Skip to main content

Exploring Butterscotch: Fun History and Five Innovative Recipes

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


Let's Talk About Candy

Centuries ago, ancient Egyptians were coating dried fruits and nuts with honey; in the Middle Ages peppermint “sweets” were used as a digestive. However, it wasn’t until butter and sugar were readily available that the cooked candies you know today could be made. In the food timeline, caramel-like candies are relative newcomers.

Caramel, Toffee, Taffy, Butterscotch: What’s the Difference?

Caramels, the butter and sugar confections, are cooked to the lowest temperature and have the highest moisture content; they are soft and sticky. Next in line is toffee, cooked longer and therefore with less moisture—they're hard and brittle. (By the way, most food historians agree that the first mention of the word “toffee” in print is in the Oxford English Dictionary, 1825.)

Taffies are pulled, a process that aerates the cooked sugar, giving it a dense, chewy texture. And then there’s butterscotch, in a class by itself. Although some might deem butterscotch a first cousin of the others, its taste sets it apart from the rest. Butterscotch is made of butter, sugar, and lemon.

How Did Butterscotch Get Its Name?

Although the butter part is obvious, “scotch” is in dispute. Many assume that “scotch” means the candy originated in Scotland. That’s certainly an easy answer to the question, but is it the right one? Some researchers have found what they believe to be the first recorded use of the word in 1817. This is when the confectioner, Samuel Parkinson, is credited with developing the recipe. Parkinson lived in the Yorkshire town of Doncaster, and Doncaster is in England, east of Manchester.

"In Britain, by an old cookbook, ‘candy-making is a regular adjunct to courting...It draws together all the lads and lasses...and the fun and the daffing that go on during the boiling, pulling, clipping, cooling, are...worth the money.’ Visitors to the annual fair in Doncaster, a coal town in Yorkshire, could treat themselves to this chewy butterscotch specialty."

— The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking through the Ages, 1968

Others theorized that “scotch” is a derivation of the word “scorch.” And yet another explanation is that once the candy is poured it must be scored (or scotched) so that it can be cut into pieces before hardening.

Does it really matter? I’d rather spend my time creating butterscotch treats. Let’s get started.

Five Recipes That Feature Butterscotch

The butterscotch recipes we know today are different from those of long ago. Although the lemon flavoring is constant, the types of sugar, ingredient proportions, and cooking instructions are the result of an evolving process.

Butterscotch sauce

Butterscotch sauce

1. Butterscotch Sauce

There is one problem with this ultra-rich, incredibly easy yet delicious homemade butterscotch sauce—it is so good you will find yourself baking cakes and other desserts merely so you can top them with this sauce. Butterscotch on cake, on apple pie, on ice cream, yogurt, and just about everything.

You have been warned.

Butterscotch caramels

Butterscotch caramels

2. Butterscotch Caramels

Have you ever made candy? If so, soft, chewy butterscotch candy will be an absolute breeze. However, if like me, this is your first attempt at actually cooking candy, here is the perfect place to start. This recipe from the kitchens of Sunset Magazine is explained in detail; each step is easy-to-understand and you will be so proud of your accomplishment.

The World’s Largest Butterscotch candy was made by Nidar in Trondheim, Norway, and weighed 3,527 pounds. The giant candy measured 5.02 feet by 5.02 feet by 17.7 inches and was a scaled-up version of the original product that is commercially available in Norway.

Salted butterscotch pie

Salted butterscotch pie

3. Salted Butterscotch Pie

This butterscotch pie is easy to prepare. Simply whisk together your melted butter, dark brown sugar, a touch of apple cider vinegar, and a "bunch" of eggs (I'm quoting from the creator of this recipe). A sprinkle of coarse salt on the top balances out the sweet flavor. The hardest part is waiting for this pie to cool before cutting and serving.

Lemon butterscotch muffins

Lemon butterscotch muffins

4. Lemon Butterscotch Muffins

Yes, there are butterscotch chips in these lemon butterscotch muffins, but the batter is fortified with brown sugar, a splash of melted butter, and a zip of lemon zest which enhance the butterscotch flavor.

September 19 is National Butterscotch Pudding Day

Butterscotch pudding

Butterscotch pudding

5. Butterscotch Pudding From Scratch

This butterscotch pudding from scratch is nothing like the well-known powder-in-a-box. The depth of flavor from real ingredients, not artificial flavorings, will make you say "never instant again."


© 2022 Linda Lum