1 cup sugar
1¼ cups heavy cream
¼ tsp. coarse salt (increase to 1 tsp for salted caramel sauce)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp butter
Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium-low heat, watching carefully. When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently drag the liquefied sugar towards the center.
Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, making sure to not over-stir. Measure out the heavy cream into a liquid measuring cup, and set aside. Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color (think the color of an old penny), immediately remove the sauce pan from the heat and let sit 1 minute.
Carefully whisk in half of the heavy cream. The mixture will steam and bubble violently. Stir until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream.
Stir in the salt, vanilla extract, and butter. If any sugar has hardened, place the saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If needed, it can be rewarmed in the microwave or in a saucepan over low heat.