Welcome to the definitive post on butterscotch and caramel with links to recipes for butterscotch and caramel sauce, puddings, ice cream, cake, and more! You have questions about butterscotch and caramel? I have answers for you!
- 1 Why People Think They Don’t Like Butterscotch
- 2 What Is Caramel?
- 3 What is Butterscotch?
- 4 How To Make Butterscotch
- 5 What about butterscotch pudding? I mean, it has dairy in it, right?
- 6 Do You Have Any Recipes for Butterscotch Pudding?
- 7 How to Make Caramel
- 8 What Is The Difference Between Caramel Sauce and Caramel Candy?
- 9 Do You Have Any Caramel Recipes?
- 10 What is the difference between butterscotch sauce and caramel sauce?
- 11 What Do You Think About That “Quick” Caramel Sauce Made with Brown Sugar?
- 12 Stuff You’ll Need to Make Butterscotch or Caramel
- 13 Do You Have a Recipe for Butterscotch Sauce?
- 14 Butterscotch vs Caramel
- 15 Why does some store-bought butterscotch pudding and butterscotch ice cream topping taste so awful?
- 16 Is There Any Good Store-Bought Caramel and Butterscotch?
- 17 Do You Have a Recipe for Chewy Butterscotch Candy?
- 18 Any Other Butterscotch Recipes?
Why People Think They Don’t Like Butterscotch
Butterscotch gets a bad rap, I think. Everyone is all “Oooh, caramel!” and “Oh, I just had some lovely salted caramel.” and “Yes, each caramel has exactly three flakes of salt from Tatooine balanced atop it. Magical!”
But try talking butterscotch to these folks, and Noses turn Up. They say things like this:
- “It’s too sweet.”
- “It tastes like chemicals”
- “It’s a weird color. What is up with that?”
I submit to you that these butterscotch naysayers just haven’t had good butterscotch.
Before we get into all the Whys and Wherefores, let’s just define caramel and butterscotch, shall we?
What Is Caramel?
Caramel contains white sugar that has been taken to the caramel stage along with dairy.
It may or may not contain butter, vanilla or salt. (But it should contain salt). The distinctive caramel flavor comes not only through caramelization of the sugar but also some complex Maillard reactions between the sugars and the milk proteins over a broad range of temperatures (as the caramel heats and cooks).
What is Butterscotch?
Butterscotch in its purest form–candy–is similar to caramel but differs in three main ways.
- It does not contain dairy (except for the small amount of milk solids in butter),
- it contains more butter than caramel does, which strictly speaking doesn’t need any butter,
- and it also contains some syrups that are the by-products of sugar manufacturing. Back in The Day, it was treacle or molasses, and today it usually means brown sugar (since today’s brown sugar is nothing more than refined white sugar with some molasses mixed back in).
Yesterday I found reference to a recipe written in 1848 for Doncaster butterscotch calling for a pound each of sugar and butter and a quarter pound of treacle. And I added salt. Quite a bit, actually. True butterscotch–and now this is just me making Pronouncements without anything buy my palate to back me up–should have a bit of a salty edge to help round out the mellow butter and sweet sugar as well as to cut any bitterness from the molasses (which is pretty much just a dark treacle).
UPDATE: If you are interested in an authentic butterscotch recipe, go give it a look!
**Note that it is not necessary to caramelize the sugar in butterscotch. The ingredients are cooked together to between 248F-265F, depending on how firm-but-chewy you want the texture, and sugar doesn’t caramelize until well over 300F.
Caramel, on the other hand, is made by first caramelizing the sugar and then adding the rest of the ingredients to cook together.
How To Make Butterscotch
The procedure for making butterscotch is pretty straightforward:
- Cook butter, brown sugar, and salt together until bubbling and smooth.
The next steps will depend on whether you’re using it as a flavor component for another dessert, or making sauce or candy.
For example, when I make a butterscotch pumpkin pudding, I stir in cream, pumpkin puree and then some eggs when it’s not so hot I’ll scramble the eggs.
For candy, I’d cook the mixture to the right temperature, depending on what texture candy I want.
For sauce, I’d add some cream and maybe a splash of vanilla.
What about butterscotch pudding? I mean, it has dairy in it, right?
Good call, folks. Yes, butterscotch and caramel pudding both contain dairy. In the case of pudding, the main difference between the two is that butterscotch is made with a cooked brown sugar and butter base and caramel pudding is made with a base of caramelized white sugar.
Both really should contain salt, although butterscotch should probably have a bit more in it than caramel since salt is more of a big player in butterscotch’s flavor profile.
Do You Have Any Recipes for Butterscotch Pudding?
This is my recipe for butterscotch pie, but the filling is just the most wonderful butterscotch pudding. If you want pie, put it in a pie shell. If you want pudding, just put it in individual bowls instead.
How to Make Caramel
Even though making caramel seems a bit intimidating, it’s pretty easy to make.
- Put sugar in a pan and add a splash of water (you can also make a dry caramel, but I rarely do).
- Heat until mixture comes to a boil, put the lid on to let the condensation wash any sugar crystals off the sides of your pan.
- Remove lid and cook without stirring until the sugar turns anywhere from a honey color to a strong iced tea color.
Lighter caramels will be sweeter but less complex. Darker caramel is less sweet but much more complex. I think of lighter caramel as “kid caramel,” and darker caramel as adult caramel.
Once you have your caramelized sugar, you can make sauce by adding some cream–carefully–and stirring until smooth.
Make candy by adding cream and then cooking to the right temperature.
Make caramel pudding by adding some cream then tempering into eggs and starch.
What Is The Difference Between Caramel Sauce and Caramel Candy?
The main difference between the two is the temperature you cook the mixture to once you caramelize the sugar and add your dairy and any other ingredients. The hotter you cook your sugar, the more firm the end caramel will be.
If you add cream and then just let the sauce simmer for a few seconds, you will end up with caramel sauce. (Please add a heavy pinch of salt to that recipe so it won’t taste flat!)
If you add cream and then cook the mixture to 240-280F, you’ll end up with a chewy caramel candy–the hotter you cook it, the harder/chewier it will be. Until you cook it to 310F at which point you’ll end up with a hard candy when it cools down.
Do You Have Any Caramel Recipes?
I do. I often caramelize sugar as a base for other recipes because it brings some complexity.
- Caramel Pumpkin Mousse
- Caramel Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream
- Chocolate Caramel Buttermilk Pie
- Chocolate Caramel Ice Cream
- Mocha Caramel Pound Cake
- Blood Orange Caramel Sauce
- My post about making caramel sauce and caramel candy and about how the two are very similar. If you can make caramel sauce, you can make caramel candy.
What is the difference between butterscotch sauce and caramel sauce?
There is a lot of confusion about what constitutes a butterscotch sauce and what differentiates it from a caramel sauce.
Again, I believe the main difference between butterscotch sauce and caramel sauce is that brown sugar (or a mixture of white sugar and treacle/molasses) and a high proportion of butter are used to make butterscotch sauce while caramel sauce is based on caramelized white sugar and cream with a touch, if any, of butter.
I’ve also come across butterscotch sauce recipes that call for lemon juice. This could potentially be where the “saltiness” came from as lemon juice and salt are both flavor enhancers. But I don’t know–that’s me making more Pronouncements. The lemon juice might also be there to keep the sugar from crystallizing during the cooking process.
Regardless, this butterscotch sauce recipe seems to be Pretty Authentic. Note the brown sugar and large amount of butter as well as salt and the relatively small amount of cream.
Compare it to this recipe for caramel sauce, noticing the 2:1 ratio of sugar to cream as well as the relatively small amount of butter.
What Do You Think About That “Quick” Caramel Sauce Made with Brown Sugar?
I think–I know–that sauce is not caramel. It’s a quickie butterscotch, and it’s not good. I find it too sweet and not nearly complex enough. Please don’t make that quickie caramel sauce. Do yourself a favor and make either real caramel sauce or real butterscotch sauce.
Stuff You’ll Need to Make Butterscotch or Caramel
If you are interested in making a lot of caramel and butterscotch–or any candy, really–there’s some equipment you’ll need to make your life easier. Here are my recommendations for equipment and a couple of books to help you make delicious candy
Do You Have a Recipe for Butterscotch Sauce?
Why yes. Yes I do. This is my recipe for Coffee Butterscotch Ice Cream Sauce, and it is spectacular.
Butterscotch vs Caramel
Okay, as definitive as I can be:
The flavor of butterscotch is characterized by molasses (brown sugar), a high proportion of butter, and salt.
The flavor of caramel is characterized by caramelized sugar independent of molasses, butter or even salt.
Butterscotch sauce does not have to include cream while caramel sauce does.
Caramel sauce does not have to include butter, but butter is an integral part of butterscotch.
Salt is more important to butterscotch than it is to caramel, possibly because butterscotch was “invented” back when all butter, pretty much, was salted. And since butterscotch contained a lot of butter, it also contained a lot of salt.
Both butterscotch and caramel can come in sauce form, candy form, pudding form, cake form, etc.
Why does some store-bought butterscotch pudding and butterscotch ice cream topping taste so awful?
Remember, we’re looking for these ingredients: butter, brown sugar and salt. Vanilla works too. Just Take a Gander at these ingredient lists and then I’m pretty sure you’ll understand why the store-bought stuff tastes nasty:
- Smucker’s Butterscotch Flavored Topping: Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Nonfat Milk, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Natural Flavor (From Milk), Sodium Alginate, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Phosphate, Yellow 5, Yellow 6
- Thank You Brand Butterscotch Pudding: Skim Milk, Water, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil and/Or Canola Oil, Corn Starch, Mono- and Diglycerides, Salt, Artificial Flavoring, Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Coloring (Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 3, and Green 3).
- Jell-o Cook and Serve Butterscotch Pudding: Sugar, Dextrose (From Corn), Cornstarch, Cornstarch Modified, Contains less than 2% of Natural Flavor, Artificial Flavor, Salt, Calcium Carrageenan (Thickener), Polysorbate 60 (Prevents Scorching), Butter, Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1. (and add 2 cups milk when you cook it)
Bottom line? If you want delicious butterscotch, you need to make it yourself.
Is There Any Good Store-Bought Caramel and Butterscotch?
After going on and on about how awful store-bought butterscotch can be, there actually are some really good candies and sauces out there. You just have to shop around and read your labels. Here are a few butterscotch and caramel products I actually endorse!
Do You Have a Recipe for Chewy Butterscotch Candy?
Actually, I do have a great butterscotch candy recipe. I linked it above, but here it is again. It’s a very traditional butterscotch recipe based on one from 1848. Please note that all ingredients are listed by weight, so you will definitely want to pick up a kitchen scale (it’s a good idea to own one for all your baking and candy making anyway.)
Any Other Butterscotch Recipes?
This is one of my favorite recipes on the blog. It’s a light bread pudding I made by subbing angel food cake for the bread and using butterscotch in both the custard and in the crunchy nut garnish.