How to Make Butterscotch Sauce

Butterscotch sauce is one of the most delicious recipes you can make yourself. Featuring brown sugar, butter, and cream, butterscotch sauce can top ice cream, slices of pie, and more. You’ll never go back to store-bought butterscotch again!

How to Make Butterscotch
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?

Butterscotch sauce was an all but extinct, or out-of-date, substance and flavor until recently.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 sauce is and how to make it?

A spoonful of butterscotch
Shuna Lydon

What Is Butterscotch Sauce?

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 butterscotch. My hope is that once you see how easy butterscotch is to make, you'll never go back to the imposter.

Ingredients for Butterscotch Sauce

A traditional butterscotch sauce recipe requires only three main ingredients: brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream. That’s it! We also add in a little vanilla and salt to boost the flavor.

If you only have salted butter, you can use it instead. Just be sure to reduce the salt in the recipe.

Speaking of salt, this recipe calls for a lot of it—up to a one teaspoon. While it may seem excessive, trust us. The salt sets off the brown sugar and butter flavors, much the same way it does in salted caramel. The recipe specifies kosher salt, but it's perfectly fine to substitute regular salt. Just use a little less.

How to Make Butterscotch Sauce

Your homemade butterscotch sauce will easily best any artificially flavored topping you might buy at the store. There are only three main steps:

  1. Melt the butter and add the brown sugar and salt.
  2. Let it gently bubble, stirring every few minutes, and then add the cream.
  3. Simmer until it reaches 225°F before adding a little vanilla to balance the flavors. 

After that, all you have to do wait until it's cool enough to drizzle over ice cream, or whatever else you can dream up!

Why Avoid Ultra-Pasteurized Cream

Ultra-pasteurized cream has stabilizers that can sometimes add bitter flavors to recipes with a lot of cream, like this one. It's best to avoid it if possible. Look for regular pasteurized heavy cream at health food stores or local grocers. We've had luck finding it at Trader Joe's. 

If ultra-pasteurized cream is all you can find, it's fine to substitute, but know the flavor might be somewhat affected.

Butterscotch vs. Caramel Sauce

What's the difference between butterscotch and caramel? Butterscotch and caramel are both cooked sugar. But the main difference between the two is the sugar used to make them. Caramel is often made with regular white granulated sugar, while butterscotch is made with brown sugar. Caramel sauce doesn't always have butter, while butterscotch always calls for butter.

Both benefit from a bit of added salt, but butterscotch, especially, doesn't get its trademark flavor until you add some. The same goes for vanilla.

Troubleshooting Tips

  • To keep your sauce from separating, be sure not to stir too much while the brown sugar is melting. Use moderate heat to ensure it doesn't burn.
  • The butterscotch will thicken a lot when it cools, so it's important not to overboil it.

How to Store Butterscotch Sauce

After the sauce has cooled, store butterscotch in a glass container with a tightly fitting lid. It will keep for one month in the refrigerator,

Bring to room temperature before using, or reheat briefly in the microwave before using.

What to Serve with Butterscotch Sauce

Butterscotch isn’t just a topping for ice cream, though that’s a great start. You’ll love it over brownies, pie, cobbler, or even blondies!

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

How to Make Butterscotch Sauce

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Servings 8 servings
Yield 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1 -1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Method

Butterscotch sauce takes about 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, 2-quart, stainless steel saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat. Just before the butter is melted, add all the dark brown sugar at once and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is uniformly wet.

    melt brown sugar in butter for butterscotch
    Shuna Lydon
    cook brown sugar in butter for butterscotch
    Shuna Lydon
  3. Stir infrequently, note texture

    Stir infrequently until the mixture goes from looking grainy to molten lava. Make sure to get into the corners of your pot, and watch closely to see the mixture change, about 3 to 5 minutes.

    stir butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
  4. Add the cream and whisk

    At this point add all the cream at once. Lower the heat a little and whisk cream into mixture.

  5. Increase heat, whisk and boil

    When the liquid is uniform, turn heat back to medium and whisk every few minutes for a total of 10 minutes or until a digital or candy thermometer reads 225°F.

    add cream to butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
    boil butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
  6. Let rest, then transfer to cool

    Turn heat off and stir in the vanilla and salt. Let rest for a minute or two before transferring into a non-reactive bowl. (We prefer a stainless steel or glass bowl.)

    Cool to room temperature.

    butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
  7. Taste and adjust

    When the butterscotch liquid is at 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.

    After tasting, add up to another 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and up to another 1/2 teaspoon of salt, tasting as you go until the marvelous taste of real butterscotch is achieved.

    dollop of butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon

    Butterscotch makes a fantastic topping for ice cream.

    Store butterscotch sauce in a glass 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!

How to Make Butterscotch
Shuna Lydon