There are a lot of caramel questions. Hopefully I'm not repeating anyone...

I've made caramel sauce several times with the recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction. (But using a different beginning procedure: Dissolve sugar in ~1/2 cup of water, not stirring. Put the lid on for a few minutes to clean the sides. After that it's the same.) For some reason, though, whenever I make it I end up with lots of tiny lumps suspended in my caramel. As I mention in the title, these lumps are not little sugar crystals. I've had my caramel crystallize before, and this is very different. They're soft, for one thing, and so I'm not sure what's happening.

At first I thought the little lumps were just air bubbles. That's what they look like. But they actually have some body to them. It's almost like I have tiny bits of cooked egg or something (which is obviously impossible.) They have a gelatinous quality. So my guess is that the cream is doing something weird? Flavor is good, thickness is good, everything is good except these stupid little lumps.

Does anyone know what's happening, and how I can make it stop...? I'm about to take an immersion blender to the mess and let God sort it out.

EDIT/UPDATE: So... I now have a theory that I tend to get my caramel so dark (more of a crimson/burnt sienna than an amber. Probably around 380F) that some of the dairy solids in the butter (maybe even the cream?) cook/coagulate as soon as I add it, leading to those gelatinous lumps. I haven't had the time (or a good reason) to try cooling my syrup with some water before I add the butter yet, but as I said in the original question, this definitely isn't sugar crystallization, and it's been a persistent problem. When my mom's made the recipe before, she didn't have the problem, but she's also terrified of burning her caramel and tends to add the butter much, much sooner.

I've noticed brown specks when I've made chewy caramels and toffee as well, so I'm wondering if cooked and browned dairy solids are my whole problem here.

caramel on a spoon and spread on a white plate.

  • Welcome to the site @kitukwfyer. A picture would be really helpful, it's hard to tell from your description. The second picture of the recipe link shows some sort of lumps or bubbles, are they similar to your result? – GdD Apr 9 '17 at 18:54
  • @GdD : Pictures added, and no, not similar to my results. :/ – kitukwfyer Apr 9 '17 at 19:16
  • Funky. I have no ideas. – GdD Apr 9 '17 at 20:14
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    This looks a lot like the scum you get when making clarified butter ... hey, clarified butter could be a good idea to try... – rackandboneman Apr 12 '17 at 12:08
  • For the record, I tried a very different caramel recipe (using condensed milk, sugar, and golden syrup all in one pot from the start), aaaaand I still got weird lumps! Seriously. Why does my caramel do weird curdley things? T.T – kitukwfyer May 23 '17 at 23:33

I have failed many times to make that kind of recipes. They contain false direction, especially when it comes to melt the sugar.

Here is a quote which helps me. It's not accurate but you'll get the idea.

The thing to do when you want caramel is to do nothing

In the recipe you provide, the author stirs the sugar while it cooks. That's a bad idea.

Sugar has a very complex crystal structure and it's not very stable when you heat it. Thus if you disturbed the crystals, you'll end up with lumps. During the last step (the one with the cream), it will emphasize those lumps.

So you need to refrain to stir during the melting step. If you have sugar sticking on the side of the pan, you could use a brush with some water. And again, do not stir.

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    I agree 100%. No stirring once the sugar is dissolved. And to avoid sugar sticking on the sides, you may use a lid and let the condensation keep the sides clean. Here is a video The Trick to Making Caramel - Kitchen Conundrums with Thomas Joseph – roetnig Apr 12 '17 at 14:56
  • @roetnig I didn't know that trick. Nice! – A.D. Apr 12 '17 at 15:14
  • OK, but what are those lumps composed of? – Lorel C. Apr 12 '17 at 16:09
  • Not sure, but my guess is that the cream interacts with unstable crystals and makes those lumps. – A.D. Apr 12 '17 at 16:54

kitukwfyer I looked at the photos on the recipe site you gave and her caramel sauce has large and small lumps in it. The only thing I can think of when the cream was added to the caramelized sugar and butter mixture, it cooled the mixture enough that tiny secs of butter congealed in it. On the recipe site, it looks Ike hers are larger so maybe you stirred yours in more thorough.

Personally, I find it can be tricky melting and caramelizing sugar evenly. Her method is also liable to spattering hot caramel on the stove. Sugar can be caramelized cooking with some water first and it's safer. I'm not suggesting using this recipe - How to Make an Easy Caramel Sauce but read it over and see what you think of the method.

Serious Eats Easy Homemade Caramel Sauce Recipe

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  • You only need 2000 reputation to edit others' posts so it's definitely not just mods who can help you out. (We do tend to be pretty active though.) If you post from mobile a lot, you might also be interested in the app (Android or iOS) - the editor there can do links and such. – Cascabel Apr 10 '17 at 4:06
  • Thanks, Jerome. I'll take a look at it. I've got so many apps already (I only keep those I use) but what's one more? ;) – Jude Apr 10 '17 at 4:18
  • Hmm. I'll take a look at it, for sure. One thing I should point out is that I usually do use water to initially dissolve the sugar (I just don't think about it.) That said, the sauce cooks for a minute more after adding the cream, so if it got cool enough for the butter to solidify, it gets hot enough again to melt it, but the lumps remain... And the lumps aren't greasy, but have a gelatinous quality. It's not sugar crystals or lumps of fat I don't think. That's why I'm so confused... Thanks for the link, though! – kitukwfyer Apr 10 '17 at 5:24

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