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EASY Dairy Free Caramel Sauce (with Butterscotch Variation)

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Craving dairy free caramel for your desserts and dairy free ice cream? Here’s an EASY way to make dairy free caramel sauce that is great in recipes, on ice cream, and more. We also included a butterscotch variation!

photo collage showing 2 views of easy dairy free caramel sauce being used.

Hey all, I’m super excited to bring you this post today! Creating a dairy free caramel (more like a caramel sauce) has been on my bucket list for several years and we finally made it happen 🙂

Our super easy faux caramel sauce is great and all, but it’s just not the same as an honest to goodness caramel sauce that you can make on the stove that has that browned sugar and butter taste.

So we tried several methods to come up with some dairy free caramel!

Over the course of several days (I spent almost 2 entire days cooking up caramel), I made at least 15 batches of caramel using several different methods (some that worked, and some that didn’t). I added a few notes at the very end with the failed methods I tried.

comparison of 2 kinds of dairy free caramel in glass cups

Originally this post (first published in October 2020) included 3 different methods for making caramel: the easy method, the traditional wet method (intermediate), and the traditional dry method (hardest).

This post ended up being really long and hard to navigate even though I added table of content buttons, so I decided to divide the 3 recipes in this post into their own recipe posts.

Our easy method caramel has become a reader favorite, so we wanted to make sure that people looking for the easy method didn’t have to wade through tons of instructions and photos for the other 2 methods.

Consider all 3 posts as your ultimate guide to dairy free caramel!

I’m not a confectioner or a pro at making caramel, so if you have any technical questions about caramel I probably can’t answer them for you. But I recommend reading articles like this one from Cooks Illustrated with tips on how to make the best caramel.

Easy dairy free caramel

This is the easiest way I’ve found to make dairy free caramel sauce. I adapted this recipe and method from the Just A Taste recipe for butterscotch sauce. Instead of using brown sugar to make butterscotch, I decided to try this with white sugar for caramel.

spoon drizzling easy caramel sauce into a small cup

With this method, you melt the dairy free butter first, then stir in the sugar and dairy free half and half, then boil it for several minutes.

  • Pros: easiest method, nearly foolproof
  • Cons: not as much of an authentic caramelized sugar taste, has more re-crystallization of sugar than the traditional dry caramel method if made without corn syrup.

This caramel sauce isn’t as “burnt” tasting as the traditional dry caramel method where the sugar is melted first and then the dairy free butter and half and half is added afterward.

The traditional wet method is more like what real caramel is supposed to be, but this simple method is so much easier and nearly fail-proof.

The caramel sauce that this recipe makes is lighter in color than the traditional dry caramel. If you want this to be a bit darker, you can replace 1 or 2 Tablespoons of the white sugar with brown sugar for a butterscotch/caramel sauce hybrid.

OR you can use a dark corn syrup to add some darker color as well!

I wanted to use the Silk heavy whipping cream for this recipe, but for some reason it was out of stock in my local grocery stores for several weeks, so I didn’t get to try it in this recipe.

hand holding apple slice with dairy free caramel on it

I tested both of these methods of making dairy free caramel sauce with the Country Crock Plant Butter sticks made with avocado oil.

So far I haven’t tested this recipe out with any other brands of dairy free butter, so I’m not sure if this will work with other brands until I do more testing (right now we have containers of caramel all over our house so we’ll end up waiting a little while to start testing this with other types of butter.

Update: I tried this recipe out with the Earth Balance Soy Free margarine and it worked ok, but it seemed more oily than the caramel sauce made with the Country Crock Plant Butter and separates a bit so there was a layer of oil on the caramel. So I’d use country crock plant butter sticks if you can!

How to make easy dairy free caramel

Here are the steps for making this recipe. The full printable recipe card with ingredients and all the steps is at the end of the blog post!

  1. First you’ll melt the dairy free butter in a small heavy-bottom saucepan. I used Country Crock Plant Butter avocado oil sticks for this recipe.
  2. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the white sugar, brown sugar (if you’re using any to make it darker), a pinch of salt, and your choice of dairy free cream (either canned coconut cream, canned coconut milk, or Silk dairy free half and half).
  3. Whisk together until mixed and bring to a boil, boil/simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  4. Pour into a jar or other heat resistant storage container and let it cool completely. You can serve this warm, but you still want to make sure that it cools quite a bit more before serving since this is extremely hot and can burn you.
collage of process photos of easy caramel recipe
Step by step for easy dairy free caramel

This caramel will look a little runny at first, but will thicken as it cools. This caramel sauce is pretty awesome stirred into a hot cup of coffee!

Tips for making our easy dairy free caramel:

  • Don’t stir your caramel very often, only stirring about every 1-2 minutes is sufficient.
  • The corn syrup works to keep the caramel from getting gritty if the sugar tries to crystalize again. You can skip the corn syrup and just use a full 1/2 cup sugar, but your caramel sauce may get gritty without it.
  • Add more Silk dairy free half and half to make it thinner or reduce it to make the caramel thicker.
  • With this method, you can use different types of sugar (like unbleached sugar or brown sugar). Unlike with the traditional dry caramel method, the sugar in this doesn’t have to be bleached white sugar.
black spoon in a glass jar of dairy free caramel

Can I use canned coconut cream in this caramel recipe?

This recipe will work with canned coconut milk, but I wouldn’t use canned coconut cream in this recipe.

I tried this easy method dairy free caramel using canned coconut cream instead of the Silk half and half and it seemed to work out pretty well at first, but once the caramel started to cool, it began to separate.

The coconut oil started to separate from the caramel and it just looked like thick caramel with a lot of oil on it, which wasn’t great 🙁

So I’d recommend just using the Silk half and half or canned coconut milk if you can find that. Using coconut oil makes this caramel even lighter in color as well.

Why is there corn syrup in this recipe?

Update: this recipe will work with maple syrup in place of corn syrup, although it still ends up gritty the day after making the caramel. I did some testing and this recipe turned out great initially with maple syrup, but did get gritty the next day so it doesn’t work as well as corn syrup to prevent recrystallization.

The corn syrup in this recipe is optional, but highly recommended if you want a smooth caramel sauce. If you don’t want to use corn syrup at all, I recommend making the traditional wet caramel recipe which doesn’t need corn syrup to stay smooth.

Sugar will often try to recrystallize after it is cooked into a sauce or syrup (our homemade syrup ends up with a bunch of crystals at the bottom), especially if crystalized sugar is re-introduced into the mix by a spoon with some sugar on it or scraping the sides of the caramel pan.

Adding corn syrup (a different type of sugar molecule) into the caramel sauce can help prevent most recrystallization of the sugars. If you don’t want to use it, it will still turn out fine, but your caramel might end up a little gritty after a few hours or a day or 2.

overhead photo of apple slices on a black plate with caramel drizzled on top

Please note this is regular light corn syrup, not high fructose corn syrup. Regular corn syrup is used in a lot of cooking (like traditional pecan pies and candies), and while it is still processed, it is not as processed as high fructose corn syrup and does not contain fructose.

If you want to darken the color of this easy caramel, you can also use a dark corn syrup to add a deeper color to the caramel sauce.

Dairy free butterscotch variation

To make butterscotch, replace half or all the white sugar with brown sugar. Replacing the white sugar with brown sugar will end up being pretty dark, but will still have that great butterscotch taste.

If you use all brown sugar, it will be dark in color and will be slightly less thick since the brown sugar has more moisture in it than white sugar. So you can add less Silk half and half if you want for a thicker butterscotch sauce.

Can I freeze caramel sauce?

Yes! All 3 of of our caramel recipes (the easy method, wet method, and the dry caramel method) can be frozen and thawed with great results.

If you make a big batch and won’t use it all, add it to a freezer-proof container and freeze for up to several months.

We tested the freezing and thawing of all of our caramel sauces within a day or 2, so we’re not sure how this caramel sauce will taste after 3-4 months of being in a freezer. But if you have an airtight container, it shouldn’t matter too much.

Before freezing, make sure that your caramel sauce is cooled completely to prevent condensation in the jar or container. And if you are using a glass jar, make sure there is some headspace to allow for expanding caramel as it freezes.

Check out our other caramel recipes:

Dairy Free Caramel (Easy Method)

Our easy dairy free caramel sauce is simple to make and nearly foolproof! It's great in hot coffee, on top of ice cream, in between cookies, and more.
Makes about 1/2 cup of caramel sauce
Gluten free, dairy free, peanut free, vegan. Soy free if using the Country Crock plant butter STICKS (the tubs contain soybean oil)
4.41 from 5 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Condiments, Sauces, & Spreads, Desserts
Cuisine: American
Keyword: dairy free caramel, dairy free caramel sauce
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Cooling time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 8 Tablespoons
Calories: 109kcal

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Melt the dairy free butter in the in a small heavy-bottom saucepan over medium/low heat. I used Country Crock Plant Butter avocado oil sticks for this recipe.
  • Once the butter is melted (which only takes a minute or 2), whisk in the white sugar, brown sugar (if making butterscotch), corn syrup, a pinch of salt, and Silk dairy free half and half (or canned coconut milk or canned coconut cream).
  • Whisk together until mixed and bring to a boil over medium/low heat, then boil for 6-7 minutes.
  • Remove the caramel sauce from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • Pour into a jar or other heat resistant storage container and let the sauce cool completely. You can serve this warm, but it still needs to cool for a while before serving since this is still extremely hot and can burn you.
  • This caramel sauce will thicken as it cools, store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Video

Notes

* I also tested this with Earth Balance Soy Free margarine, and it’s more oily than when using the Country Crock Plant Butter Sticks. But I have not tried other brands of dairy free butter.
** For butterscotch, replace all or half the white sugar with packed brown sugar. It will be a little bit thinner since it has more moisture, so you can reduce your dairy free half and half by 1-2 Tablespoons for a thicker sauce.
*** Maple syrup works in place of corn syrup in this recipe, but the caramel still ends up being gritty the next day using maple syrup instead of corn syrup.
If you want to darken the color of this easy caramel, you can also use a dark corn syrup to add a deeper color to the caramel sauce.
Nutrition estimates are for 1 Tablespoon of caramel sauce

Nutrition

Calories: 109kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 69mg | Sugar: 13g
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4 thoughts on “EASY Dairy Free Caramel Sauce (with Butterscotch Variation)”

  1. Hi, I want to try the 3rd dry method as that’s the way I make caramel for flan. But in the ingredients list you mention cream of tartar but you don’t mention it in the method. Where does it get put in and why do all your caramel recipes use it? Also I don’t know if my local stores carry Silk half and half. Is there another non dairy milk substitute you can suggest? Maybe extra creamy oat milk? Or even Silk soy? I’ve seen other flavors of Silk creamer, like almond. Would that work?

    Reply
    • Hi Linda! The cream of tartar in the wet and dry traditional recipes provides a little bit of acid to help prevent re-crystallization of the sugar in the caramel to keep it smooth. The first (easy) recipe doesn’t include the cream of tartar because it uses corn syrup instead of cream of tartar for keeping the caramel creamy. I didn’t realize I forgot to add it to the instructions, I’ll edit that to add it in. You’ll want to add that at the beginning with the sugar.

      You should be able to use canned coconut milk in these recipes instead of Silk half and half or Silk heavy cream. It might separate just a little bit, but I’ve used coconut milk in these recipes and they turn out fine. I’m not sure if the creamers will work since I haven’t tried it. You’d have to give that a try to see if it will work or not, I think sweetened creamers would be too sweet in this with the sugar. So if you try a creamer, I’d find one to use that has no added sugar.

      Reply
    • I haven’t used turbinado sugar in these recipes, but I think you’d be able to use turbinado sugar in the easy method recipe but not in the dry caramel method. The dry caramel method needs to have bleached white sugar. You could use maple syrup instead of corn syrup in the easy caramel recipe, but it will still crystalize more than if you used corn syrup (I added a note to the post about that).

      I think there are some caramel recipes out there that use maple syrup (I’ve seen some that use apple cider too), but since we made ours closer to the traditional way, we used regular sugar. I might later work on some other caramel recipes using things like honey or maple syrup!

      Reply

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