There are a few foodstuffs that will always be better homemade than storebought. Usually, these are recipes that require a few simple ingredients and a modicum of care. Shortbread. Alfredo sauce. Ice cream. Pesto.
Butterscotch sauce. Holy cats, I made butterscotch sauce for my mother a few months ago (a riff on this recipe, incidentally) and made the mistake of tasting it before pouring it into a pretty jar to give her.
I very nearly kept it. It’s that good.
How good? Well… this week, when I asked Mom what she might like for Christmas, she perked up. “Oooh! Butterscotch sauce!”
Yeah. Simple and utterly delicious, with a dark, faintly bitter undertone that faced up to its sweetness.
I spent a good 10 minutes scrabbling through notebooks and kitchen drawers, hoping I could find the notes from the day I made butterscotch sauce, to no avail. Happily, it turns out that I recorded it all here before, y’know, completely forgetting the notes existed.
I used a scant 1/2 tsp of kosher salt, half of what Shuna recommends keeping at hand, and it was just on the edge of perfect: the sauce is notably salty, but (I decided after five or six or twelve tastes) nicely so. One grain more would be too much.
Of course, I did a few things differently, some intentionally and some through sleepless befuddlement. (Note: I cannot recommend cooking scorching hot sugar when sleep deprived. Keep a bowl of ice water at hand. If you ever need it, you’ll be glad it’s there.)
My version was brandied butterscotch.
5 TBS unsalted butter
1 cup + 1 TSP dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or less! see notes)
1 tablespoon fine brandy
3/4 cup heavy cream
Melt butter over low heat. Dump in sugar and salt, and stir to dampen thoroughly. Raise heat to medium and stir occasionally. Mixture will melt and lose its grainy appearance. When thoroughly molten, remove from heat. Dump in brandy and cream, and whisk vigorously until incorporated.
Return to heat and, stirring occasionally, bring to a bubbling boil. Let boil, stirring occasionally, fifteen minutes; watch carefully to avoid boiling over — you do not want to be cleaning this off your stovetop.
Remove from heat and let cool a bit, so you don’t burn your tongue. Now taste it, adding salt if necessary.
Decant into clean glass jars. Do not cover until thoroughly cool. Store in refrigerator.
To reheat, remove lid and place jar in shallow pan of water. Hold at a simmer — no higher! — until sauce is warm and liquid.
The differences from Shuna’s recipe follow:
– I added a tablespoon of brandy. (My vanilla is vanilla-steeped vodka, and I thought brandy would be a better match.)
– I accidentally cut in five tablespoons of butter, not four, so I dumped in an extra spoon of packed brown sugar.
– I added the kosher salt with the sugar, fearing it might not dissolve thoroughly off the heat.
– I let the mixture bubble and foam quite aggressively; I wanted this sauce to be thick, thick enough to stand a spoon in. I got what I wanted.
– The recipe calls for heavy cream, not ultra-pasteurized. I couldn’t get my hands on it, so I settled for ultra-pasteurized. Shuna says the stabilizers used in ultra-pasteurized cream give a bitter undertone to the sauce; I think it’s perfectly balanced. Any sweeter and it would be cloying.
– I’ll try half dark brown sugar and half light brown sugar. I like the strong, potent darkness of flavor this sauce has, but it isn’t for everyone.
– I’ll add a quarter-teaspoon of salt with the sugar, then stir in the rest slowly to taste.