b u t t e r s c o t c h
Our old friend is still here, as rich,
mellow and seductive as ever.
By: Robert Gauthier
Los Angeles Times
By: Charles Perry / Times staff writer
O nce upon a time, butterscotch was the darling of the American sweet tooth, casting its golden glow over, puddings, pies, sauces, cake frostings, candy, everything------you name it.
Now, there are some people living who’ve never had so much as a single, sorry instant butterscotch pudding—really! This really must be an oversight, America. Sure, maybe your family doctor doesn’t want you to eat too much of it (by the way, your family dentist either), but fresh butterscotch is overwhelmingly rich, mellow and seductive. Flavor wise, it is the boss!
In my ill-informed youth, the only butterscotch I ever knew was either a sauce or a pudding. When I finally first encountered butterscotch balls, I remember thinking, “Hey, cool, they’ve finally figured out a way to make butterscotch-flavored candy.” Actually I had it backwards again. Butterscotch candy had actually come first-----the famous butterscotch flavor develops naturally when you boil sugar syrup and butter together to a high enough temperature to make hard candy.
It’s a combination of two flavors: browned sugar, otherwise known as caramel, and browned butter. The latter results from what chemists call the Maillard reaction, in which sugars and proteins react under heat to create roasted and browned flavors. This is why butterscotch has so often been combined with other roasted ingredients. Nuts, such as pecans, are typically roasted; rum and Bourbon contains caramel; maple syrup has underground the Maillard reaction.
If anything is certain about butterscotch, it’s that this flavor was not created by design. It was simply the byproduct of a technique that made candy-making about foolproof, even for people who weren’t skilled confectioners. The constant problem in candy-making is that once syrup has been heated higher than about 250 degrees, its natural inclination is to “seize up” as it cools, turning into rock-hard crystals rather than brittle, glassy candy.
In the 17th century, French candy-makers discovered that fat has the handy property of getting in the way of crystallization. Acid ingredients accomplish much the same thing----in the 18th century, adding acid such as cream of tartar to sugar syrup was called “greasing” it-------by breaking some of the sucrose molecules into glucose and fructose sugar, thereby cluttering up the solution for would-be crystals.
This one reason for all the popular many sweet-sour hard candies, such as lemon drops and Life-savers. Probably it also explains why a lot of old-time butterscotch recipes call for a little vinegar or lemon juice, and maybe even how a bit of lemon peel flavor came to be traditional in English butterscotch candies. Molasses retards crystallization too, by altering the ratio of glucose to fructose. Very conveniently for butterscotch makers, molasses contains caramel and even some roasted Maillard-reaction flavors of its own, because it’s the by-product of the repeated boiling by which sugar is refined; in effect, it’s a very dark caramel with a distinct burnt edge and a bit of sharpness. Because molasses is so strongly flavored, butterscotch recipes very rarely use it straight, only in the diluted form of brown sugar, which is basically refined sugar crystals thinly coated with molasses.
So a really cautious, or insecure, candy-maker might throw all these things into the mix: butter, an acid ingredient and molasses. As it happens, until highly refined sugar became inexpensive in the middle of the 19th century, most sugar------certainly the sort of sugar ordinary people had access to--------was more or less brown, so the molasses issue pretty much took care of itself.
Though the name “butterscotch” didn’t appear until 1885, the product was probably being made in the early 18th century, maybe even before that. In “Sugar Plumbs” (Prospect Books, 1998), Laura Mason draws attention to a brand of hard butterscotch called Everton toffee, which goes all the way back to 1753. (*The word “butterscotch” has nothing at all to do with Scotland, by the way. “To scotch” means to cut or score something; when butterscotch candy was poured out to cool, it was “scotched” to make it easier to break into pieces later.)
In the late 19th century, Americans started making butterscotch-flavored sauce, one of the mainstays of the old-time soda fountain, and then followed up with a profusion of butterscotch pastries, and other sweets. Most of them have faded, but an underground of passionate butterscotch lovers survives yet today. For proof, there’s Diana Dalsass” “The Butterscotch Lover’s Cookbook” (Buttercup Press, $17.95), which gives a lot of luscious-sounding recipes, such as butterscotch streusel apple sour cream pie. Nearly all are based on crushed up butterscotch candies, though, rather than making butterscotch from scratch. The book includes a passionately researched list of sources for buying them.
Just why don’t many people make butterscotch sauce or pudding today? Particularly, if you don’t have to go to the rouble to cook the butter to the point of browning (around 240 degrees F), as some recipes don’t, it’s a splashy effect with relatively little risk of failure. Butterscotch is very forgiving. Just how forgiving is plain from the widely differing proportions of ingredients in butterscotch sauce recipes. With fudge or fondant, the proportions always have to be about the same, but the ratio of sugar to butter in butterscotch recipes can range from 4:3 to 16:1, and the ratio of sugar to cream from 8:9 to 4:1.
In short, you could practically forget about using any recipe at all and just boil up a bunch of brown sugar with some butter for a while, add some cream and then boil until it was as thick as you liked. It that forgiving? Don’t worry. It’d be some kind of butterscotch sauce, and it would all be eaten. Believe me. Butterscotch rules, but it’s not exactly rocket science.
N ow what about Molasses?
Molasses isn’t just caramelized sugar and browned proteins.
“There a lot of minerals, mostly calcium and iron,” says food scientists and author Harold McGee. “They don’t participate in any aromatic compounds themselves, but they certainly influence the direction of reactions and give a distinctive spectrum of flavors. And besides sucrose, there are larger sugars, 3-and-4-unit sugars, which don’t have much sweetness but react with each other and the smaller sugars, thus giving flavorful compounds.
Finally, there are amino acids from protein breakdown, which give molasses its sharpness. Because of the acids, molasses or even brown sugar will make curdle if you boil it with either of them For this very reason, many recipes for butterscotch sauce, and particularly for butterscotch pudding, begin by cooking the brown sugar with butter before adding the cream or milk, especially milk. “This doesn’t actually prevent coagulation.” McGee says, “but it make it less noticeable. The fat will disperse the coagulating milk proteins so they don’t link up to make larger clots.”
One absolute way to prevent curdling in a butterscotch pudding would be to use granulated sugar instead of brown sugar and then whisk in a little molasses----starting with a quarter of a teaspoon per cup of sugar and adding more to taste------at the very end, when its thickened. You an also use granulated sugar and a little molasses in place of brown sugar if you don’t have brown sugar on hand.
This recipe, which the Food Section voted as one of the 10 best in 1990, is based on the one used to Wolfgang Puck’s defunct restaurant Eureka.
(Adding coffee gives it a flavor like coffee candy, maple an over-powering perfume.)
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 3/4 cups brown sugar, packed
1 ½ cups whipping cream
7 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups milk
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup brewed espresso (or strong coffee)
(or 1/3 cup maple syrup) both optional.
*Combine the butter and the brown sugar in a sauce pan
over low heat, simmer 5 minutes, stirring
*Add cream, stir until smooth
*Combine the cornstarch and salt in a bowl.
*Stir in the milk until the cornstarch dissolves.
*Add this mixture to sauce pan and cook over medium heat,
stirring constantly to prevent scorching or burning
until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.
*Whisk 1 cup of the mixture into the egg yolks, return this to pan
*Add the vanilla and either optional (coffee or maple syrup if desired)
*Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring still, about 1 minute
Strain and pour into 8 custard dishes Serve warm or cold.
Rum Butterscotch Sauce.
This really luscious, mouth-filling sauce really keeps well in the refrigerator (if the family doesn’t know of its presence), but should be taken out at least one hour ahead of serving, or briefly zapped in the microwave oven, to soften it before use. From “Ladies Home Journal Dessert Cookbook,” edited by Carol Traux. (Doubleday, 1964)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1 cup whipping cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons light rum
1. Place sugar, corn syrup, and butter in small, heavy saucepan
boil over medium-high heat until it reaches 245 degrees F
about 15 minutes (To check–a spoon dipped into the mixture
and then in cold water will have a gummy consistence on it)
2. Stir in the cream, return to a boil,
then reduce heat, simmer until thickened.(15 to 20 minutes)
3. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and rum.
Let cool , and then refrigerate until use.
Caramel Butterscotch Sauce
Here’s a butterscotch sauce flavored with freshly made caramel instead of molasses, which emphasizes the flavor of the lightly browned butter. It has a tendency to separate and granulate when cold, so it should be warmed up and stirred well before using. From “Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making,” by James Peterson (Van Nostrand and Reinhold, 1991.)
1 pound granulated sugar
2 cups water
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Place the sugar in a small heavy saucepan
cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves
2. Cook, without stirring, until it is a deep, reddish brown
3. Pour in 1 cup of water , STAND BACK, to avoid steam & splatter
4. Wait 1 minute – then, add the remaining 1 cup of water
boil, stirring occasionally, until any hardened caramel has melted 5 to 8 minutes, stirring helps it along.
5. Add butter, boil until mixture reaches 245 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes ( a spoon dipped into the mixture, then in cold water, will have gummy consistency)
6. Stir in the cream and vanilla, simmer until it reaches desired consistency. It should flow smoothly, almost in a continuous drip off the spoon. Should take 2 to5 minutes.
Let cool. Refrigerate until use. See lead-in notice about this
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