How to make caramel without butter or cream

How to Make Caramel Without Butter or Cream

I’ve already written some posts about caramel on this page, one is a caramel apple recipe and the other is for caramel popcorn.

Each recipe requires different ingredients and techniques, depending on what the recipe calls for.

In the caramel apple recipe, I used cream of tartar since I need the smooth and soft texture to cover the apples. In this recipe, cream of tartar can be substituted with vinegar or lemon.

In the caramel popcorn recipe, I used baking soda and vanilla because I’m looking for the air bubbles in the caramel that’s perfect for the popcorn. I also used butter because what’s a good caramel popcorn without butter, right?

The point here is that there are different caramel recipes for different needs. 

Sometimes I love to make a caramel sauce that doesn’t turn into a hard or chewy candy when stored. The kind of sauce that’s not too thick that I can drizzle it over desserts and drinks anytime. 

Before I came up with this perfect recipe, there was a lot of trial and error. Some came out too thin, some too thick, and the others I burnt.

I came to realize that cream or butter makes the caramel too thick that I can’t drizzle them into my coffee. And because of the cream or butter, they are too heavy for my breakfast drink, whether it’s hot milk or a cup of joe.

For this reason, I was on the hunt for recipes showing me how to make caramel without butter or cream. And lo and behold, a reader mentioned something about making caramel sauce using milk.

I thought it would be the perfect one for me. Something that’s not too heavy and not too thick would just be what I need for my vanilla cake, ice cream, and caramel macchiato. 

Caramel being drizzled onto caramel blocks

Tips in Making the Perfect Caramel Sauce

Before we proceed to the actual process, I’ll share with you the things I’ve picked up from all the caramel blunders I’ve had in the past.

There were times when I thought I was doing it wrong and gave up instantly, but it looks like the only mistake I made back then was giving up!

The thing with making caramel sauce is that there are times when things looks wrong, but they actually aren’t. You just have to keep going to get the correct consistency and texture – unless the mixture is already burned.

So, if you’ve failed in making your caramel sauce like me, here are some useful tips to take note of:

  1. Make sure to use a heavy-bottomed pot with tall sides. 

This is one of my first mistakes in making my caramel sauce. I used a thin shallow pan and my caramel burned so bad. The caramel was spilling on the sides when I added the milk and it was one hot mess.

Using a heavy-bottomed tall pot will save you from this mistake.

  1. Don’t be intimidated when the mixture gets too bubbly

In making a caramel sauce, the basic process is melting sugar, adding the milk, and cooking the mixture until you get a perfect consistency.

It sounds as simple as ABC. But the thing is that when you get to step 2, you’d get the impression that you’re in some dangerous mess.

Adding the milk to hot melted sugar will give off some scary reaction of bubbling and hissing all over and I first thought I ruined everything. On my first try, I stopped from there and threw everything away. What a waste.

Little did I know that that was a normal scientific reaction and that if I just kept going I could’ve been on my way to achieving that perfect caramel sauce.

And this is also the reason why you’ll be thankful to be using a heavy-bottomed pot with tall sides.

  1. Don’t stop when you see nasty lumps of sugar.

When you start adding in the milk, another normal reaction is having solidified sugar that turns into lumps. And my normal reaction was, what did I do wrong?

Guess what? There was nothing wrong with what I did. If you get the same scary reaction, just keep cooking the mixture. Those lumps will dissolve slowly if you just keep on cooking the liquid.

  1. Don’t multitask.

Making the perfect caramel isn’t really that hard but it requires your full attention because it’s so easy to mess up.

Even a few seconds with your attention off the pot can lead to burned or curdled caramel, so it’s best to keep your eyes on the mixture and not think of anything else at the moment.

So now that we’ve gone through the critical bits, it’s time I tell you how to make caramel without butter or cream.

Caramel topping on an ice cream and pear desert

How To Make Caramel Without Butter or Cream


Three ingredient caramel recipe – without butter or cream.

Detailed Instructions

STEP 1 – In a heavy-bottomed tall pot, melt the sugar.

Over medium-low heat, place the pot with the sugar in it. Move the pot around a bit to ensure that the sugar is in a thin and even layer. 

Set the timer for 8 minutes and leave the sugar untouched.

STEP 2 – Keep an eye on the sugar

After 8 minutes, check if the sugar has started to turn light brown or translucent. If it does, proceed to step 3.

If not, set the timer to another 8 minutes but keep an eye on the sugar to ensure it doesn’t get too dark. Once it starts to liquefy, proceed to step 3.

STEP 3 – Warm the milk separately

While the sugar continues to liquefy, warm the milk in the microwave oven for 1 minute then stir to balance the temperature.

Prepare it near the stove along with a trivet and a heat-resistant spatula. You will need these in a bit.

STEP 4 – Scoop the liquid sugar over the solid sugar

Once the sugar turns liquid, scoop the liquid sugar over the solid parts using your heat-resistant spatula.

Remember not to stir as this will mess up with the reaction of the sugar. The important thing here is to prevent the liquid sugar from burning by combining the liquid and the solid parts together.

You can only start to stir once all the sugar has turned into liquid. Stir gently for a few seconds until the color turns golden brown.

Take note that the keyword here is A FEW SECONDS. Do not let the syrup overstay in the heat or it will burn.

STEP 5 – Remove the pot from the heat and add the milk

This is where preparing your trivet will come in handy. Once your syrup has turned golden brown, remove the pot from the heat and place the pot in the trivet.

Quickly add in half of the warm milk and stir continuously. Adding the milk will create bubbles, so continue to stir to keep the milk from curdling.

When the bubbles start to reduce, stir in the remaining half of the warm milk.

STEP 6 – Assess if the caramel is ready or needs to be returned to the stove

In the process of adding in the milk, parts of the mixture may have hardened. To fix this, return the pot to the stove and continuously stir over medium-low heat.

Do not attempt to speed the process up by turning the heat higher. This will cause the caramel to burn.

Ensure to remove the hard bits from the sides of the pot and add it back to the mixture to melt. Stir constantly to even off the temperature within the mixture.

STEP 7 – Add in the salt

Once all of the hard bits have melted, quickly remove the pot from the heat and add in the salt.

STEP 8 – Store in a heat-proof container

The caramel will thicken as it cools. It’s better to pour the caramel into the container while it’s still hot.

If you are using a glass container, make sure to put a metal spoon in the container to prevent it from cracking. Keep refrigerated.

Additional Tips

  1. For a thicker caramel, cook the caramel for an additional 10 minutes after the milk has been added. Do not cook for over 15 minutes to prevent burning.

While the caramel is still hot, it will not look very thick, but it will thicken as it cools so don’t overcook.

  1. You may use the same recipe to make salted caramel. Use ½ teaspoon salt instead of ¼ teaspoon.
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How to make caramel without butter or cream

Caramel Recipe Without Butter or Cream

  • Author: Alana
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Approximately 1 ¼ cups 1x


  1. 1 cup white sugar
  2. 1 ¼ cups milk
  3. ¼ teaspoon salt


  1. In a heavy-bottomed tall pot, melt the sugar.
  2. Keep an eye on the sugar
  3. Warm the milk separately
  4. Scoop the liquid sugar over the solid sugar
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and add the milk
  6. Assess if the caramel is ready or needs to be returned to the stove
  7. Add in the salt
  8. Store in a heat-proof container


Please scroll up to find each of the steps explained in more detail.

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Category: Candy

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