The Unexpected Ingredient To Boost Any Caramel Sauce

Sweet, sticky, and gorgeously gooey, caramel sauce makes a delicious addition to brownies, a perfect finishing drizzle on a creamy cheesecake, or a fantastic swirl in homemade ice cream. If you want to give the basic sauce a more complex flavor, you'll probably think of salt, which is great for adding depth, balance, and contrast to the sweetness. But there's another pantry ingredient that you should consider: hot sauce.

This may sound like an unlikely combo, but hear us out. If you've ever had Mexican hot chocolate, you'll know that sweet and spicy flavors pair together beautifully. A kick of heat can complement the buttery, toasty notes of caramel to take the sauce to new heights, while preventing the sweetness from becoming cloying or overpowering. You'll feel like an avant garde pastry chef, and your guests will be wowed by the unexpected flavors that dance across your dinner party desserts.

Depending on the type of hot sauce you choose, you can bring a variety of flavors to a homemade or store-bought caramel sauce. Just start by adding a small amount of sauce – a few drops at most – so the heat doesn't completely dominate the taste. You can always add more, but you can't take it away. Once finished, you can also use the delectable caramel on dishes beyond sweets.

Hot sauce adds spice and depth to sweet caramel

When choosing a hot sauce to pair with caramel, think about its individual flavors. Some sauces are more tangy and vinegary, while the spiciness can vary from mild to downright fiery. Sriracha is a great place to start, thanks to its natural sweetness and moderate level of heat that isn't overwhelming. Again, start with a small amount. Most sriracha contains plenty of garlic, which you might not want to taste strongly if your caramel is meant for dessert.

For a different flavor, try Tabasco, which has a sharper, saltier taste for a finished sauce that's like a hot, punchy salted caramel. Or use Korean gochujang for a slightly smoky, umami savoriness from fermented soybean powder. You could even skip the sauce and use dried and ground chile peppers, a spicy addition that can elevate brownies and tons of other sweets. Without the additional flavors of vinegar or aromatics, your caramel takes on a clean burn that may have smoky, fruity, or earthy notes.

A major advantage of spicy caramel sauce is that it can be used on dishes both sweet and savory. It works beautifully with chocolatey desserts, like the aforementioned brownies or a chocolate lava cake, or pair it with ice cream for a hot-and-cold dessert that tickles the senses. You could also brush it over grilled salmon skewers or fried chicken for a glossy glaze, or enjoy the sweet-spicy concoction drizzled over popcorn at your next movie night.

Other ingredients to elevate caramel sauce

There are many other ingredients, both sweet and savory, that can level up a caramel sauce. One of the easiest is a splash of booze. Try a little dark rum, which adds a touch of sweet-smokiness for a grown-up sauce that would pair perfectly with banana-based desserts. You could also try whiskey. Depending on whether you use Scotch, bourbon, or another type, the flavor could be boosted by notes of fruit, spice, or vanilla.

If you love the effect of salt mixed into caramel, try switching things up with other umami-rich ingredients. Adding soy sauce to desserts is a great start, and soy goes especially well with caramel, due to its naturally caramelized yet salty flavor. Or try adding white miso for an umami-rich flavor that would work just as well with meat, fish, or chicken dishes as it would with fluffy pancakes. Both soy and miso are a little more neutrally-flavored than hot sauce, but still pack a savory punch.

If you're making your own caramel sauce to pair with a fruity pie or ice cream, try replacing the milk or cream in the recipe with fruit juice. Try orange juice for a citrusy twist, or pureed stone fruits, such as cherries or plums. It might be not be quite as silky as a regular caramel, but it will certainly deliver a new dimension to any dessert.