R10_0016                                                                                                        photo by DT Ruhlman

There have been a spate of butterscotch posts recently and it’s a subject I’m delighted to see addressed.  Butterscotch is emblematic of how mass produced and processed versions of real food threaten to obliterate the food that’s true and valuable and delicious.

Make your own butterscotch.  Elise has a recipe here. It’s from Shuna and she answers questions here at eggbeater.  Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for butterscotch ice cream.  David Lebovitz recently did a butterscotch pudding, but even more valuable, he gives a caramel tutorial here.

Butterscotch sause is easy, should take no more than fifteen minutes and keeps for ages in the fridge.  But more important, it’s so good.  Just over ice cream.  Or bananas.  Or French toast (now you have an excuse to have butterscotch sauce for breakfast).  A banana split.  When I taste it, I get the sense that I’m remembering something I didn’t know I knew.

Butterscotch gets its flavor from brown sugar and from the butter (the complex nuttiness of the wonderful transformation of butter solids in heat) as well as vanilla.  Shuna argues that salt is the final critical seasoning element, suggests adding it, and tasting, adding and tasting till you’ve got it just right.  Caramels and salt are an exciting combo, and this is a reminder of that.  I like to include a good dose of acid in the form of apple cider vinegar to sharpen all that sweetness.  I read in one of these posts that this was a custom in New England.  Could there be regional variations on the butterscotch?

Read David’s caramel lesson. Remember that sugar is incredibly hot and causes some of the worst cooking burns there are. Use a big pot and any time you add a liquid such as cream bubbling liquified sugar, be careful because it really foams up.  But again making your own butterscotch sauce is so easy you’ll wonder why anyone would bother to buy jarred sauce.


30 Wonderful responses to “Butterscotch Sauce: The Taste Memory You Didn’t Know You Had”

  • Russ

    Greetings Michael:

    Having nothing to do with anything other than I love to check your blog and find 0 comments and a post time just a minute or so ago…it intensifies the feeling of dialogue that you create with this thing…Thank-you…Sorry but now I’m headed to the kitchen for a butterscotch fest.

  • MrsBug

    Thank you so much for these links! We got a new ice cream maker from my in-laws for Xmas and made the richest, most decadent chocolate ice cream that exists. I was thinking about butterscotch sauce when I was spooning some out the other night. 🙂

  • MJN34

    Mmmm. Thanks for giving me a salivating, Pavlovian-type response on a Monday morning. My Activia yogurt just isn’t cutting it now. Never made butterscotch before, but I look forward to trying it over bananas. The fruit cancels out all the butter, right?

  • Darcie

    Mmmm, butterscotch. It’s sad how the processed crap that passes as caramel or butterscotch has made people all but forget how delicious the real stuff is. I was reminded of this recently when I was coerced into eating at Bob Evans. I ordered pecan caramel pancakes, but the oily, hyper-sweet concoction they poured over the cakes was NOT caramel. You could tell that no real butter even passed by the vat of chemicals that created the sauce. It served as a good reminder of how delicious real food is and how far my own cooking has come. Ten years ago I would have loved that dish. But thanks to folks like Mr. Ruhlman (there’s my daily suck up!) I eat far, far better now.

    Thanks for the links and the caveat about hot caramel. I once burned a pea-sized piece off my upper lip by tapping the wooden spoon I was using to stir my caramel sauce on the side of the pan. It sent little droplets of blazing hot caramel flying around the kitchen. I no longer tap to remove excess caramel; I just let it cool and then lick the utensil clean. Cook’s treat!

  • Chuck

    Michael, do you, or any commenters, know the history of the name “butterscotch?”

  • iron stef

    I’ve always found butterscotch unpleasant…of course the butterscotch I know comes in hard yellow disc form or stripy sticks or on my mom’s favorite dairy queen sundae. I LOVE LOVE LOVE caramel with a passion, though, and I think this means I will like proper butterscotch, no? I’m willing to give it a try…I don’t see what’s not to like…brown sugar, butter, vanilla…this could be eye-opening. Thanks!

  • jabbett

    Last Chanukah, I had a very similar experience. For the first time, I made yeasted doughnuts from scratch (as is the holiday custom in Israel), as well as a caramel sauce with which to glaze them (both recipes from The New Best Recipe). I had never had a homemade doughnut before — straight out of the hot oil, they’re in a separate class from bakery doughnuts. The caramel sauce, just like your butterscotch experience, was dead simple to make and absolutely delicious.

    Beyond that — once you’ve done it from scratch, with honest ingredients, you no longer want to eat the mass-produced stuff. So, you don’t buy it, you don’t keep it around, and you can’t succumb to an unhealthy impulse to eat it. Instead, you look at the calendar and find the ideal time and place to craft your homemade confection. They need to be eaten fresh, so you have to invite friends over for the experience… and what was once a guilt-ridden trip to the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through becomes a culinary, nutritional, and cultural triumph to be proud of.

  • Tags

    They don’t even bother to put ‘maple flavored’ on syrup bottles anymore. But they do have the nerve to call hydrogenated chips and corn syrup ice cream toppings ‘butterscotch flavored,’ so there’s no shortage of unmitigated gall out there.

  • bob

    Does anyone have some thoughts on savory applications? Greg Higgins does a great goat cheese flan with black pepper caramel, but I’ve not read about butterscotch being used. I’m sure their’s something out there.

  • luis

    It reminds me of a gal I knew maybe 40 yrs ago… She’d make these hot buttered rum drinks…That tasted a lot like Butterscotch.
    Very rich and yummy, very New England. I guess your East Coast is showing Michael…

  • Danny

    Usually your call to eat better or buy better pigs never resonates with me. Not sure what it is about this post, but it has made me want to make butterscotch. Thank you.

  • Kate in the NW

    I/r/t savory applications: a family favorite around our house is my maple bacon, which I’ve recently…well, not perfected, but at least evolved into something pretty dang good, if I do say so myself. I’m thinking butterscotch would work pretty $#@&% well too, unless there’s something funky with the food chemistry of butterscotch (as opposed to maple syrup) that screws it up. I’m out of town next week but when I get back I’ll try it with the butterscotch.

    Here’s the recipe:

    Kate’s Maple (Butterscotch?) Bacon:
    take a bunch of high-quality, thick-cut bacon – not too fatty – and separate it into strips.
    heat a heavy (cast-iron or enamel) pan to medium-high (I use a viking so maybe it would be just high heat on a regular stove – you want it hot enough to sizzle), put the bacon in – NOT TOUCHING TOGETHER – and turn the heat immediately down to medium. A slower cooking process works best for this – you don’t want the bacon to curl too much.
    cool bacon till browned/slightly caramelized, turn it over.
    cook the other side the same.
    when it’s pretty much done – deeply carmelized and crisp but not chocolate-brown anywhere, drizzle pure (I like grade b) maple syrup – or butterscotch? – over the bacon. you may need to turn the heat down a little. the syrup should foam just a tiny bit as it hits the pan. cook about 30 seconds (syrup and grease will come together and thicken a little), turn bacon again to coat the other side, and then remove it from pan to a wire rack to drain.
    Do not blot the bacon – you’ll just have a mess.
    Let the bacon cool just a little and the syrup forms this sort of sticky/crunchy/bacony/smoky/sweet shell around the bacon. It is pure heaven.
    The bacon is good on its own, in BLTs, or chopped over salads. With a butterscotch coating, it might even be good on vanilla ice cream…that salty/sweet thing. I’m sure you’d be way more creative with it than me. But if you ever have trouble getting your kids out of bed, just slam some of this stuff on the stove and let the smell lift them right out from under the covers. They’ll be at the kitchen table salivating in no time!

    Oh yeah – if you cook more than one batch, you have to clean the pan out between each use, or use lower and lower heat, or the sugars burn and it’s just plain gross and smelly. But I’m sure you knew that.

    If anybody tries this before me with the butterscotch, I’d love to know how it goes.

  • Stovetop Traveler

    Caramel and salt is definitely an exciting flavor combo. Fran’s Grey Salt Caramels used to be a treasured secret here in Seattle, but I fear they are pretty well-known nationwide now. She has scores of recent imitators as well. Butterscotch and bacon seems like it is a close relative – I think I’m gonna have to try that out.

  • luis

    Kate, I think its all ok yummy. Butterscotch may be a bit sweet for a bacon. I usually cook my bacon over a paper towel in a microwave safe dish made for doing bacon. Plastic with ridges. It leaves me with a nice straight crispy bacon strips and the bacon fat is absorbed by the paper towel.
    Also you maple bacon lovers can try wrapping a half strip of bacon lengthwise wrapped around a breadstick and encrusted with a nice quality parmesan cheese.
    Totally awesome. Again butterscotch doesn’t seem up to this savory task. Try it with hot rum I think… It’s in my list of memories to bring back.

  • shuna fish lydon


    Thanks so much for the links and shout outs. I feel a little bit like a messiah for lost/ almost extinct flavors.

    But, I am actually answering all the butterscotch questions here, and on my own site I am hoping, and asking that more technical questions come forth. As it seems so for you, answering questions is a way of sealing in my own knowledge, and the research is wondrous indeed.

    To address Chuck’s question about where the word butterscotch came from one need only do a few Google searches to see that the word is a disputed one. The suffix “scotch” means “to cut,” as one would score candy while warm for a clean break later (like glass.) It also might mean “scorch” as is the case with caramel.

    I’d also like to put something else to rest here, although I know this will be harder. Just about every pastry chef I have ever worked for put salt in their caramel, especially when there was a presence of dairy or multiple fats. The “Salted Caramel” phenomena is an almost laughable one by those who make caramel all the time. It would be like re-marketing the car because it’s a machine that runs on 4 wheels.

    For me I just wish someone would write the bible of sugar. There’s always so much to learn and understand– it’s an endlessly fascinating subject indeed!

  • HappyHoarfrost

    To the tribe of we who can resist sweets, but not butterscotch or caramel:
    My forearm tells the tale of an old butterscotch-making incident gone awry. Sigh, better to have loved and been burned. MR’s addition of the cider vinegar to Shauna’s recipe was compelling enough to risk love again. Folks, there is nothing to lose and EVERYTHING to gain. It was so perfect my scar started aching.
    The homemade ice-cream shop down the road was the obvious next stop. And then, as one is wont to do with a lot of time on her hands and a surplus of butterscotch sauce, I began to think savory. Persistent theme: How can I work more salt into my life?
    Pork, had to be pork. I live within a mile of a butcher (Kate in the NW: bacon was my first brain-stop—you were on it!), and returned with a fat pork shoulder parcel. I’m sure you could do a roast, tenderloins. (And please don’t throw me out because I never measure, but only describe):
    Sear the pork in peanut oil in cast iron. Oven-braise in cider vinegar, shallots, garlic, thyme (an hour or so, see below*). Separately, deeply caramelize all kinds of sliced onions, throw in some chopped figs, thyme and reduce with fig or balsamic vinegar.
    *Make a hefty scotch and soda in a glass with a scantly salted rim. Garnish with thyme sprig. Drink. Repeat.
    Remove and drain pork, brush with Beatific Butterscotch sauce, Goodfellas-sliced garlic & return to oiled pot. Roast or broil as high as you can go till it crisps like mad, but doesn’t burn (stand there with your drink, it will tether you). Smother with caramelized onion-fig mixture and scatter thyme with wild abandon. Serve with bitter greens. The circle of life will take you back to BBS-topped ice-cream for dessert.

  • shuna fish lydon


    Having taught hundreds of people how to make caramel, and having made it thousands of times, I’m wondering what your point is?

    In every piece of writing, speaking and teaching one must know one’s audience and explain in such a way so as to leave people with something practical, educational, usable and delicious to take home.

    It’s true I am not a scientist, but I have researched what I teach so that I can understand it myself before passing it on to students, or as is the case with the Internet, everyone who has access to a computer.

    Your words:

    “My understanding is that the only difference in dry/wet is starting with water that will cook off during the process. This allows the sugar to be dissolved (not “melted”) in the water which gives us the ability to stir, which lets heat distribute more evenly into the sauce and we can control the process better.”

    If one needs to make more than a few ounces of caramel it’s not practical, safe, easy to make “dry” caramel.

    Personally I think teaching people how to make caramel via the Internet is dangerous in and of itself, but so be it that everyone appears to want to learn.

  • Russ

    Shuna, thanks for the response. Perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be in my post, but I was trying to point out that some of the wording in the original article was odd, if not incorrect, about water/liquid, and that to my understanding wet caramel is the way to go for a beginner. I hoped to underpin this by mentioning it’s essentially a heat distribution issue. I think you make a great point about smaller amount being best done by the wet method as well (which is also a heat distribution issue).

    On a personal note, I have to thank you for entering the conversation here and on your site since I do most of my learning about cooking through web reading and experimentation. Instructions (with cautions if needed) from professionals are insightful and revealing for me.

  • FoodGal

    If anyone is ever in Los Angeles, head straight to Pizzeria Mozza for the fab butterscotch budino with a sprinkle of sea salt. Well, after you enjoy one of the amazing pizzas, of course.

  • michelle @ TNS

    butterscotch budino is so elusive for me, i’ve never made a good one. but i haven’t tried since reading david’s excellent caramel posts, so maybe i shouldn’t be complaining.

    i will not rest until i come up with a mouthwatering savory application for butterscotch. i definitely think bacon would be a good match. hmm…

  • Angel Elf

    Where oh where can one find raw or non-ultra-pasteurized heavy cream in the New York Metro area?

  • Rachel

    There’s a veritable battle of the salty caramel ice cream here in Columbus OH. Two local shops claim to have originated and perfected the flavor. My favorite is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, available for shipment nationwide, at http://www.jenisicecreams.com.

  • taste memory girl

    I have been enjoying reading the comments on this blog as much as the posts!

    The posts have been prime reading too – don’t get me wrong…..butterscotch definitely brings back a vivid taste memory for me and unfortunately not too pleasant. It was the first butterscotch anything and it came in a form of fluoride treatment – not a good memory.

    I’m over that now and love my butterscotch over bananas, amazing.