Apple cider caramel is a gooey, sticky, buttery, and rich sauce that’s imbued with the essence of pure apple. It will take any fall dessert to the next level, but personally, I enjoy it straight off a spoon.
This recipe was originally published on September 21, 2018. It has been updated with new content and photos. Enjoy!
You know what’s a universal truth (at least as far as I’m concerned)? It will NEVER be too cold for ice cream. Of course I realize that some of you naysayers will disagree handily. And while you may have some very legit arguments to back up your stance – I am staunchly over here in the camp of stubborn, winter time ice cream eaters. And I will not be silenced!
Soapbox status now acheived, it may be in my best interest to clarify my position. Not ALL ice cream is appropriate for fall/winter consumption. For instance, you won’t find me dipping into a bracing and sunshiney lemon sorbet once the temps have dropped below say 60 degrees. But most of the standard flavors remain a four season staple for me.
But if you’re still shaking your head in disbelief, well maybe today’s recipe will bridge the gap between those icy cold scoops and the cozy fall feelings we’re all desperately trying to grasp and hold on to for dear life.
Apple Cider Caramel Sauce
This gooey, buttery sauce is thick and sticky, sweet and rich, downright juicy with apple flavor, and is the perfect cold weather compliment to any dessert – especially ice cream. Seriously, if a generous spoonful of this stuff, slowly dripping down a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream isn’t a fall dream come true – well then I’m ready to turn in my pumpkins and move to Tulum.
But the best part about this sauce is that it’s dead easy to make. The main ingredient here (other than apple cider of course) is really time. The unmistakable essence of apple comes from boiling cider down until it’s almost a syrup. Then you build a seriously no fuss, brown sugar caramel around the cidery drippings and what you’re left with is a deep, dark, highly nuanced, apple cider caramel sauce to drizzle liberally on all the things.
What You Need to Make Apple Cider Caramel
This only takes a few ingredients really, but like so many recipes that require very little, each item should be good quality and specific. Here’s a run down of what you’ll need.
- Apple cider: The kind you get from the grocery store is fine here, but if you can get your hands of the good stuff (like from an orchard) even better. Just make sure it’s cider, and not juice. Easy way to know the difference? Cider is cloudy, juice is clear.
- Dark brown sugar: To be honest, whenever I call for brown sugar in ANY recipe, it’s always dark. Mostly because it seems like such a pain to keep yet another kind of sugar in the cabinet. But also because dark brown sugar has a bit more molasses than its light counterpart which makes it just a little bit stickier, richer, and more nuanced in my opinion.
- Butter: Unsalted and fresh please. Did you know that butter picks up odors from the contents of your fridge? I keep mine wrapped up and in a butter dish to avoid anything fishy or otherwise from getting in there. I also use it relatively quickly, and keep any extra sticks in the freezer, where the smells can’t get to them.
- Cream: There really isn’t much cream here, so it is absolutely necessary to use it. Plus, it’s dessert, so chill.
- Salt: Anything sweet must be balanced by some salt. No, this is not a “salted caramel” it’s just a caramel that has a little salt thrown in for good measure. Trust me, it makes all the difference.
- Cinnamon/Vanilla: Just a little bit of each of these for flavor adds some nuance to all the apple and sugar we’ve got going on. You could skip them, but I wouldn’t.
How to Make Apple Cider Caramel Sauce
- Start by pouring your cider into a heavy bottomed sauce pan. This is key, as the weight of it helps distribute the heat so the cider reduces down without burning. You’ll bring it up to a boil and then lower the heat a bit to maintain a medium boil. Basically you want it to continously boil, but without the threat of it boiling over and ruining your life.
- Once your cider has reduced to a mere 1/2 C (it’s ok if it’s a tablespoon over, I also get impatient), you’ll add the brown sugar, butter, cream, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk until smooth and bring back to the boil. You’ll boil the caramel, stirring often, until it has thickened slightly, or until the bubbles start to get big and build up on each other. This process takes about 5 minutes, but if you’re into thermometers and precision you can just cook it until it reaches 230 degrees.
- Last step is to kill the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let the stuff cool until it’s no longer culinary napalm (ie: way too hot to eat).
- You can drizzle it warm or room temperature over cakes, pies, blondies, or of course – ice cream!
- Leftover caramel will keep for about a week, covered in the fridge. It will get firmer as it cools, so I just give mine a zap in the microwave for about 30 seconds to loosen things up before serving.
Tips for Making Apple Cider Caramel
This really is one of the easiest caramels I’ve ever made, so there aren’t that many places you could possibly go wrong – but who doesn’t like a little insurance in the form of a solid tip!
- Don’t boil your apple cider too hard and stir it regularly. This will keep the bottom from scorching, and the whole thing from boiling over onto the stove. If you see the bubbles start to climb up the side of the pot, turn down your heat a bit.
- Stir the cider and proceeding caramel with a heat proof spatula (I like the ones from GIR, personally – and no this is not sponsored – I just like em). This will keep things a little cleaner, and you won’t have to worry about the heat of the caramel climbing up the handle of a metal spoon and possibly burning your little fingies.
- Gather the rest of your ingredients while you cider reduces. Yes, I know it seems like you have forever until the cider is ready to become caramel, but when the time does come, things move very quickly, and having everything already measured out and good to go is a definite plus.
- Add the vanilla off heat. Vanilla is actually really delicate, and if the caramel is still boiling when you add it, it will simply dissapate into the air.
- Remove the caramel sauce from the pot quickly. Because heavy bottomed pots tend to conduct heat very effectively, it also means they stay hot for quite a while – which means your caramel will continue to cook as it sits (which can result in a firmer setting sauce than you might like). I like to pour mine (CAREFULLY) into a large glass bowl or measuring cup. Just make sure whatever you use is heat proof.
- Don’t stick your finger in there! Seriously, this stuff is HOT. You’ll need to let it cool for at least 15 minutes before using, and possibly longer.
- Bonus tip: Cleaning a sticky pot is easiest by filling it halfway with water, plopping it on the stove over medium heat, chucking on a lid and bringing it to a boil. The resulting steam will help loosen all that gooey sugar, and you should be able to wipe it clean with ease.
How to Serve Apple Cider Caramel
I mean, do I even have to say? Ok, I’ll indulge you. This appley, buttery, and nuanced sauce is great warm and drizzled over chewy blondies, on ice cream, atop a slice of holiday pie, or as a dip with salty pretzels and crisp fruit. But seriously, it’s so good you’ll find plenty of other creative ways to use it I’m guessing.
And if this puts you in the holiday spirit, well you may as well pop on over to one of these seasonal delights while you’re here!
- Cranberry Cornmeal Skillet Cake
- Easy Home Style Mashed Potatoes
- Butternut Squash Drop Biscuits
- Caramelized Onion Stuffing
Apple Cider Caramel
Boiling the cider down does take a little while, but the rest of the caramel comes together in less than ten minutes. What you’re left with is the essence of apple all wrapped up in a gooey, buttery, caramel sauce just waiting to be drizzled on pretty much anything sweet.
- Prep Time: 0 Minutes
- Cook Time: 1 Hour
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 2 Cups 1x
- Category: Dessert
- Cuisine: American
2 C apple cider
¼ C heavy cream
3 T unsalted butter
2 C dark brown sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, bring the cider to a moderate boil (ie: vigorous bubbles, but nothing that looks like it’s foaming up). Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes. You are finished when you have ½ C of reduced cider left.
Over medium heat, add brown sugar, butter, cream, salt and cinnamont to reduced cider. Stir to combine and boil for 4-6 minutes or until the temperature reaches 230° F on an instant read or candy thermometer.
When the mixture reaches 230° F, remove from heat add vanilla and stir to combine.
Let cool slightly and serve warm or room temperature. The caramel will continue to thicken as it cools – so if you’re reheating leftovers, just zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds to loosen things up.
Gather the rest of your ingredients while you cider reduces. Yes, I know it seems like you have forever until the cider is ready to become caramel, but when the time does come, things move very quickly, and having everything already measured out and good to go is a definite plus.
Add the vanilla off heat. Vanilla is actually really delicate, and if the caramel is still boiling when you add it, it will simply dissapate into the air.
Remove the caramel sauce from the pot quickly. Because heavy bottomed pots tend to conduct heat very effectively, it also means they stay hot for quite a while – which means your caramel will continue to cook as it sits (which can result in a firmer setting sauce than you might like). I like to pour mine (CAREFULLY) into a large glass bowl or measuring cup. Just make sure whatever you use is heat proof.
Keywords: caramel sauce, apple cider recipe, apple cider recipe, holiday dessert