Butterscotch and caramel flavors are siblings - a lot alike, a lot different, sort of like fraternal twins. Many people have trouble remembering which is which.
Caramel is made with a single ingredient, sugar, either by melting granulated sugar or dissolving it in water, then boiling the mixture to a rich depth of color. It is the clear, tawny-brown namesake in creme caramel, the coppery sauce in tarte tatin, the crunchy amber glue of caramel corn.
Butterscotch is similar to caramel in flavor and use, but its formula relies on a combination of ingredients: brown sugar, butter, cream, and vanilla. It is creamy, luxurious, complex, and elegant. Think butterscotch sauce, butterscotch pudding, and cream pie. If I had my say, the triumvirate of ice cream flavors would lose strawberry and instead be vanilla, chocolate, and butterscotch.
Butterscotch fell out of favor for a few decades because of rampant pudding abuse in school cafeterias, with its excess sugar and phony flavorings. But chefs and home cooks know that using fresh ingredients in from-scratch recipes make butterscotch desserts delicious, even chic.
FOBs, or friends of butterscotch, include apples, pecans, cream, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, chocolate, dessert sherry, rum, and Scotch whisky. Here are some simple ways to showcase its flavor.
•Make butterscotch sundaes. Add a little Scotch or rum to warm butterscotch sauce. Spoon over vanilla ice cream, top with chopped toasted pecans and a wee pinch of Maldon sea salt. Add whipped cream if you dare.
•Match with fruit for dessert. Drizzle warm butterscotch sauce over baked apples, sauteed bananas, or poached pears.
•Flavor whipped cream. Add a goodly amount of sauce to whipped cream to serve over angel food or pound cake. Or pipe the butterscotched whipped cream into mini-cream puffs or eclairs, then drizzle them with chocolate sauce.
•Use up leftovers to make a trifle. Layer spongecake, angel food cake, or ladyfingers (brushed first with a little rum for extra yum) with butterscotch pudding and sliced bananas. Top with a layer of whipped cream and finish with a sprinkle of toasted chopped pecans.
•Even though purists may scoff at commercially made and packaged butterscotch chips, the product adds oomph to cakes and baked goods, where subtle flavors are often dissipated and lost. Chefs and cookbook authors do it.
A note of caution to remember any time your recipe asks you to add brown sugar to milk or cream. Brown sugar contains molasses, which is acidic. If you heat brown sugar and cream alone, the liquid will curdle, and if that happens, you are out of luck. Be sure your recipe tempers the brown sugar and cream with, say, cornstarch and/or eggs.
Barbara Ferguson loves butterscotch too. She is the pastry chef-owner of Fraiche Confections and the pastry chef at Mio Kitchen and Wine Bar. The dessert menu varies, but occasionally, she will make bread pudding with butterscotch pears, buttermilk sherbet, and butterscotch sauce. The pears are diced and cooked in a little of the butterscotch sauce, then added to the bread pudding just prior to baking. Her secret for the fabulous-tasting butterscotch sauce? She adds an ounce of good Scotch whisky to her recipe. Late last month, she rolled out a sesame cannolli with butterscotch mascarpone filling, butterscotch sauce, and fresh oranges.
And ask your favorite bartender for a Slippery Nipple. The official recipe: Add equal parts Bailey's Irish Cream and butterscotch schnapps to a shot glass, and let them mix. Add a drop of grenadine syrup to form a perfect nipple in the bottom of the shot glass. Take as a shooter, and lick the nipple from the bottom of the glass.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Marlene Parrish is a writer for the Post-Gazette.