Using only 3 ingredients, this Easy Coconut Caramel Sauce is scrumptious! It's perfect for drizzling on ice-cream, cupcakes or other desserts. Naturally vegan too and super flexible, you can easily make it into regular butterscotch sauce, salted caramel sauce etc.
Why Make This
- This coconut caramel sauce is delicious but only requires simple ingredients: It tastes like Dulce de Leche but coconut flavored! Only requiring 3 pantry cupboard ingredients AND no corn syrup is used, so it's better for your health!
- Easy to make: Pretty much a 1-step recipe that you can make perfectly the first time! The water and sugar go into the pot together, so you don't have to worry about pouring anything into hot sugar and risking a very nasty burn. In addition, there is no special equipment needed- I don't use a candy thermometer, just a pot and a heat-proof spatula!
- Dairy-free and vegan and flexible: You can make this salted caramel sauce as thick or thin as you want, as well as make different variations by simply adding other ingredients such as salt, pandan or vanilla extract.
The ingredients you will need for this vegan caramel sauce are:
- Brown Sugar: I like to use Gula Melaka Palm Sugar (my favourite South East Asian sugar that is simply made for coconut!) but you can use regular brown sugar, jaggery, white sugar or coconut sugar. If using white sugar, I recommend caramelising it (or mixing it with molasses to make your own brown sugar.) If not, your sauce won't have the same depth of flavor.
- Coconut Milk: if you only have coconut cream, add water to the coconut cream in the ratio 2:1, and stir well. (i.e. for 1T coconut cream, add 2T water.)
- Water: Classic caramel can be made by the wet method or the dry method. Obviously, we're using the wet method since we're adding water! Why? Well, the water helps make the caramel brown more evenly. It also increases the time required for the sugars to caramelise, resulting in a tastier vegan coconut caramel sauce.
- Salt, optional: Even if not making salted coconut caramel, a small pinch can also increase the flavor of regular coconut caramel as salt is a flavor enhancer. The sauce shouldn't taste salty, but just deeper!
Fun Fact: Conversely, to make coconut cream, leave canned coconut milk in the chiller overnight. The cold will cause the fat to separate, forming a solid layer at the top. Simply skim this thick layer off, then whisk it till creamy to get coconut cream from coconut milk!
What is Gula Melaka?
It's made from the sap of a palm tree (date, coconut or sago palm) which is boiled till thick then poured into bamboo tubes to solidify. Hence, you buy it in huge cylindrical blocks and not grains like regular sugar.
Different brands differ in taste (generally butterscotch notes) and colour- varying shades of amber to dark brown- as well as consistency! In fact, depending on the time of the year the sap is extracted, even gula melaka from the same brand can be of different sweetness.
Trivia: Old Asian Grandmas say the way to differentiate sugar and palm sugar is the latter doesn't attract ants, but I've never tried!
Substitutes & Variations
- Salted Coconut Caramel Syrup without dairy: once the sauce is at the desired thickness, add the salt and stir well.
- Regular salted caramel sauce: You can replace the coconut with a heavy cream if not vegan. If so, add some vanilla extract to enhance the flavor.
- Gula Melaka Sauce: Gula Melaka and Coconut are very complementary flavors and make for a decadently rich vegan dessert topping.
- 5-min Quick Coconut Caramel: If you're really rushed for time, use coconut cream instead of coconut milk. Add it to the pot with the gula melaka and bring to a boil. Next, add a thickening agent, such as arrowroot, glutinous rice flour or cornstarch to the pot. (If you're after a vegan salted caramel, throw in a pinch of salt too.) Reduce the heat to low (you want the mixture to simmer not boil) and stir continuously with a heat-proof whisk for 4-5 minutes. After switching off the heat, the sauce will come together and you'll get a thick caramel. However, whilst this 5-minute no-dairy coconut caramel tastes good, the quick version will never taste as good as the previous version, as there's no substitute for time.
- Add all the ingredients to the pot and heat gently over a low fire. The longer you cook for, the thicker it will be.
- Keep stirring or whisking to make sure the bottom doesn't burn!
The slow cooking time helps to caramelize the gula melaka and the sugars in the coconut, giving the gula melaka caramel a deeper and more complex flavour. (People think the flavour in caramel is from the butter, but actually a lot of it is from the Maillard Reaction and the breakdown of the sugar molecule. All that takes time!)
Tip: To speed things up, use a wide pot or skillet to increase the surface area and allow the water to evaporate more quickly.
The dairy-free coconut caramel sauce gets very hot. It can burn you badly so make sure you're very careful when you make this!
2. Keep stirring, especially towards the end of the cooking process.
For salted vegan coconut caramel: Stir in the salt right after switching off the fire. Mix well.
Tip: The caramel sauce will continue thickening as it cools down (even at room temperature) so don't heat till it's too thick of you'll get fudge!
Note: If you cooked it for too long over too high a fire, you'll end up with a hard caramel candy- see FAQs on how to turn it back into a sauce!
Remember not to taste the caramel syrup till it's cooled as it's burning hot!
Note: I find it easier to memorise recipes if they're in ratios, so I've given the ingredients in ratios: 7 (gula melaka): 3 (coconut milk): 2 (water) + a pinch of salt! Scale up or down depending on how much sauce you want to make- it could be 7 tablespoons or 7 cups!
How to Use
This is not meant to be a vegan version of butterscotch caramel. You're meant to taste the coconut and regular caramel sauce is not coconut-y!
However, you can use it in the same way you use a regular caramel:
- Poured on vanilla ice cream sundaes
- Drizzle caramel on agar agar jelly, panna cotta, pandan makes and bakes, brownies and cheesecake
- If you make it thick enough, you can use it to create tiger stripes in Brown Sugar Milk Tea (instead of using the regular brown sugar syrup!)
- Easily stirred into cold brew drinks, iced coffee milk tea, Hojicha Latte or hot chocolate
- I've even used it in frosting: simply add some to your regular buttercream recipe, instead of vanilla flavour
- On top of pandan pancakes or kueh dadar
- Added to popcorn
- As a spread for bread (you want a really nice thick sauce for this), or maybe a coconut caramel dip for pandan mantou bao buns? (Pandan is another flavour that's made for gula melaka and coconut)
- Gula melaka caramel apples anyone? (If so, don't cook the vegan caramel syrup for so long as you want it runny!)
How to Store
Transfer to a sterilised airtight container and keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. You can also freeze this coconut caramel sauce.
Tip #1: Always use a bigger pot than you think you need as you don't want the caramel to overflow. I recommend using a large or medium saucepan even when making a small batch so that the sauce won't spill out if it bubbles. Liquid caramel is very very hot!
Tip #2: Try not to leave the coconut milk mixture unattended towards the end as it will only take a minute to burn. Whisk or stir frequently till no longer watery (after about 20-30 minutes depending on the strength of your fire.)
Don't worry it's easy to fix! I tested this recipe on an induction cooker before trying it on a gas stove. (The cooking times will vary depending on the type of stove you use.) As the gas fire is much stronger, even simmering on low for 1 hour made my cooled caramel sauce so thick and hard, I couldn't even crack it with a hot spoon! (Great for hard coconut caramel candies.) To transform the coconut caramel fudge back into a thick sauce, simply add ¼ Cup of water (adjust based on the amount of sauce you are making) and stir well. Keep stirring till everything has re-dissolved back into a smooth sauce. If you find there are still a few caramel lumps, you can strain through a sieve but I've not found it to be necessary.
Yes, coconut milk and coconut cream will not break or curdle when boiled. However, this will thicken your Gula Melaka Coconut sauce more quickly and it thus won't have as much time to caramelise.
I've not tried with other plant-based milks such as soy milk or oat milk. Obviously the result will no longer be coconut caramel but rather vegan caramel! (Add some vanilla extract to boost the butterscotch flavor.) However, these vegan substitutes are on the thinner side so you would need to simmer for longer!
Suggested Accompanying Recipes
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Easy Coconut Caramel Sauce
- Grater (or knife and cutting board)
- Deep and wide pot or skillet
- Heat proof whisk or spatula
- Air tight jar Sterilised
- 7 Units Gula Melaka Substitute: brown sugar, date sugar, coconut sugar, white sugar and molasses etc This recipe is in ratio form, so you could make this 7 spoonfuls or 7 cups of gula melaka, just adjust the rest of the ingredients accordingly!
- 3 Units Coconut Milk If you only have coconut cream, see the recipe post for how to turn it into coconut milk.
- 2 Units Water
- Salt, to taste Just a pinch if using as a flavor enhancer or more if making salted coconut caramel.
- Optional: pandan If using pandan leaves, bruise and tie into a knot (to make it easier to fish out later)
- Break the gula melaka into smaller pieces. You can cut it or grate it. Sometimes when I'm lazy I just briefly pound it so it breaks into 2-3 smaller pieces. Obviously they're not as small as if I had cut or grated, so you need to work extra hard stirring here!
- Add all the ingredients to the pot except the salt.
- Turn the heat to medium and bring the pot to a boil- do use a pot that is much bigger than you need so the vegan coconut caramel sauce won't overflow and burn you!
- Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down low so the sauce is at a simmer and stir till everything is dissolved. Stir every now and then to make sure no palm sugar sticks to the bottom of the pot and burns.
- The time you leave the syrup simmering for depends on how thick a coconut caramel syrup you want, your palm sugar (as each batch differs), how fat your coconut milk is, how much sauce you're making and the type of stove you use! The thicker you want it, the longer you leave it on for but you will need to stir continuously towards the end as the coconut caramel burns easily once it thickens up. (For a point of reference, I leave mine for 1-1.5 hours on an induction stove and 30-45 minutes on a gas stove when making 2 Cups of coconut caramel.)
- Once happy, fish out the pandan and toss it (if using). Switch off the stove, stir in the salt (if using), remove the pot from the heat, stir and let the coconut caramel cool down. (If you're tasting, remember to let the sauce cool before trying! Keep out of reach of pets and children so they don't hurt themselves!)
- After cooling, pour it into an air-tight glass jar and put it in the chiller. Make sure to stir this dairy-free caramel before each use!
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