My name is Jenni and I am in love with butterscotch. There, I said it.
Why do I love it? It is rich and deeply flavorful, and it is perfectly balanced between salty and sweet.
It’s more complex than caramel, and every bit as delicious.
If you’re a fan, this page is for you. And if you think you don’t like it, let me just say there is no comparison between homemade butterscotch and the artificially flavored stuff you can find in stores.
Looking for more butterscotchy goodness? You can find all my butterscotch recipes in one place!
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Why People Think They Don’t Like Butterscotch
Butterscotch gets a bad rap. 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.
As a matter of fact, most of the store-bought products labeled as “butterscotch flavored” don’t even contain the two main components of the flavor at all. (Spoiler alert: brown sugar and butter)
What Is Butterscotch and What Does It Taste Like?
Butterscotch is rich, complex, buttery, and a bit smoky. It should be a little bit salty and not super sweet.
Butterscotch tastes like the best crunchy toffee you’ve ever had, minus the nuts.
The disctinctive flavor comes from the perfect marriage of caramelized sugar, browned butter, and a hint of molasses.
In other words:
Why salt? Back when butterscotch first came on the scene (see my recipe for authentic butterscotch candy), almost all butter was salted to allow for longer storage.
How much salt? Kind of a lot. And old school butterscotch contained equal parts of sugar and butter plus 1/4 part, by weight, of treacle or molasses.
Lots of butter means lots of salt, so salt is really an integral part of the flavor profile. Not enough salt, and your butterscotch ends up tasting too sweet and not with nearly as deep and complex a flavor.
What Flavor Is Butterscotch?
Butterscotch is a flavor, so there aren’t really any other flavors of butterscotch. It’s not like lollipops where you could have cherry lollipops, grape lollipops, or lime lollipops.
You can have flavored butterscotch, as with my coffee butterscotch sauce, but butterscotch was originally a candy. The flavor of this candy was so great, folks started to use it as a flavoring in other desserts like cakes, custards, etc.
Modern Butterscotch versus Old-Fashioned Butterscotch
Looking at the proportions of ingredients for original butterscotch, which was a hard candy before it was a flavor used in other desserts, there is a relatively large amount of molasses in it. 25% of the weight of the sugar and butter, to be exact.
According to How Stuff Works in their post on making homemade brown sugar, dark brown sugar these days contains 6.5% molasses.
If you were to make butterscotch using the original proportions, you might think it a little bitter with way too much molasses flavor. Look at some of the comments on my authentic butterscotch candy post, and you’ll see folks saying that.
I have a butterscotch sauce recipe where molasses is almost 19% of the weight of the sugar. Even that’s a bit more molassesy than most modern versions.
These days, we like our candy sweeter, so dark brown sugar is ideal for adding molasses flavor without being too bitter for modern taste buds.
How To Make Butterscotch
This video gives you a pretty good idea of how to make butterscotch itself before I go on to show how to make creme brulee.
There are degrees of butterscotchiness. The longer you cook the brown sugar and butter together, the deeper the flavor will be.
To get full on butterscotchy goodness, you need to cook the brown sugar and butter together until the butter browns and the sugar caramelizes.
Since the milk solids in the butter will brown well before the sugar caramelizes, you’ll be looking for indications that the sugar has caramelized to tell when your butterscotch is done.
- Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. American style butter contains about 18-20% water, so melt the butter first over medium low heat. Don’t let it boil because we need the water in the butter to help dissolve the sugar.
- Add the dark brown sugar and cook the two together. Cook the butter and brown sugar together, stirring constantly, until the sugar is at least mostly dissolved (this is easier to do when you use more butter rather than less, since more butter equals more water). Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil.
- Cook until the sugar caramelizes. At first, the mixture will be smooth and bubbly. At a certain point, your butterscotch mixture will separate, and you may see butter swimming around in the pan. That’s okay. Keep going. Cook and stir until the mixture comes back together, it starts to smoke a bit, and you smell the distinctive smell of caramelized sugar. That’s how you know that you’ve gotten the deepest flavor that you can.
Here’s another video for you to watch, this time of making butterscotch cheesecake.
What Kind of Sugar to Use to Make Butterscotch
If you’re going old-school, you can use granulated sugar and add in molasses on its own. That way, you are free to add as little or as much molasses flavor as you want.
But, for modern butterscotch (less bitter, less molasses), use dark brown sugar at the sweet spot for modern palates of 6.5% molasses.
Light brown sugar doesn’t really have quite enough molasses in it to make a really deeply flavored butterscotch, so stick with dark brown.
What To Do with Butterscotch
Once you have made the butterscotch, the simplest thing to do is to pour it out and allow it to cool as an old-school hard candy.
You have other options, though. To make a butterscotch sauce, you can add heavy cream.
Once you’ve made your sauce, you can use it over ice cream, or you can add the sauce to another recipe to infuse the flavor of butterscotch into it, like I did with my butterscotch cheesecake recipe and my butterscotch creme brulee.
Now that you have a pretty good handle on butterscotch as a flavor and how to make it, here are some more recipes you might enjoy.