Homemade Butterscotch Syrup

published Dec 10, 2022
Homemade Butterscotch Syrup Recipe

Thanks to notes of brown butter and molasses-forward caramelized sugar accented by vanilla and salt, this thick butterscotch sauce is an thing of indulgent beauty.

Makes1 1/2 cups

Prep5 minutes

Cook15 minutes

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butterscotch syrup
Credit: Stephanie Ganz

Caramel sauce gets plenty of love and attention in the world of baking, and rightly so. But I’d like to suggest that butterscotch, caramel’s brown sugar-based cousin, is equally worthy of adoration, thanks to its notes of molasses-y caramelized sugar and vanilla.

Like caramel, butterscotch is simple to make, but because there tends to be some intimidation when it comes to cooking sugar, people always seem to be impressed with the homemade version. This easy recipe will put your sugar-cooking fears to rest. You can make the sauce from start to finish in about 15 minutes, and it lasts up to a month in the fridge. 

I like to make a big batch of boozy butterscotch (see the recipe notes below!) in cute little Mason jars to give out during the holidays. I store the jars in the back of the fridge and pop them out whenever I know I’ll be seeing friends — the gift is universally well-received.

Credit: Stephanie Ganz

Ingredients in Butterscotch Sauce

Butterscotch is a deceptively simple recipe composed primarily of brown sugar and butter. While you can certainly use light brown sugar, I prefer dark brown because it amps up the molasses notes that make butterscotch so special. I’ve seen several recipes that suggest using non-ultra-pasteurized heavy cream (which is available at Whole Foods, should you go that route), but I’ve always used ultra-pasteurized heavy cream, and I’ve never had any issues. If your sauce looks lumpy after adding the heavy cream, keep whisking over the heat, and it should become smooth.

Adding salt and vanilla helps to create a more dynamic butterscotch flavor, but the sauce may also be flavored with spirits, such as bourbon, rum, or cognac. You can also add aromatic seasonings to create yet another layer of flavor. Warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and coriander work particularly well in butterscotch and help to balance the sauce’s sweetness.

How to Make Butterscotch Sauce

To make butterscotch sauce, gather and measure all of your ingredients first — the recipe goes quickly once you get started! Heat butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat until it’s just about melted. Add dark brown sugar and salt and allow the mixture to bubble, cooking the brown sugar until it no longer appears grainy, stirring infrequently, just to make sure the ingredients are cooking evenly. 

Next, whisk in heavy cream and cook over medium-low heat until a candy thermometer reads 225°F. Avoid overheating, even if the sauce appears too thin. Once it reaches 225°F, remove the sauce from the heat. It will continue to thicken as it cools. Off the heat, whisk in vanilla. Taste (making sure to allow the butterscotch to cool because hot sugar is a very dangerous thing indeed!) and adjust seasonings to your liking, adding more vanilla or salt or flavor-boosting additions like spirits and spices. When it cools to room temperature, pop it in an airtight container in the fridge where it will last for up to a month.

Difference Between Butterscotch, Caramel, and Toffee

  • Caramel is made with white sugar, whereas butterscotch is made with brown sugar.
  • Butterscotch is made with brown sugar and butter and is cooked to 225°F, aka the soft crack stage.
  • Toffee is made with brown sugar and butter and is cooked to 250°F, the hard crack stage.

How to Use Butterscotch

  • Drizzle it over ice cream. There’s not an ice cream sundae out there that wouldn’t be improved by a spoonful of homemade butterscotch.
  • Bake with it. Try butterscotch Bundt cake. Or use it in millionaire bars, as a stand-in for the traditional caramel.
  • Make pudding. Keep the oven off and try butterscotch pudding.
  • Serve it with plantains. I particularly love butterscotch drizzled over caramelized plantains with roasted peanuts and a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  • Stir it into drinks. Make a hot buttered rum-inspired cocktail. Or use it as an indulgent addition to a cup of coffee. 

Homemade Butterscotch Syrup Recipe

Thanks to notes of brown butter and molasses-forward caramelized sugar accented by vanilla and salt, this thick butterscotch sauce is an thing of indulgent beauty.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 3/4 cup

    packed dark brown sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 3/4 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Heat 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan (about 2 quarts) over medium heat until melted but not bubbling.

  2. Add 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and stir until the brown sugar is moistened. Let the mixture cook with minimal stirring with a wooden spoon until it goes from sandy to smooth with bubbles throughout, 3 to 5 minutes. Avoid over-stirring.

  3. Add 3/4 cup heavy cream. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low, and whisk vigorously until smooth. Clip a candy or deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot. The heavy cream and sugar may appear clumpy at first, but continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and starting to thicken slightly to the consistency of maple syrup, 3 to 5 minutes or until the thermometer registers 225°F. It should coat the back of a spoon and may still seem runny, but it will continue to thicken as it cools.

  4. Remove the pan from the heat. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and whisk to combine. Dip a spoon into the butterscotch, and allow it to cool enough to taste. Taste and season the butterscotch with more kosher salt as needed.

  5. Pour into a glass container and use warm or let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month. Reheat in a small saucepan over low heat or microwave in a microwave-safe container in 30-second intervals until warm but still thick.

Recipe Notes

Alcohol flavoring options: Instead of or in addition to vanilla extract, you can add up to 2 tablespoons bourbon, brandy, cognac, or rum to the finished butterscotch.