Creamy butterscotch full of flavor for desserts and so much more

Butterscotch and caramel flavors are siblings -- a lot alike, a lot different, sort of like fraternal twins. Many people have trouble remembering which is which.

Caramel is made with a single ingredient, sugar, either by melting granulated sugar or dissolving it in water, then boiling the mixture to a rich depth of color. It is the clear, tawny-brown namesake in creme caramel, the coppery sauce in tarte tatin, the crunchy amber glue of caramel corn.

Butterscotch is similar to caramel in flavor and use, but its formula relies on a combination of ingredients: brown sugar, butter, cream and vanilla. It is creamy, luxurious, complex and elegant. Think butterscotch sauce, butterscotch pudding and cream pie. If I had my say, the triumvirate of ice cream flavors would lose strawberry and instead be vanilla, chocolate and butterscotch.

Butterscotch fell out of favor for a few decades because of rampant pudding abuse in school cafeterias, with its excess sugar and phony flavorings. But chefs and home cooks know that using fresh ingredients in from-scratch recipes make butterscotch desserts delicious, even chic.

In the kitchen

FOBs, friends of butterscotch, include apples, pecans, cream, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, chocolate, dessert sherry, rum and Scotch whisky. Here are some simple ways to showcase its flavor.

Make butterscotch sundaes. Add a little Scotch or rum to warm butterscotch sauce. Spoon over vanilla ice cream, top with chopped toasted pecans and a wee pinch of Maldon sea salt. Add whipped cream if you dare.

Match with fruit for dessert. Drizzle warm butterscotch sauce over baked apples, sauteed bananas or poached pears.

Flavor whipped cream. Add a goodly amount of sauce to whipped cream to serve over angel food or pound cake. Or pipe the butterscotched whipped cream into mini-cream puffs or eclairs, then drizzle them with chocolate sauce.

Use up leftovers to make a trifle. Layer spongecake, angel food cake or ladyfingers (brushed first with a little rum for extra yum) with butterscotch pudding and sliced bananas. Top with layer of whipped cream and finish with a sprinkle of toasted chopped pecans.

Even though purists may scoff at commercially made and packaged butterscotch chips, the product adds oomph to cakes and baked goods, where subtle flavors are often dissipated and lost. Chefs and cookbook authors do it.

A note of caution to remember any time your recipe asks you to add brown sugar to milk or cream. Brown sugar contains molasses, which is acidic. If you heat brown sugar and cream alone, the liquid will curdle, and if that happens, you are out of luck. Be sure your recipe tempers the brown sugar and cream with, say, cornstarch and/or eggs.

Butterscotch around 'tahn

Joseph Tambellini's Highland Park restaurant serves an Ultimate Butterscotch Cake -- warm butterscotch pound cake with vanilla-bean ice cream alongside, candied pecans on top, lava-ed with gobs of butterscotch sauce and drifted with whipped cream. Oh, and fresh berries on the side (to kid you into thinking this dish is healthful). The cake is made by Diane Hill, owner-baker of Mrs. Poundcake of Wilkinsburg.

Dozen Bakeshop on Butler Street in Lawrenceville (it has four other locations) makes a killer Banana Butterscotch Bliss Cupcake. The individual banana cakes are topped with butterscotch buttercream, turned upside down for a quick dunk in butterscotch coating, then topped with white chocolate mini-chips. The cupcake is a spring-summer Friday special.

Barbara Ferguson loves butterscotch, too. She is the pastry chef-owner of Fraiche Confections and the pastry chef at Mio Kitchen and Wine Bar. The dessert menu varies, but occasionally, she will make bread pudding with butterscotch pears, buttermilk sherbet and butterscotch sauce. The pears are diced and cooked in a little of the butterscotch sauce, then added to the bread pudding just prior to baking. Her secret for the fabulous-tasting butterscotch sauce? She adds an ounce of good Scotch whisky to her recipe. Late last month, she rolled out a sesame cannolli with butterscotch mascarpone filling, butterscotch sauce and fresh oranges.

And ask your favorite bartender for a Slippery Nipple. The official recipe: Add equal parts Bailey's Irish Cream and butterscotch schnapps to a shot glass, and let them mix. Add a drop of grenadine syrup to form a perfect nipple in the bottom of the shot glass. Take as a shooter, and lick the nipple from the bottom of the glass.

Hot Butterscotch Sauce

PG tested

This is a classic butterscotch sundae sauce. It is also delectable on cake, pudding or right off the spoon. For a killer combo, serve over dulce de leche ice cream. Best served warm, but not hot.

-- Marlene Parrish

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup white corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat. Carefully and very slowly stir in cream. Be careful not to let it spatter. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and foaming subsides.

The sauce will separate upon standing. Just give it a good stir before serving. Serve warm. Sauce will keep covered and refrigerated for up to one week. But I bet it won't last that long.

Makes about 21/2 cups.

-- Marlene Parrish

Butterscotch Pudding

PG tested

Comfort food, nursery pudding, grown-up bliss. This butterscotch pudding is all three and more. Want to turn it into a pie? Bake an 8-inch chocolate cookie crumb crust. Pour all the cooled pudding into the crust and top with a cloud of whipped cream. Or, if you want to be oh-so-trendy, sprinkle portions with a few flakes of Maldon salt.

-- Marlene Parrish

  • 3 cups whole milk, divided
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch, spooned lightly into a measuring cup (do not pack)
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream flavored with vanilla extract, for serving (optional)

Rinse a heavy nonreactive saucepan with cold water, and shake out the excess water (this helps prevent the milk from scorching). Bring 21/2 cups of the milk nearly to a boil. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk, the egg yolks, brown sugar and cornstarch until smooth.

Pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and whisk vigorously. Repeat the process 2 more times. Pour the warmed yolk mixture into the pan of hot milk and bring to a boil, whisking over medium heat. (I like to switch to a rubber spatula to keep the pudding from sticking.) Boil, stirring constantly (be sure to stir at the edges of the pan), for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.

Strain the pudding through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Transfer the pudding to 4 individual serving dishes, preferably glass sundae dishes. If you want to prevent a pudding "skin" from forming, lay a circle of wax paper directly on the surface of the pudding. Chill for 2 to 3 hours. Serve topped with vanilla-flavored whipped cream, if you like. Makes 4 servings.

-- "Classic Home Desserts" by Richard Sax (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000)

Butterscotch Sweet Rolls

PG tested

This recipe makes 3 pans of sweet rolls. My mother always said, "Make one to keep, one to freeze and one to give away." So choose a favorite neighbor, and share today's baking. If I'm going to be home all day, I'll use one package of yeast. Times when I'm in a hurry, I use two to speed things up.

Do you have three deep cake pans? Or two cake pans and a 9-inch tight springform pan? The sauce gets bubbly as it bakes, and the depth of the pans will save you having to clean the oven. In a pinch, you can also use Rhodes frozen sweet roll dough and save lots of time.

-- Marlene Parrish

For the sweet dough
  • 1/4 cup warm, but not hot, water
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted, and slightly cooled, unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 4 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the board
For the butterscotch topping
  • 1/2 cup Karo brand dark corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 packages (6 ounces each) OR 1 package (11 ounces) butterscotch bits
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • For the filling
  • 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar

To make the dough, begin by rinsing a large bowl with warm water and dry. Add the water to the bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar over the surface. Allow to sit for 5 minutes for the yeast to proof.

Add milk, melted butter, 1/3 cup sugar and salt to the yeast mixture in the bowl. Add the beaten eggs. Stir in only 2 cups of flour. Using a hand-held electric beater, beat on medium speed for 4 minutes. (The dough is too soft to hand-knead, so the beaters do the work for you.) Clean off the beaters.

Stir in the remaining 21/3 cups of flour with a wooden spoon, and work it in to make a soft, sticky dough. Scrape sides of bowl, and place in a warm place to rise until double in bulk, an hour or more.

While the dough is rising, make the topping. In a pan, combine corn syrup, water and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring, then add the butterscotch bits and remove from the heat, stirring as they melt. Divide the mixture into 3 9-inch cake pans. Scatter the pecans over the topping, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Punch down the dough and transfer to a well-floured surface, turning and flopping the dough in the flour to keep it from sticking. Divide dough into thirds. Roll each third into a rectangle about 10 by 12 inches. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle each piece with 1/3 of the brown sugar. Roll each rectangle of soft dough jellyroll fashion into a long "snake." Cut into 12 even slices.

Place the slices on the prepared topping in the pans, placing 3 slices in the center, the others around the sides. Let rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. While the rolls bake, get out 3 racks. Take the rolls from the oven and allow them to rest for 2 minutes. Then turn the pans upside down on a rack set over wax paper (to catch any drips) to cool. Immediately scrape any topping from the pans onto the rolls.

Makes 3 dozen rolls.

-- Marlene Parrish

Marlene Parrish: .


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