What’s the difference between toffee (sauce) and caramel (sauce)?

Excellent question, reader Josh! Toffee sauce is similar to caramel sauce in the sense that it’s made from sugar, butter and/or cream, the main difference is the degree to which it’s cooked. Toffee is only cooked to the point that the sugar in it melts, at which point it becomes usable. Caramel is cooked well beyond the melting stage, through all the various candy phases until the sugar molecules themselves start to break into pieces. It’s those pieces that give caramel its rich flavors and amber-brown color, since some of the chemical whatsits in the mix are actually pigments. Toffee sauce wouldn’t have much of a color (other than maybe very light brown) if it weren’t for the fact that it’s made with brown sugar, and brown sugar already has caramelized sugars (molasses) in it. Thanks, Josh!

8 thoughts on “What’s the difference between toffee (sauce) and caramel (sauce)?”

  1. If ‘real’ toffee is a sauce then what is the layer of candy found between (or beneath) chopped nuts and a layer of chocolate?

    1. Toffee sauce and candy are actually different things, but cooled sauce firms to a fudge-like consistency. It could be the same thing, just cooled!

      Thanks, LML!

      – Joe

  2. Joe & LML,
    If Im correct, the crystalization in toffee is close to the same crystal structure that it is in granulated sugar. But in Caramel its a much different crytaline structure. Soft caramel candies (cream caramel, caramel apples) has different structure from hard crack with just butter (caramel corn, spun sugar). Its all how you get that marvelous sugar to crystalze. Off hand soft to hard, Joe correct me if Im wrong pleasse: Toffee, soft ball, fudge, hard ball, brittles, rock candy, caramel, hard caramel, hard crack, lollipops (with no fats), after this heat stage its a mess.


    1. Hey K!

      That’s right to a large extent. Classically toffee, butterscotch and caramel were confections (not sauces) so the cooking stage mattered as much or more than the ingredient list since they produce different textures. Syrup for soft caramel candies is cooked to the firm ball stage (248F), toffee to hard ball (268F), and butterscotch to soft crack (290F). Each stage is a marker of how much water is left in the mixture, but is surely also has implications for how the candies crystallize…I’m just not sure what they are! 😉

      Thanks for a great comment, K!

      – Joe

  3. Hm. When I make toffee, I use white sugar, cooked up to 300F, and it quite definitely colours well past light yellow – in fact, I can tell when it’s almost up to temperature because it darkens appreciably. So what exactly am I making, in that case? And it’s definitely nothing like a sauce – it’s crunchy!

    1. Hey Jane!

      Yes, I’m guilty of some imprecision here since making sauces is different than making candies. For example, caramel candy is cooked only to the firm ball stage while caramel sauce is cooked until the sugar can’t stand no more! What you’re making is definitely a candy, though at that temperature I’d call what you’re making butterscotch. I think of toffee as being more nougat-like, but in truth there’s a point at which the definitions of caramel, toffee and butterscotch all start to blur together.

      Thanks for keeping me honest, Jane!

      – Joe

    1. Hey Catherine!

      Actually very little, good point. Both are made with butter and at least some proportion of brown sugar. The distinction between the candies is clearer since they’re cooked to different temperatures, but sauces really muddy the water in terms of what’s what. Sorry for the confusion, Catherine!

      – Joe

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