Skip Nav
Food Video
Meet the Doughnut Milk Luge, the Best Way to Wake Up
Food News
Little-Known Menu Secrets About Chipotle
Kid-Friendly Recipes
How to Make Your Morning Oatmeal Taste Like Cookies — No, Seriously

What Went Wrong? Sugar Crystallizing in Caramel Sauce

Over the weekend, I was attempting to make caramel sauce as an edible gift when something went terribly wrong. The result? An epic caramel bourbon vanilla sauce fail. During my first attempt, I boiled the sugar and water mixture over medium heat — but before it could turn amber-colored, the mixture suddenly and unexpectedly became a hardened mass of sugar.

The second time around, I adjusted my method, fully dissolving the sugar first over medium-low heat. Then I boiled the sauce gently, occasionally swirling the mixture. But the mixture took longer than expected to turn caramel in color, and, after about 10 minutes of boiling, it too turned into a crystallized mess.

After two tries, I feel more determined than ever to figure this out. Do you have any ideas what might've gone wrong? Should I have cooked through the crystallization stage? Was the heat too high?

Join The Conversation
Amanda2548065 Amanda2548065 5 years
This also happens because sugar crystalization starts to form on the side of the pan. To fix this, us a clean pastry brush (one that has never touched oil) and a water/vinegar solution to wash down the edges of the pan. The worst thing that you can do for sugar is agitate it in any way. Once you have reached the proper color for your sauce, be sure to arrest the cooking by shocking your pan in an ice bath.
manning_lvr manning_lvr 7 years
Do NOT Stir! Try to swirl the pan until sugar dissolves.
Food Food 7 years
Thanks Dave!
ksmerk311 ksmerk311 7 years
This happened to me literally five times at Thanksgiving trying to make caramels for my chocolates and pie. I found that I was overworking the caramel. If I didn't stir it that much, it didn't turn into a goop of crystallized mess.
Food Food 7 years
Anonymous — good to know!
Food Food 7 years
Thanks for your tips, guys. I'm going to give it another shot. I'm more determined to fix this problem than ever!
GratefulGrl80 GratefulGrl80 7 years
You don't need to use water. Just put the sugar in the pan, and keep a very close eye on it. It'll eventually liquify, and from there, just keep stirring until it reaches the color you want.
SillyGirl SillyGirl 7 years
This is my fail safe caramel recipe - works everytime: Caramel: Pour 1/4 cup water into saucepan. Add 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar. Cook over medium-heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and syrup is clear. Continue to cook, without stirring, until syrup comes to a boil. Let syrup boil, gently swirling pan occasionally, until syrup is dark amber. Remove from heat.
starceleste starceleste 7 years
You need to occasionally wash down the sides of the booiling pan with water to prevent crystals from forming. Also you may want to add some corn syrup to the batch, it prevents the caramel from getting grainy.
shoneyjoe shoneyjoe 7 years
You might contemplate the substitution of some corn syrup for sugar - the corn syrup actually does help to prevent the formation of crystals. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what ratio of substitution you should use.
busybeegal busybeegal 7 years
I feel you, the EXACT same thing happened to me this weekend. I was making a flan and needed the caramel sauce to top. The key for me was mainly dissolve the sugar by itself first, then just brush down the sides with water. I was able to use most of the sugar caramel for the flan, and I reserved a teeny bit to cook with cream for caramel sauce for ice cream. Heaven!
partysugar partysugar 7 years
I think you need to let it continue to cook more. If I remember correctly, the last time I made caramel it went through the crystallization stage before turning a deep amber color. But I feel you, making caramel sure is tricky for a home cook!
kulikuli kulikuli 7 years
I agree with either the pan not being clean, sugar to water ratio. Or making sure when it hits the caramelization stage u are looking for, do you immediately pull it off the stove and out of the pan so it does not continue cooking? Those would be my only suggestions.
Akasha Akasha 7 years
I have tried a couple of things that have worked. #1 add a drop of lemon juice t the sugar while you're caramelizing it keeps the sugar from crystalizing #2 keep the heat low on the pan #3 once the sugar melts and hits 320 degrees lift the pan about 3 inches off the stove and swirl lightly to keep the sugar moving it should stay above the heat but not directly on the flame. This is based on using a gas stove, if you are using and electric, make sure the coils are heated up before you begin the process.
Spectra Spectra 7 years
In my experience, caramel needs to be made without water in order to turn out properly. If you put the sugar in the dry pan and turn it on, it will melt and after a few minutes of gentle stirring, it should turn a nice golden color. Once it's at that stage, you should be able to add any liquids to it safely...the caramel I usually make calls for adding cream at that point, not water, but it should work anyway.
ADP423 ADP423 7 years
My only thoughts are that a) the pan wasn't clean or b) not enough water?
AmberHoney AmberHoney 7 years
I wish I could help you, but I have no clue.
Puerto Rican Recipes
How to Paint an Ombre Wall
Difference Between Heavy Cream and Whipping Cream
Homemade Quick and Easy Limoncello Recipe
From Our Partners
Latest Food
All the Latest From Ryan Reynolds