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

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Butterscotch sauce was an all but extinct, or out-of-date, substance and flavor until recently.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 but 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 cook it too long.

What to Serve with Butterscotch Sauce

Butterscotch isn’t just a topping for ice cream, though that’s a great start.

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

How to Make Butterscotch Sauce

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 8 servings
Yield 2 cups


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, plus more to taste


  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 the butter, then add the brown sugar and salt:

    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 the sugar is uniformly wet. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.

    melt brown sugar in butter for butterscotch
    Shuna Lydon
    cook brown sugar in butter for butterscotch
    Shuna Lydon
  3. Cook until bubbly:

    Increase the heat to medium. Stir infrequently until the mixture stops resembling wet sand and instead looks like molten lava, 3 to 5 minutes. Make sure to get into the corners of your pot, and watch closely to see the mixture change.

    stir butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
  4. Add the cream:

    At this point add all the cream at once. Lower the heat a little and whisk cream into mixture. The sugar mixture may lump up, but that’s okay. Stir until the cream assimilates and any hardened lumps dissolve.

  5. Simmer until syrupy:

    If you’re using a candy thermometer, clip one to the pot now. Cook, whisking no more than every few minutes, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until a digital or candy thermometer reads 225°F.

    The sauce will be slightly darker in color but won’t seem very thick (it will thicken as it cools). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, it’s better to err on the side of less simmering than more.

    add cream to butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
    boil butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
  6. Add the vanilla, then transfer to a container:

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

    butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
  7. Taste and adjust:

    Dip a small spoon into the sauce, then let it cool enough to 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. Remember to let the small spoonfuls of sauce cool between tastings.

    dollop of butterscotch sauce
    Shuna Lydon
  8. Enjoy!

    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
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
216 Calories
14g Fat
23g Carbs
1g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 216
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 18%
Saturated Fat 9g 44%
Cholesterol 40mg 13%
Sodium 92mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 23g 8%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 23g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 36mg 3%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 54mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.