That $2 box of sugar in your pantry is worth its weight in gold. Few other ingredients can transform quite like it. Burnt to a deep amber, it becomes a simple sweet-smoky caramel sauce you can spoon over juicy seasonal citrus and serve with a scoop of ice cream. The result tastes (and looks) restaurant quality, but for a fraction of the price. Take the caramel as far as you dare—dark as leather, with a few tendrils of smoke emanating from the pan, is just right. Too pale and the end result will be cloyingly sweet.

For more highly craveable recipes that’ll help save you some $$$ along the way, check out Shilpa’s monthly column, What a Steal.

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8 servings


large seedless mandarin oranges (about 1½ lb.), peeled


cups (400 g) sugar


Tbsp. unsalted butter


cup sliced almonds

Kosher salt


pints vanilla ice cream

Flaky sea salt


  1. Step 1

    Slice 6 large seedless mandarin oranges (about 1½ lb.), peeled, ½” thick across the equator (about 3 slices per fruit); transfer to a 3-qt. heatproof dish.

    Step 2

    Combine 2 cups (400 g) sugar and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan, cover, and heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, 4–7 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring or swirling pan occasionally, until syrup boils, then turns a deep brown color, 12–18 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually add 1 cup water (stand back—mixture will spatter and seize). Set pan over low heat and cook, stirring often, until caramel is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes.

    Step 3

    Pour caramel over mandarin orange slices (they should be mostly submerged). Cover dish with a plate or plastic wrap and chill until very cold, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

    Step 4

    Melt 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium. Add ½ cup sliced almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 4–8 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl, season with a pinch of kosher salt, and toss to combine. Let cool.

    Step 5

    To serve, scoop 2 pints vanilla ice cream into bowls and place 2–3 mandarin orange slices in each bowl. Spoon caramel sauce over and around fruit; top with toasted almonds and a pinch of flaky sea salt.

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