Traditional caramel sauce calls for boiling sugar and water together until the sugar turns brown or caramelizes. At this point, heavy cream is added for a thick, delectable sauce. Fresh milk just won't cut it in caramel sauce. You'll likely be disappointed with both the texture and the taste. However, canned milk makes a worthy substitute. Be sure to warm it before you add it to the hot sugar mixture to prevent spluttering, and use hot pads to avoid burns.
Kinds of Milk
If you're out of cream or just trying to avoid its calorie overload, you can substitute evaporated milk in caramel sauce. Evaporated milk has been heated to remove 60 percent of the moisture, leaving behind a thick, low-fat -- or fat-free -- milk product. The problem with using fresh milk is that it's prone to curdling when boiled or cooked at high heat. Evaporated milk is more stable because it's already been heated. Evaporated milk is also thicker and creamier than regular skim or low-fat milk, creating a caramel sauce that closely resembles the classic recipe.
Hold the Fat
Although caramel sauce will never be an entirely guilt-free indulgence, substituting evaporated milk for cream is a smart move. One cup of heavy cream packs 821 calories and 88 grams of fat -- 55 of which are saturated. One cup of evaporated whole milk has only 340 calories and 20 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat. One cup of nonfat evaporated milk is an even better deal with 200 calories and 1 gram of fat.
Making the Change
To substitute evaporated milk for cream, stir in the same amount of evaporated milk that you would cream and follow the recipe carefully. A common problem when making caramel syrup is that sugar crystals on the sides of the pan don't dissolve, causing a gritty texture in the finished sauce. Most recipes suggest brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Here's a simpler method: Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the sugar and water. Cream of tartar is mildly acidic and will prevent sugar crystals from forming.
Use It Up
You'll be proud to serve a homemade, low-fat version of caramel sauce. Pour it over ice cream, apple pie or brownies a la mode. Drizzle it on a dessert plate as a fancy accessory. Store the leftovers in a glass or plastic container in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the leftover sauce within five days. To reheat caramel sauce, heat it in the microwave for a few seconds and then stir.
Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."