This is how the universe tends to work for me: I’ll meet someone I’ve never met before. Then, almost as if by magic, that person shows up everywhere I go. We’ll bump into each other at Target. We’ll discover that we attend the same church, just different services. Or we’ll discover that we grew up in the same little town, ten miles apart. This is the way of the universe, encouraging us to understand that everything is connected in ways we may not be aware of.
What does this have to do with butterscotch sauce, you ask? That’s a fair question. For the last several weeks, I’ve been seeing butterscotch everywhere I look–for instance, in Butterscotch Walnut Cookies , from Amy at She Wears Many Hats. Even the silly bakery game I like to play on Facebook features a butterscotch pecan cake that’s been making me drool. Finally, last night, I decided that Oprah was right: if you don’t listen to the universe when it whispers in your ear, you’re going to get smacked upside the head eventually. I decided to avert disaster by making some butterscotch sauce.
I went into this venture with some trepidation. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a little trouble with candy-making; I wasn’t really convinced that butterscotch was that much different from caramel, which has given me fits in the past. A little research revealed that butterscotch starts with brown sugar, whereas caramel starts with white sugar that needs to be “caramelized.” I’m pretty sure the whole mysterious process of turning something that clearly isn’t caramel into caramel–i.e., caramelization– is what has given me trouble, so I was very glad to know I wouldn’t have to bother with that. Instead, making butterscotch involves only three basic ingredients: butter, evaporated milk, and brown sugar. To these are added a dash of salt and some vanilla extract. That’s it. Some recipes suggested cream in place of evaporated milk, but I erred on the side of slightly lower fat content, given that this recipe already calls for a stick of butter. Some recipes also called for a couple of tablespoons of actual scotch–but, not being a scotch drinker, I decided a scotchless butterscotch sauce was okay with me. And, finally, some recipes call for using corn syrup, of which I’m not a fan. Many recipes did not call for corn syrup, so I adapated several of those to come up with this version.
Be careful not to let the sauce cook on the stovetop for more than five minutes or so. It will still be thin, at this point, but cooking it longer will turn it from sauce to rock–I’ve learned that much from my unfortunate experience with caramel. Once this sauce has cooled (and especially after it’s been refrigerated overnight), it will be thick enough to require a little heating to make it pourable again. After you’ve removed it from the heat, you’ll need to go all mad-kitchen-scientist on the sauce and adjust the taste to your liking. The key to butterscotch is getting the balance of sweet and salty just right. Start with what’s given in the recipe, then taste the sauce–being very careful and remembering that a hot, sugary sauce has the potential to burn all the taste bud off your tongue–and adjust by pinches and dashes until you get the flavor you’re looking for. I ended up using about 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla and half a teaspoon of salt, but you may like your sauce a little on the sweeter side.
When you’re done, let the sauce cool until it starts to thicken up. Then, you can take a plain old scoop of vanilla ice cream from this:
Doesn’t that look luscious? Don’t you just want to lick that little drip of butterscotch sauce right off the side of the pitcher? (Not that I’m advocating the licking of dinnerware. As my mother would say, “What do you think, I was born in a barn?”)
(Please don’t tell my mother I lick my dishes. She’d be so disappointed.)
This recipe is so easy that you owe it to yourself to try it out. Then, when you see just how simple it is, you may want to bottle up some butterscotch sauce and give it away as a Christmas gift–perhaps with a cute little ice cream bowl and scoop. This recipe makes about a cup of sauce, the perfect amount for gifting. However, keep in mind that dairy-based sauces like this aren’t suitable for home canning. If you make this sauce as a gift, be sure to tell the recipient that it needs to be kept in the refrigerator.
Super Simple Butterscotch Sauce
Yield: About 1 cup
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup brown sugar, packed (light or dark)
1 cup evaporated milke (I used 2%)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar until it's melted. Whisk in the evaporated milk and salt, then bring the mixture to a full but gentle boil. (You'll see bubbles breaking all across the surface of the sauce, but it should not be rolling like pasta water.) Let the sauce boil for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally to make sure the sugar doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Now--very carefully--taste the sauce. Add salt and more vanilla in small increments. (Add only 1/4 tsp. of salt at a time, stirring well to give the salt a chance to melt and distribute before you taste. Add vanilla in splashes. It's hard to go overboard with vanilla.)
When you have the right balance of sweet and salty, let the sauce cool to room temperature before pouring over ice cream, pound cake, or anything else that sounds like it would benefit from an infusion of butterscotch flavor. Transfer any leftover sauce to a covered container and refrigerate. To use the sauce again, warm it for about 10 seconds in the microwave to give it a pourable consistency.