Butterscotch is going through something of a revival. So much so, that two Kitchen Window regular contributors wanted to write about it. Therefore, welcome to the more-than-you-ever-thought-you-needed-to-know-about-butterscotch special coverage. Today is the first in our two-part butterscotch series. Check in next week (May 22) for more recipes featuring this resurgent flavor.
A few years ago, I took my mother to a restaurant I was reviewing. During these dinners, I make emphatic suggestions (“eat this or no more free meals”) as to what everyone should order, orchestrating the experience from appetizers to entrees to desserts. Love it or hate it, that’s how things are done when you dine with a reviewer.
But when I asked my mother to order the butterscotch pudding, she looked at me as if I had just requested that she order a fetal duck egg. Yes, butterscotch was apparently even considered uncool — and perhaps disgusting — by a septuagenarian who would happily devour a black-licorice pipe. Yet four years later, she still vividly remembers that butterscotch pudding and talks about it with reverence. Silky in texture and deep in flavor, that pudding has haunted us.
Last year, I was asked to bring an ice cream topping to a friend’s for Hanukkah. After a quick web search, I quickly settled on butterscotch sauce, eager to re-create something akin to that pudding experience. It was a huge hit, especially when a bolt of culinary lightning struck and I got the idea to dip the warm latkes into the sauce. (Mark my words, there will be an official latke-sundae experiment at some point.)
Before ever having to compete with the likes of Snickers and Fun Dip, this candy that is generally softer than toffee and deeper in flavor than caramel is said to have its roots in Doncaster, England — not Scotland, as some believed. It was in this Yorkshire town that Samuel Parkinson reportedly began making the confection in 1817, and his butterscotch came to be known as the butterscotch for generations of Brits.
While there’s no real way of determining why butterscotch went out of fashion, I’d put my money on those vile butterscotch chips, instant butterscotch puddings and lint-crusted butterscotch candies fished from the bottom of Grandma’s purse as having something to do with its decline.
But I’ve seen glimmers of a comeback. Washington, D.C.-based pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac, who creates the desserts for Neighborhood Restaurant Group, says they always have butterscotch on hand. “We put it on our sticky toffee pudding,” she says. “I’ve got it also on the doughnut here.” That’s a bourbon-butterscotch doughnut topped with house-cured bacon found at the restaurant group’s newest venture, GBD Fried Chicken and Fresh Doughnuts, in case you were wondering. “Everybody does it with maple, but I wanted to do something different.”
She’s even toying with the idea of a strawberry dessert with a white miso and butterscotch sauce for spring — giving it a very modern twist and bucking the idea that butterscotch is a heavy, cool-weather flavor. “It’s definitely something I’m playing around with a lot.”
MacIsaac says the difference between butterscotch and caramel is that butterscotch recipes traditionally involve brown sugar and butter, whereas you can make caramel just by cooking white sugar until it, well, caramelizes. “Caramel has a more burnt flavor, but butterscotch has more of a sweeter flavor because it doesn’t caramelize as much,” she says.
Surprisingly, Scotch isn’t a traditional addition to butterscotch, but it certainly is a welcome flavor booster. Dark rum also achieves that desired depth. “I just happen to love that layer of flavor that alcohol gives to things, so it’s not just sweet,” says MacIsaac. “I like bourbon, that’s my personal preference — specifically, Maker’s Mark.”
And while MacIsaac makes her living creating sweet stuff — cupcakes, doughnuts, artistically plated desserts — she can’t resist the allure of butterscotch’s most humble preparation: butterscotch pudding.
Simple or fancy, we’ll take it any way we can get it.
Crepes can be intimidating, but the process of making them really is a lot simpler than it seems once you get the rhythm of it. Having a trusted nonstick pan and a couple of spatulas handy — one to lift the sides a bit so that a bigger spatula can slide underneath the crepe — really helps with the flipping. This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen food blogger Deb Perelman. I love that it’s tangy and not too sweet, and it’s a show-stopper when people see all those beautiful layers.
Makes 11 to 12 9-inch crepes, or a 1 1/2-inch cake
1 large (about 6 ounces when unpeeled) speckly, ripe banana
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly, for the batter, plus 3 tablespoons for greasing pan
1 cup milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Yogurt Filling
8 ounces cream cheese, well-softened
1 1/2 cups plain Greek-style yogurt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Walnut Butterscotch Topping
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt, or to taste
For the crepes, blend banana in a food processor until smooth. Add 4 tablespoons of melted butter and blend again. Add remaining ingredients and blend until combined. Transfer batter to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour, preferably overnight, and up to two days. Stir it to redistribute the ingredients before using it.
Heat a medium skillet or crepe pan over medium-high heat. Once heated, brush pan thinly with melted butter. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into skillet, tilting the pan until the batter evenly coats the bottom and cook, undisturbed, until the bottom is golden and the top is set, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the crepe and cook for 30 seconds on the other side, then slide it onto a plate to cool. Repeat with remaining batter. You can stack your crepes and they should not stick together. Let crepes cool completely.
For the filling, whip cream cheese until fluffy, then beat in yogurt 1/2 cup at a time. When fully combined, add sugar and vanilla, then beat for about another minute until rich and fluffy.
The topping should be made just before using. To make the butterscotch topping, combine the cream, brown sugar and butter in the bottom of a medium, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally in the beginning and more frequently as it reduces and thickens. You’ll know it’s done when it becomes thick and smells toasty. Stir in the vanilla and salt, then the walnuts.
To assemble the cake, lay first crepe on a cake plate or serving platter. Spread with 1/4 cup of the yogurt-cream-cheese filling. Repeat with all but the last crepe, which should be stacked but have no filling on top. Immediately pour topping over stack of filled crepes, nudging the butterscotch to the edges with your spoon.
Serve immediately, or keep in refrigerator until ready to serve, up to three days.
We’re all used to the idea of pouring butterscotch over our ice cream, but I’d like to shake the hand of the person who conceived of putting the butterscotch in the ice cream. It’s genius. This recipe is adapted from the Smitten Kitchen site. Blogger Deb Perelman, who adapted this recipe from Sunset Magazine, clearly shares my obsession for butterscotch.
Makes 1 quart
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 cups half-and-half (light cream)
6 large egg yolks
In a 1- to 2-quart pan over medium heat, stir brown sugar and butter until butter is melted, sugar is dissolved and mixture is bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes. While whisking, slowly add 1/2 cup whipping cream until smooth. Remove butterscotch mixture from heat. Add vanilla and bourbon, if using.
In a 3- to 4-quart pan over medium-high heat, combine remaining 1 cup whipping cream and the half-and-half and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, beat egg yolks to blend. Whisk 1/2 cup of the warm cream mixture into egg yolks, then pour egg yolk mixture into pan with cream. Stir constantly over low heat just until mixture is slightly thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Immediately remove from heat.
Pour through a fine strainer into a clean bowl and whisk in butterscotch mixture. Chill until cold, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours, or cover and chill up to 1 day.
Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve softly frozen, or transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours or up to 1 week.
OK, OK — yes, this recipe calls for white sugar instead of brown sugar. And I admit to being less than thrilled that is uses corn syrup and gelatin — two ingredients that I don’t generally use. But it looked so good I had to try it anyway. It was totally worth it, which is perhaps why it launched Gourmet reader Nicholas Leighton into the winning spot of the magazine’s January 2006 “Cook the Cover” contest. Note that the egg whites in the chiffon filling are not cooked.
Makes 8 servings
Bittersweet Chocolate Dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg, beaten
Blend together the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Using the metal blade in a food processor, pulse the butter and the powdered sugar together until combined. Add the flour and cocoa mixture to the food processor bowl and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg and pulse until incorporated.
Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap or into a plastic bag and gently knead until the dough holds together. Flatten into a 6-inch disk, cover with plastic wrap (or close plastic bag), and refrigerate for 30 minutes (until just firm enough to roll). Roll out dough into a 1/8-inch-thick circle between 2 lightly floured sheets of plastic wrap. Fit dough into ungreased tart pan. Patch any holes or rips by pressing in scraps of extra dough with your fingers. Trim excess dough so that there’s 1/8 inch of dough above the top edge of the tart pan (to account for shrinkage while baking). Chill for 1 hour before baking.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly prick shell all over with a fork. If using pie weights, line shell with parchment and fill with pie weights. Bake until pastry deepens in color (but does not brown), about 12 minutes. Remove parchment and bake for another 2 to 3 minutes more. If not using pie weights, bake until pastry deepens in color (but does not brown), about 12 minutes. Check after the first 5 minutes. If center of tart puffs up, gently push down with the back of a spoon. Cool completely in the tart pan on a rack, about 20 minutes.
Butterscotch Chiffon Filling
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 1/3 cups chilled heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (from 1 envelope)
3 large egg whites
Bring corn syrup, 3/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water to a boil in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil mixture, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally, until it melts into a deep golden caramel, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and add butter, vinegar and a pinch of salt, swirling pan until butter is melted. Add 1/3 cup cream and vanilla and simmer, stirring, 1 minute (sauce will be golden brown). Cool sauce to warm.
While sauce is cooling, sprinkle gelatin over remaining 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan and let stand 1 minute to soften, then heat over low heat until dissolved. Stir into butterscotch sauce and cool to room temperature.
Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks, then add remaining tablespoon sugar and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks. Fold in butterscotch sauce gently but thoroughly. Beat remaining cream with cleaned beaters until it just holds stiff peaks, then fold into butterscotch mixture gently but thoroughly. Gently pour chiffon into cooled pastry shell, letting it mound, and chill, uncovered, until set, at least 2 hours.
1 scant cup (3 1/2 ounces) pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cook pecans in butter with salt in a small, heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool nuts completely.
Let tart stand at room temperature, about 30 minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle cooled nuts over top of tart.
This recipe, adapted from the Deen brothers’ Y’all Come Eat (Meredith Books, 2008), originally called for baby carrots, but I have an intense — some might say irrational — dislike for what passes for baby carrots in those supermarket bags. (They taste watery to me, and the texture is different from whole carrots.) Real baby carrots are something else. Still, if you have some lying around and want to cut down on the prep time, the so-called baby carrots are obviously a reasonable fill-in for peeling and cutting your own. I love black pepper, but I think it’s a smart idea to start with maybe half of what is called for and add more to taste.
Makes 4 servings
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into baby-carrot-size chunks and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
In a medium skillet with a lid, heat the butter, sugar and salt over medium-high heat, stirring until smooth. Add the carrots and toss to coat. Cover and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are tender and glazed. Toss with black pepper and serve hot or warm.
This was adapted from a recipe supplied by pastry chef David Guas, owner of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., and DamGoodSweet Consulting Group. Guas was the consulting pastry chef for the restaurant where my mother and I had that transcendent butterscotch pudding, and I felt compelled to find out if I could re-create that amazing mixture. It’s light, creamy and addictive — just the way I remember the original. The drizzle of syrup and hit of flaky sea salt also elevate it to something special. The pudding should be served chilled.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 pints heavy cream
4 1/2 teaspoons Scotch
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
5 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 envelope (1 teaspoon) powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 pinches salt
2 tablespoons cane syrup (can substitute grade A maple syrup)
1 1/2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
Into a 2-quart saucepan, add cream, Scotch and vanilla bean (which has been split and scraped) pod and seeds, and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Turn off heat and allow mixture to steep for about 5 minutes.
Place egg yolks in a heat-proof bowl. Temper hot cream mixture into the egg yolks by slowly whisking cream mixture into the yolks. Place the bowl of egg-cream mixture over a large pot of simmering water and whisk every 2 to 3 minutes while it thickens, approximately 20 minutes.
When the cream mixture has only about 5 minutes before it has finished cooking, place cold water into a small bowl. Sprinkle powdered gelatin over the top and allow it to absorb. (Don’t do this too early, or gelatin will harden too much.)
Place the butter in a small saute pan or small saucepan. Cook on high to allow it to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add sugar. Stir to combine and reserve.
Once cream mixture has thickened, remove from simmering water and remove vanilla bean pod. Pour in gelatin mixture and blend using a hand blender or food processor. Slowly add sugar mixture and pinches of salt while blending (add more salt to taste if you don’t plan to use the sea salt to finish). Allow mixture to blend for only about 30 seconds. Either pour into a large serving bowl to chill if you plan to serve it family style or place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the warm custard in the bowl it’s in. However you store it, refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
If presenting single servings, portion the chilled pudding into your choice of cups or bowls using a piping bag or a scoop. Drizzle each with approximately 1 teaspoon of cane or maple syrup and finish with a pinch of sea salt. Pudding will keep covered in refrigerator for up to 6 days.