Tonight I made a simple caramel sauce by using:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup cream

I caramelized the sugar (without any water), stirring constantly. When it was fully melted and had no lumps in it, I put in my butter and stirred until it fully melted. Finally I took the mixture off the heat, slowly added cream, and whisked until the mixture was smooth.

At no point during the process did I smell burnt sugar, but when I tasted the caramel sauce, it tasted a lot more bitter than I was expecting.

Is there anything glaringly obviously wrong based on how I made my caramel sauce, or is there something else I can do to ensure my caramel sauce tastes less bitter?

  • Did you wait before adding the cream?
    – Mien
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 7:36
  • @Mien I waited like 10 seconds.
    – Jay
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:52

2 Answers 2


I would say there are 2 problems here: the lack of water, and the constant stirring. Try adding 1/4 cup of water to the sugar - this should stop it catching and burning.

You should avoid stirring caramelising sugar because you run the risk of flicking bits of it onto the side of the pan. These isolated bits cook faster and thus burn, then drop into the rest of the sugar. Result: bitter caramel. Stirring also promotes crystallisation, which is not what you want for a smooth sauce.

If you have to stir it, do it slowly, carefully, and infrequently - only as much as necessary to distribute the water evenly through the sugar.

I would also use a sugar or probe thermometer to ensure you're not over-cooking the sugar - get it to 350ºF, then take it off heat. This will take 6-8 minutes, and it will be a dark amber colour. Let it stand for 1 minute before whisking in your cream (I normally gently heat the cream beforehand by the way, and add a teaspoon of sea salt to it, because salted caramel is effing gorgeous).

  • 6
    Also, if there is sugar/caramel on the side of the pan, use a brush with water to rinse it off. Commented May 7, 2012 at 8:31
  • That's a good tip BaffledCook Commented May 7, 2012 at 8:59
  • .... For the record you should only have to worry about caramel burning on the edge of the pan if you're using a gas stove or a pot that's way too small for the burner (maybe). But a dry caramel is going to get darker and more bitter for sure. Starting with water will help prevent that.
    – kitukwfyer
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 23:45

I know this was a while ago but perhaps we shared the same problem.

The sugar was fine, the burnt taste was when adding the cream to super hot sugar. It was the cream that burned in my case.

I solved that somewhat by waiting for the sugar to cool and whisking vigorously madding all the cream at once.

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