How to Make Butterscotch

Please welcome guest author pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater who shares with us the (almost) lost art of making butterscotch. ~Elise

When was the last time you tasted authentic butterscotch? Flavor, sauce, memory, aroma, era: butterscotch was an all but extinct, or out-of-date substance, and flavor until recently. Now it’s all the rage.

Wouldn’t you like to know exactly what butterscotch is and how to make it?

Historically, butterscotch was a hard candy made with unprocessed sugar. The suffix “scotch” means “to cut”. When sugar or candy is hot it’s difficult to get a clean break, so one must score it while warm to facilitate getting a clean edge later.

Today butterscotch is considered a flavor, much like caramel. Made famous at soda fountains by accompanying banana splits, butterscotch sauce has been an American favorite since the 1950’s.

Although most Americans are familiar with butterscotch pudding, in recent years what’s been readily available is an artificially flavored shadow real butterscotch flavor. My hope is that once you see how easy butterscotch is to make, you’ll never go back to the imposter.

How to Make Butterscotch

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Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Method

Butterscotch takes about a half an hour to make, from start to finish.

1 First, before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go - the cream and the brown sugar next to the pan, measured and waiting. Making butterscotch is a fast process that cannot wait for hunting around for ingredients.

2 In a heavy bottomed stainless steel 2 quart saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat. Just before butter is melted, add all dark brown sugar at once and stir with wooden spoon until sugar is uniformly wet.

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3 Stir infrequently until mixture goes from looking grainy to molten lava. Make sure to get into the corners of your pot, and watch closely to notice how the mixture changes. It will take about 3 to 5 minutes.

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4 Right before you add the cream, the caramelizing brown sugar will begin to look and feel more like liquid and less like thick wet sand.

5 At this point add all the cream at once and replace your spoon with a whisk. Lower heat a little and whisk cream into mixture. When liquid is uniform, turn heat back to medium and whisk every few minutes for a total of 10 minutes.

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6 After liquid has been boiling on the stove for its 10 minutes, turn heat off and let rest for a minute or two before transferring into a heatproof storage vessel. (I prefer a stainless steel or glass bowl.) Cool to room temperature.

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7 When butterscotch liquid is room temperature, take a small taste. It's important to know what cooked brown sugar and butter tastes like, and what happens when transforming that flat sweetness into real butterscotch flavor. Whisk in half the salt and vanilla extract. Taste again. Add more salt and vanilla extract until the marvelous taste of real butterscotch is achieved.

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Butterscotch makes a fantastic topping for ice cream.

Chill butterscotch sauce in a non-reactive container with a tightly fitting lid only after sauce has chilled completely. It will keep for one month refrigerated, that is if you can keep from eating it all the moment it has cooled down and been seasoned to your liking.

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Links:

Historically: Wikipedia on butterscotch
Butterscotch Pudding: recipes from other food blogs and Shuna's recipe for butterscotch pudding
Flickrphoto set on the making of this butterscotch

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Pastry chef, writer, poet, muse, Shuna Fish Lydon has worked in such notable kitchens as Gramercy Tavern and Verbena in Manhattan, The French Laundry and Bouchon in Yountville, California, and Citizen Cake, Aziza, and Sens in San Francisco. Shuna now makes her home in New York City. ~Elise

Photos for this recipe by Shuna Lydon.

Showing 4 of 59 Comments

  • jonathan

    I’ll try to ask the obvious questions to get them out of the way…

    – Why not ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream?
    – Have all those recipes I’ve read over the years that call for adding actual Scotch (liquor) to the mix been lying?

    Shuna Fish Lydon, you’ve been associated with some really amazing places! Gramercy Tavern (a favorite) and French Laundry (on the “to go” list)?

    I’ve been on a toffee binge for a year or so now, so this fits right in. Thanks!

    Jonathan,
    Thank you for your query. I specify not to use ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream because the stabilizers in this dairy product have a bitter tasting edge. As is the case with recipes employing only a few ingredients, you really want the best tasting ones because all you are going to taste here is brown sugar, butter and cream.

    All those recipes that told you Scotch or some other spirit was the basis of butterscotch’s delicious flavor were wrong, yes. Or one could say they took their own poetic license as all of us do every day with our mix-and-match cookery.

    My intention here is not to point fingers but rather to illuminate a forgotten flavor. ~ Shuna

  • lobstersquad

    mmm. how wonderful. I must make this. Normally I cheat and melt good butter toffees for pouring over ice cream.

  • Alanna

    Just excellent, Shuna & Elise – so glad that you are evangelizing for butterscotch. My favorite version of American Apple Pie uses barely cooled butterscotch as a substitute for the brown sugar. (And then I lick the pot.) Butterscotch makes one great apple pie – as my favorite pie eaters will attest.

  • Annalisa

    That looks delicious. A friend of ours has a dessert sauce company called Shootflying Hill Sauce Co. and they put out an unbelievably delicious “Salty Butterscotch sauce,” but we will try this recipe soon!

    Hello Annalisa,
    Thanks so much for the head’s up about Shootflying. I’ll have to order a jar and compare notes. ~ Shuna

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