What is Butterscotch?

A Kaminsky

Butterscotch is that buttery, more-flavorful-than-caramel taste that flavors dessert sauces and hard candy. It is also a color.

Cornstarch, which is used to make butterscotch.
Cornstarch, which is used to make butterscotch.

Most people know butterscotch from the hard candy drops available in stores everywhere. One candy company produces a “butter rum” flavor which is similar. Even though no alcohol is present, it tends to have a sort of liquor-ish flavor that is probably due to the heated sugar. Its history originates in England and the “scotch” part of the name may be derived from the word “scorch,” since the sugar is heated to a fairly high temperature.

White sugar is used in making butterscotch.
White sugar is used in making butterscotch.

Butterscotch candy can be made at home by combining sugar, corn syrup, water and vinegar and heating it to hard crack stage — 300°F or 149°C. The candy is then dropped by teaspoonfuls on a buttered cookie sheet and allowed to cool to make the old-fashioned candy.

Along with hot fudge, butterscotch is a popular dessert sauce and ice cream topping. A home recipe includes dark brown sugar, light corn syrup, butter, heavy cream, milk and cornstarch. The mixture is cooked until it thickens into a syrup. It does not harden like candy, and is used on ice cream, over fruit and for other sweet treats.

Brownies, cookies and cakes may have a butterscotch flavor, and frosting with this flavor is popular, as well. Butterscotch “chips” — like chocolate chips — are available in many places and used in recipes from brownies to fudge. It is even a popular pudding flavor. Recipes for butterscotch goodies are available in cookbooks, on the backs of mix boxes and on the Internet.

Sometimes, something is referred to as a being a butterscotch color. This usually means a tawny sort of yellow — not quite light brown, but not true yellow, either. Horses may be described as having this color, for instance.

Butterscotch may not be quite as popular for desserts as chocolate, but it is always a sweet change of pace. With the variety of recipes available, any cook can incorporate it into something delicious.

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Discussion Comments


A salted butterscotch frosting over a yellow cake might be an interesting variation on the traditional butterscotch. I made an apple cake with a salted caramel frosting. A salted butterscotch frosting would probably have been very tasty, too.

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