Caramel sauce made with heavy cream has a thick consistency and a rich, buttery taste. If you're out of cream or need a substitute, however, you can still make caramel at home. Lower-fat dairy substitutes can work in place of heavy cream, and so can vegan products, such as coconut milk or coconut cream.
Use a Dairy Substitute
In a traditional caramel recipe, replace the heavy cream with the same amount of half and half or milk. Liquids with the highest fat contents will produce a caramel that tastes closest to the version made with heavy cream, and they may also make a thicker caramel.
Make Vegan Caramel
You can also make a caramel sauce that is suitable for people who are vegan or lactose intolerant. For a version that tastes closest to one made with heavy cream, substitute heavy cream with an equal amount of coconut cream. The thick cream makes a sauce heavy enough to spoon out, even when warm.
If you don't mind a thinner sauce, use light coconut milk, almond milk or soy milk in place of heavy cream.
Use Only Sugar
Sugar is the only ingredient required to make caramel; heavy cream is only added to produce a thicker, creamier sauce that will spread nicely. To make caramel with only sugar, heat the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat. Prevent burning by adding a small amount of water. Stir constantly until the sugar turns an amber color, which will further darken when you take the caramel off the heat and let it cool.
Caramel sauce made with only sugar will become brittle when it's cool. To prevent this from happening, immediately pour the liquid caramel into a heatproof container, and re-warm the caramel when you need to use it.