Homemade Bourbon Caramel Sauce with Pecans
If you’re looking for a rich, creamy homemade caramel sauce like no other, you’ve found it. This decadent bourbon caramel sauce is quick and easy to make with only six ingredients and about ten minutes of cooking. It’s gilded with toasted pecans and finished with a splash of bourbon. Your ice cream is naked without a spoonful of this caramel pecan recipe.
Making caramel might seem like a daunting thing, but it’s actually really simple to do. You don’t even need a candy thermometer for this homemade caramel and the flavors are beyond amazing.
I’ve jazzed up this homemade caramel with Kentucky bourbon and toasted pecans (it’s a Southern thing), but you can easily skip them for a straight-up salted caramel sauce to spoon over ice cream, cheesecakes or anything else you can think of.
Table of Contents
Why this recipe works:
- It’s fairly hands-off — when you begin making caramel, you don’t want to stir or even touch it.
- Once the sugar begin to melt and caramelize, the caramel pecan recipe comes together very quickly.
- It’s a kind of “chefy” thing that you can impress your friends with.
- The bourbon caramel sauce is thin and loose when first made, but it thickens up in the refrigerator.
- A jar of this caramel pecan sauce lasts for 10 days or more in the refrigerator.
- This recipe can be customized to suit your tastes.
- Pecans – Pecans are very Southern and they pair perfectly with Kentucky bourbon in the caramel.
- Granulated Sugar – Sugar is essential for making caramel; you can’t substitute anything else, it’s what gives this sauce it’s distinctive rich color, smell and flavor. It’s also where problems can occur, but I’ve got the solution. More on that later.
- Light Corn Syrup – I used Karo brand, which doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup.
- Heavy Cream – It must be heavy cream or whipping cream. Don’t substitute half and half or whole milk. It won’t work because they don’t contain enough fat, which will cause the sauce to break.
- Fine Sea Salt – Sea salt has a clean, fresh flavor that doesn’t taste chemical. It’s what you want for the salted caramel sauce.
- Bourbon – Use whatever you like to drink. I’ve made this with Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Bulleit, etc. You only need a splash of spirits for the recipe.
Measure and assemble the ingredients before you begin
Before you begin making the homemade caramel, it’s essential to have your ingredients prepped, measured and ready because the recipe comes together quickly, and you’ll need to pay attention so the sauce doesn’t burn.
How to make bourbon caramel sauce.
Making caramel sauce from scratch only takes about 10 minutes, making it an easy dessert topping that stands out from the crowd.
- Heat a heavy, medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Add the sugar into the center of the pan and pour the corn syrup over it. Don’t stir.
- Let the sugar begin to melt without stirring or touching it. This may take 2-3 minutes. The sugar crystals in contact with the pan will start dissolving and caramelizing.
- Use a wooden spoon or whisk to stir the caramelized sugar on the bottom with the granulated sugar on top. Continue to stir and cook until all of the sugar has dissolved and the color of the caramel is deep, tawny and burnished. (It can take 4-6 minutes to get to the dark brown color.)
- Add the heavy cream to the center of the pan. It will bubble furiously when it comes into contact with the molten sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the caramel sauce is evenly combined and smooth.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sea salt, toasted, chopped pecans and bourbon to the caramel sauce and stir to combine.
- Transfer to a storage container (I like to use a glass jar with a screw-on lid) and let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, you can store the bourbon caramel sauce in the refrigerator.
- Caramelized sugar is like molten lava — hotter than hell. Do not touch it with your fingers, hands and NOT YOUR MOUTH.) No matter how much you want to taste, let it cool first.
- Make sure your little kids are NOT IN THE KITCHEN when making this sauce — you don’t want anything distracting you and don’t want them getting hurt.
- The caramel sauce will firm up, getting thick and ropy as it chills. To soften, microwave it for 20-30 seconds before using it.
- Cleaning the pot can be a pain because the remnants of the homemade caramel can harden and stick. Use this hack to avoid the hassle: Fill the pot with warm water and place it on the stove over high heat to make it easier. The stuck-on caramel lifts away as the water heats, making cleaning easier.
Troubleshooting caramel sauce:
If you’re struggling with making caramel sauce, here are a few questions you might ask yourself.
- The number one problem people have when making homemade caramel is that it seems gritty or not smooth. That’s because sugar crystals, even after melting, will try to reattach and crystalize. Corn syrup prevents that from happening, so it’s an important part of this recipe. Other liquid sweeteners like honey and agave don’t have the same properties, so they will not inhibit crystallization.
- What type of stovetop do you have (gas, electric, induction)? Does it run hot or behave inconsistently in any way? Mine is a gas cooktop running very hot, so I have to watch it closely. Electric stoves may take a bit longer to melt the sugar for the caramel, and induction cooktops tend to heat more quickly. Know your equipment and anticipate its tendencies.
- What type of pan are you using? I recommend a large (2½ -3 quart) heavy-duty saucepan. (I use All-Clad), but Calphalon or other heavy-bottomed saucepans work well too. A heavy pan will hold the heat at a constant temperature without hot spots, so the sugar will dissolve more evenly and is less likely to burn.
- Don’t play with your food. When you add the sugar to the pan, the key is NOT to TOUCH IT for a few minutes. Let the sugar sit in the pan for several minutes so it begins to melt and caramelize. When you finally stir it, you’ll notice that the sugars in contact with the saucepan have already started caramelizing.
- Just because the sugar gets brown doesn’t mean it’s burnt. It’s ok if the caramelized sugar gets a milk chocolate or tawny brown color. That’s how the flavor develops for the caramel sauce.
- If the sugar is truly burning, remove the pan from the heat for 30 seconds while give the pan a few assertive shakes back and forth. This will cool the caramel slightly from the ambient air and keep the sauce moving so no one spot will burn.
- One reader said she had “wrecked” her pan with the burnt sugar… I know it might seem that way, but if you add 1-2 cups of water to the pan and bring it to a boil, the burnt-on caramel will dissolve into the water and make it easy to clean.
- If you’re avoiding alcohol, use a teaspoon of vanilla extract instead of the bourbon.
- Want a plain salted caramel sauce? Skip the bourbon and pecans and flavor with a teaspoon of vanilla and a pat of unsalted butter.
- Stir a tablespoon of good unsalted butter into the sauce before adding the sea, salt, bourbon and pecans.
- You can use other types of liquor in this homemade caramel. Try this recipe with rum, whiskey or cognac instead of the bourbon.
- Swap pecans for nuts like slivered almonds, pistachios, walnuts or macadamia nuts, but be sure to toast them first for maximum flavor.
- Dissolve two teaspoons of instant espresso powder in the cream before adding it to the melted sugar for a coffee caramel sauce.
- Once comfortable making the salted caramel sauce, try combinations like rum and macadamia nut, Frangelico and hazelnuts, or Amaretto and almonds.
Yes. It contains three tablespoons (less than ¼ cup) of bourbon for 12 servings – or about one teaspoon per serving.
This bourbon caramel sauce uses sugar and corn syrup, melted down to a caramel with heavy cream, sea salt, bourbon and toasted pecans.
Bourbon caramel sauce isn’t particularly boozy. It has a subtle bourbon flavor, but most of the alcohol evaporates in the hot caramel. The flavor is like salted caramel with a hint of spirits. The crunchy pecans add a nice texture, though they’re optional.
Yes. You can make it up to 10 days in advance.
Nothing. The sauce is thin and loose right after its made. Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for several hours or overnight. It will thicken to a soft, ropy consistency. If it’s too thick, zap it in the microwave in 20-30 second bursts until spoonable.
Refrigerate the pecan caramel sauce in a sealed jar for 10 days to 2 weeks.
What to serve with bourbon pecan caramel sauce:
- Vanilla ice cream, Pecan Praline Ice Cream or Peach Ice Cream
- Top plain cheesecake with the caramel pecan recipe.
- Spoon the pecan caramel topping over baked apples.
- Drizzle over Baked pears.
- Dip Apple turnovers into a small ramekin of homemade caramel.
More caramel sauce recipes:
- Balsamic Caramel Dessert Sauce – delicious with strawberries and ice cream.
- Spiced Cider Rum Sauce – this one is great for fall made with an apple cider reduction.
- Luscious Stout Caramel Sauce – if you have a can of Guinness in the fridge, make this one.
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Southern Bourbon Pecan Caramel Sauce
- 1 3 quart heavy bottomed saucepan
- wooden spoon or whisk
- ½ cup pecans
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons bourbon
- Preheat oven to 325º. Place pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes until browned and fragrant. Transfer pecans to a cutting board and roughly chop. Set aside.
- Have all your ingredients and utensils close to the stove and pre-measured before you start.
- Place a medium saucepan over medium to medium high heat on the stove (if your stove runs hot, use medium, if it's true to temperature heat to medium high). Add sugar and corn syrup. No need to stir immediately.
- Bring mixture to a rolling boil and watching the sugar mixture deepen in color. It will go from a light corn-syrup color, to light brown to amber. The change between light brown and amber is quick. Be ready for it.
- When it achieves a deep brown (not burnt) color, pour the cream into the center of the pan. It will steam and bubble vigorously — that's ok. Stir until the sauce is smooth and well blended.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the bourbon, sea salt and chopped pecans. Let it cool for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a storage container with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate.
- Sauce will thicken as it chills. To serve, microwave the sauce for about 20-30 seconds, then spoon over ice cream, cheesecake, or apple pie.
- Makes about 1½ cups of bourbon pecan caramel sauce.
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Can this be canned and processed?
What could I substitute (non-alcoholic) for the bourbon? This sauce sounds amazing!
Can you put this on top of a cheesecake?
Yes! Would be delicious!
Hi! I was wondering, I’ve made caramel before and it has butter, why does this recipe doesn’t have butter? Is it for shelf life? Thank you!
I’ve read through all the comments to try to find an answer but couldn’t find a 100% answer.
I want to make this caramel recipe, but would I be able to sub the bourbon for a dark 60 proof rum?
Hoping to hear from you soon!
Absolutely, you can!
I can’t wait to try this. Picking up pecans this week. For those asking about canning – you should never home can/process recipes with dairy. The fat in the dairy encapsulate bacteria, including bacteria that cause botulism, and protect them from the high temps that normally kill those bacteria. Stay safe!
Thank you so much! I just started canning and this is a great tip.
Oh my goodness this is goooooood!!!!! I just made this sauce as a filling for a cake, but my husband and I are definitely eating this by the spoonful! I have had mixed results with caramel in the past, and probably have more caramel fails than successes, but this recipe worked wonderfully! I will definitely be making this again!!!
Ok! I did it with heavy cream and it was delicious, the only thing is that the first time I did it it formed a big ball of caramel and it didn’t dissolve when I added the cream. The second one was better but still a small ball of hard caramel formed, I got a good batch but with that solid ball on my whisk. What did I do wrong? Thanks!!!
I don’t think you did anything wrong. If all of the caramel doesn’t dissolve, you can return the caramel to the heat and whisk constantly until it does. Sometimes caramel can be persnickety, but I’ve found the more you make it, the more intuitive the process becomes. If there is a lump of hard caramel, you could also strain it out.
I’ve added a troubleshooting section in the post to help with that.
Hi! Can I use evaporated milk instead of heavy cream?
No, that won’t work. Save the recipe until you can get the cream.
Can this be canned? If so how long would it last?
I’ve never canned it because we eat it so quickly. If you’re using traditional canning methods, I would think it would keep for a year.
I love this recipe, color looks perfect, i need to do a « Poutine « cake soon, for wife’s birthday, i will not put the pecan this Time, Will do it again.
How can this be stored? I am wanting to make it for Christmas gifts, so how do you store it and for how long will it keep?
Store it in the refrigerator with a tight fitting lid. (If you’re a canner – you could can it and store it in the pantry). Refrigerated it will hold up for 2-3 weeks. So if you’re gifting it, (not canned), let your recipients know to keep it refrigerated and use it soon. Best when warmed up before spooning over ice cream or pie, even baked apples or pears.
Made this for our Fathers day get together to pour over our dessert and boy you weren’t kidding when you say the color changes fast! In the 10 seconds it took for me to reach for the cream and pour it in – it went from perfect to burnt! Thought I could maybe salvage it but the burnt flavor was too strong. Thankfully I had just enough cream left to try another batch and this time I got it right! It’s the perfect consistancy, color and the taste….the only reason I held off tasting it was the fact I like a non-burned mouth lol. When it cooled down enough I dipped a spoon in it and licked it clean….walked away and a few minutes later grabbed another spoon and dipped that in. I had to force myself to stop so I would have enough left to bring lol. And for those that don’t like the idea of corn syrup – what you buy in the grocery store is not the same as the corn syrup used in processing plants, and that small amount is almost crucial to keep the caramel from crystalizing. It’s sugar in a liquid form and it will keep the sugar crystals from developing and ruining the caramel.