How to Make Butterscotch Sauce

When was the last time you tasted authentic butterscotch? A classic butterscotch sauce recipe with brown sugar, butter, and cream.

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Photography Credit: Shuna Lydon

Please welcome guest author pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater who shares with us the (almost) lost art of making butterscotch sauce. ~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 Flavor, sauce, memory, aroma, era: butterscotch was an all but extinct, or out-of-date substance, and flavor until recently.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 Sauce

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  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes

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

1 Have everything ready to go: 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 Melt butter, add brown sugar: 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: 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 Note the texture: 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 Add the cream, let boil: 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 or until it registers 225°F on a digital or candy thermometer.

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6 Let rest, then transfer to storage vehicle to cool: 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 Taste, add salt and vanilla extract to taste: 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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Shuna Lydon

Pastry chef 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 and Aziza in San Francisco. Shuna's writing can be found on her highly acclaimed food blog Eggbeater. Shuna is now based in New York City.

More from Shuna

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

How to Make Butterscotch

Showing 4 of 70 Comments

  • Theresa

    I have made this twice. The first time I took it to 225 degrees which took longer than 10 minutes and it was a FAIL!! The second time I stuck to the 10 minute cook time, which is about 216 degrees, and it was a beautiful success!! So if you are using a thermometer 216-218 degrees seems to be a perfect temperature for a delicious butterscotch sauce! The other thing I would suggest is to gently heat the cream before adding to the boiling sugar and butter. I think it does better as the cream doesn’t cool the sugar as much so it won’t start to crystallize. Just my thoughts. The recipe is a keeper though and I am using it as a sauce for my sweet potatoes.

  • Anjuli

    This didn’t work for me at all. I have a lump of hard candy on the outer rim and slightly less hard candy in the middle. What did I do wrong?? This seriously bums me out.

  • Jennifer Crinion

    this recipe did not work for me. i followed it to a T and it split after it cooled.

  • Shravan

    How to make butterscotch chips? Instead of adding cream, we just take it to hard candy stage and then pour it out, wait for it to solidify and then break them?

  • Cat

    I’m gonna use this for a butterscotch cinnamon cake roll.

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How to Make Butterscotch Sauce