup crystallizes when enough of the sugar molecules stick to one another that they become insoluble in the water... To find a more effective solution, we had to understand why these additives helped. The cream of tartar and lemon juice are both acids that are able to break down sugar molecules into glucose and fructose in a process called inversion. So not only were fewer sugar molecules available to cluster together in our doctored syrups but the newly present glucose and fructose were physically blocking the remaining sugar molecules from one another.

  • I thought about using lemon juice, but I was not sure how much to avoid the taste. Also, how much is luck and how much is skill? I have so many questions.
    – bracco23
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 10:51
  • 1
    Don't use too much -- try it. Generally, when you get a recipe, the first time you should follow it exactly. And practice making caramels.
    – Batman
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 11:10
  • thanks, I'll definitely try more times to get better at it.
    – bracco23
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 12:01

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