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A Caramel Lesson – How to Melt and What to Add

Caramel Filled Chocolate up close 

Caramel – I LOVE it!  I use it in a lot of my desserts.  It’s one of those sweets that can add a little pizzazz when needed.  I’ve been getting questions about melting caramel and what substitutes you can use in place of the heavy whipping cream.  So I thought I’d answer the most asked questions today for you. 

First there are a few forms that caramel will come in.  The most common is the individual blocks wrapped in cellophane.  Whereas these are the most economical ($1.98 for 14 ounces) they are also the most time consuming to use.  It takes time to unwrap each block and then of course, you can’t help but eat a few of them as you unwrap them – that’s just a given in my kitchen and should be in yours too.   Since they are larger blocks of caramel, they also take a little longer to melt.  So if you are more cost conscious than time conscious, these are the ideal caramels for you.  You can find these in the candy aisle.


Then there are the caramel bits – little balls of caramel.  These have been around for about 5 years but up until about a year or two ago, they could only be found in the stores during the holidays.  Now they are a constant on the shelf.   The bits are easy to measure out and use just what you need.   Of course, when I use them, I still sneak a few – just another given.  The caramel bits cost more ($2.98 for 9 ounces) but will save you lots of time by not having to unwrap them as well as less melting time.  So if you are more time conscious than cost conscious, these are for you.  The caramel bits can be found in the baking aisle near the chocolate chips. 

One type of caramel that you don’t want to use unless the recipe specifically calls for it like in the New York Cheesecake, is caramel ice cream topping.  The ice cream topping is meant to stay in more of a liquid form rather than a solid and in most recipes where melted caramel is called for, you want it to harden some.

No matter which form of caramel you are using, they both can be melted in the microwave, in a melting pot, on a stove top in a heavy pan (so the caramel doesn’t burn) or in a double boiler.  Depending on how you want to use the caramel can determine which method to use.  If you plan to use it right away like I did in the Candy Pizza, melt it in the microwave and then pour it onto your crust immediately.  If you need the caramel to be warm for a longer period of time where you are working in batches like the Caramel and Toffee Sugar Cookies, I still melt them in the microwave but then will transfer it to a melting pot or a double boiler to keep it the consistency I need.  If you don’t have either of these, no big deal, you’ll just have to stick your caramel back in the microwave and reheat it every so often.  It just takes a little bit more time.

Now comes to the add ins.   You don’t have to add in anything to the caramel but when the melted caramel sets up, it will not be as soft as it would had you added an ingredient to it.  I almost always add heavy whipping cream to my caramel.  When melted, I like the way it gives it a creamier, richer flavor.  But if you don’t have heavy whipping cream or only need a few tablespoons for a recipe and know you won’t use the rest of a container before it spoils, don’t buy it.  You can use a few other substitutes. 

The first is milk.  This is where it gets tricky.  The amount you substitute the milk for the heavy cream for is not an exact science.  One reason is it depends on the type of milk you use.  Are you using whole, 2%, skim?  The “thicker” the milk, the more equivalent amount you will need to the heavy whipping cream.  So if a recipe called for 4 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream to be added to my caramel and I only have 2% milk in the house, I would add about half the amount so 2 tablespoons of milk to start with.  If it looked like it needed more after it’s melted, I can always add more.  My thoughts are less is better here.  You can always add more.  If you add too much heavy cream or milk to your caramel, it will affect the way it sets up.

The second substitute is water.  It’s funny because that is what Kraft recommends on their package for some of their recipes.   I personally – maybe because I’m a caramel snob – don’t like the water substitute taste as well as the heavy cream or even milk.  Most people may not even notice the difference, but I can especially if I am using it as a caramel filling in my chocolates.  Not my recommended ingredient but it will work if you are in a bind.

Below I have included my recipes for caramel for coating (like a gourmet pretzel or cookie) and caramel for filling (like a caramel filled chocolate).  The more liquid you add to your caramel, the softer it will be so have an idea of how soft you want your caramel in the end.

And one last thing – I get asked what you do with leftover caramel.  My first reaction is – What leftover caramel?  Don’t you just take a spoon and eat the rest?  What?  No?  Well you should!  But if you insist on having leftover caramel, it can be stored in an airtight container in your pantry or your fridge.  When you want to use it again, just pull it out and reheat.  You may have to add a little bit more liquid to get the consistency you want again.  Just DON’T throw it away!!! 


Caramel for Coating and for Filling


Caramel for Coating
• 1 pound caramel
• 4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Caramel for Filling
• 1 pound caramel
• 8 tablespoons heavy whipping cream


1. Heat caramel and whipping cream (or substitute) by desired method.
2. Once melted, stir until caramel is smooth.
3. Add more time if needed.

• Microwave Method: Takes approximately 1 ½ to 2 minutes. Stir after 1 minute. Add 30 second intervals after that.
• Stove Top Method: Takes approximately 10 – 15 minutes. Stir after 5 minutes and then every few minutes.
• Double Boiler Method: Takes approximately 10-15 minutes. Stir after 5 minutes and then every few minutes.
• Melting Pot Method: Takes approximately 10-15 minutes. Stir after 5 minutes and then every few minutes.

*Leftover caramel can be reused. Place in an airtight container and store in your pantry or refrigerator.

Adapted from a recipe I used as a Cake 'n Crumbs Instructor

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2 Responses to “A Caramel Lesson – How to Melt and What to Add”

  1. #
    Diane K. — January 26, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Great info, Kendra! Years ago when I used to make candy I used my empty yeast jars for melting chocolate – put some water in my electric fry pan – then the jars of chocolate. This would work for the carmel bits, too. Of course you have to be bread bakers but maybe you have another jar that would work. I kept the leftovers in my cupboard until the next time.

    • Kendra replied: — February 1st, 2012 @ 8:24 am

      You could also use baby jars if you have a baby in the house or pint jars. I’ve had other people tell me this is how they did it a long time ago too.