Butterscotch Sauce

butterscotch sauce

Marion Cunningham was a big promoter of American food and cooking, which included some of the peculiarities of our style of eating. There was a funny story recounted by Kim Severson way back in 2001, that when Marion came to France, she insisted on having a cup of coffee before dinner at a three-star restaurant. Which, of course, perplexed the waiter. But Marion always insisted on doing things the right way (or at least, her way) and once she told me that she went to teach a class in making pie crust at the Ritz in Paris, and she brought along a can of vegetable shortening, which prompted the French chef to take a look into the can, and ask her – “What is this sh*t?”

In spite of the image it has gotten over the years, American food can be very good, and like any cuisine, much depends on who is making it and how. Marion didn’t shy away from things like using the microwave once in a while, or adding vegetable shortening to her pie crusts, but she was one of the leading voices of our generation of American home cooking and the bigger picture was that some shortcuts were acceptable, because they encouraged people to cook, and bake, for themselves. And one of my favorite quotes from her was when someone said that folks were too busy to cook, she replied, “Well…I’d like to know what the heck everyone is so busy doing?”

(When someone asked her if sifting was necessary, she replied, “Are shoes necessary?”)

butterscotch sauce

In addition of being a font of amazing quotes, Marion was also known for her massive sweet tooth and I think possibly when no one was looking, she might have eaten brown sugar right off the spoon. She was one of the most beautiful women I ever met. Her eyes sparkled, and she got especially excited when talking about cooking and baking, and wanted everyone – or, I should say, expected everyone – to share her enthusiasm.

We bonded over a mutual love of butterscotch, and other sweets, but Marion had a tough side and was incredibly strong-willed, which I guess could be chalked up to all-American gumption; When we believe in something, we go for it, full-tilt. And that’s how Marion pretty much lived — and drove. Man, I never saw anyone get into a car and take off like that woman!

butterscotch sauce

Marion, who recently passed away, wasn’t all that sentimental and was the very definition of no-nonsense kinda gal. So to celebrate what we had in common – butterscotch – the sweet, buttery mixture that brought us together, I made a batch of butterscotch sauce. And although I didn’t eat any brown sugar right from the spoon, after I poured the butterscotch sauce into a jar, as I was standing over the kitchen counter, scraping the crusted-on bits stuck to the bottom of the pan into my mouth, I thought of her, and knew she would have approved.

Butterscotch Sauce
One cup (250ml)

Adapted from Ready for Dessert


No one quite knows where the name ‘butterscotch’ came from. Some think it’s derived from butter being ‘scorched’ and others think it may be from when butterscotch was made into candies that were ‘scored’, or cut. Although it’s not where the name came from, nor is it traditional, I will sometimes put a shot of scotch or bourbon in my butterscotch sauce, because I like the flavors together.

Butterscotch sauce is delicious spooned over vanilla ice cream, or drizzled over Peach Shortcake.


  • 4 tablespoons (55 g) salted butter
  • 1 cup (180 g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml), plus 6 tablespoons (90 ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. In a wide saucepan or skillet, melt the butter with the brown sugar and the 1/4 cup of heavy cream, stirring until smooth.

2. Without stirring, let the mixture cook at a bubbling simmer for three minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 6 tablespoons of cream. Let cool a bit, then stir in the vanilla extract.


Serving and Storage: The sauce should be served warm. It can be stored in a jar, in the refrigerator, for up to two weeks. Reheat the butterscotch sauce in a saucepan over low heat.

Note: I sometimes use unrefined brown sugar, which can leave undissolved bits of sugar. They don’t bother me, but if you wish, you can strain the warm sauce to remove them.


Related Links and Recipes

How to Make the Perfect Caramel

Salted Butter Caramels

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Upside Down Cake

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch

French Sugars

81 comments

  • What a lovely post and a delicious looking recipe!

  • What a lovely tribute to your friend. And the sauce looks delish, too.

    I love your blog, and I’ve enjoyed visiting some of your featured establishments in Paris this month (those that are open, anyway.)

  • I’m Italian and I don’t know anything about this sauce, but the recipe looks very interesting. Can you please tell me with what you eat this sauce?? Biscuits, cakes or what else? Thanks for your information. I read each of your posts because there’s always something new for me to learn. Bye from Venice.

  • Yum – this looks divine and so easy – thanks as always for sharing :)

  • For Laura it’s good on ice cream it’s also good on roasted fruit, especially pears. It’s probably best though right out of the jar.

  • lovely article – and recipe, thank you!

  • David, yours is the most beautiful tribute to Marion Cunningham that I have come across. And really sweet, in every way! Thank you.

    I cannot imagine doing anything that requires turning on the stove during August’s sweltering heat, but I shall remember to come back here when the plums are ripe and the air a little cooler, to see if I may just try your butterscotch sauce instead of the caramel I usually serve with my plum dumplings.

  • thank you David. what a lovely tribute. She was a hero to many home chefs (stuck-at-home Moms) and will not soon be forgotten. Hope your young readers will look her up- her books are great.

  • For latenac thank you very much, I’ll try it as soons as possible.

  • I should never have read this post, it has left me with my mouth watering :-) Diane

  • Making things like candy sort of terrifies me because I always ruin it (or at least the first 2 attempts) but this recipe actually looks like something I could handle. :) Good thing I didn’t know about it earlier, because I’m an eat-it-off-the-spoon kinda gal, too. Sure it wouldn’t have lasted long around me.

    Love your profile of Marion along with the one from 2006 – hadn’t heard of her before, but now I think of her fondly and wish I’d had the honor of knowing her.

    xoxo
    Cheri

  • I’ve loved reading the various articles about marion lately, and yours is no exception. She was an extraordinary lady.

  • aww lovely tribute David.

    But butterscotch sauce is something I can never keep in the fridge. I have a terrible habit of nicking a fingerful every time I go to get the milk… :O

  • Let us all aspire to her love of food and cooking. Thanks David for sharing your stories of her.

  • Marion Cunningham’s is one of the voices I hear in my head as I work in the kitchen. She is like a comforting teacher standing alongside, nodding and saying, “That’s the way. Well done.” I used her Cooking with Children book for three years in the children’s cooking classes I teach each summer.

  • From everything I have read about Marion Cunningham, I know I would have loved hanging out with her in the kitchen – or anywhere for that matter. She is someone I wish I had had the opportunity to have met. Thank you for sharing a little about her with us.

  • Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…….!

  • Thanks, David — now I want butterscotch sauce for a second breakfast! Love the can of shortening story — we swear by it here and we make great, flaky pie crust (with a little butter added for flavor).

  • I’ve never tried making a butterscotch sauce, but this post has convinced me to try. It looks and sounds amazing. And what a lovely tribute to Marion.

    Now to think about what to drizzle it on!

  • Oh Marion. The day her passing was announced, I baked all morning. I figured it was the best way to celebrate her life. Thanks for sharing!

  • We need more people like her in the world. Cheers to butterscotch.

  • YES! To this day I have never tasted pie crust as good as my Mom’s and she used only crisco. Delicious. I am happy to see that Marion was “cool” with this. Thanks for sharing the story.

  • Denise & Sharyn: I was never a big fan of vegetable shortening (I prefer all-butter) but to each their own. And I learned (the hard way!) not to argue with Marion…

    Diane: There were some pretty great tributes, although I just felt like making butterscotch sauce because I remember how fond she was of anything with sugar in it. And for anyone who thinks eating butter, sugar, and others things are bad, Marion was in amazing shape.

  • I went back and read your entry about her from 2006, I really enjoyed the inside look that you shared with us, particularly her love of fast cars! that was hilarious, and I love knowing that about her now. I remember watching her on Julia Childs “Baking with Julia” and thinking what a no nonsense kind of gal she was and I instantly liked her. I recorded that particular episode because I loved the simple way she prepared popovers and Irish Soda bread and now I wish that I still had it recorded. I too L-O-V-E butterscotch, thank you for sharing yet another interesting fact about Marion and the recipe for the butterscotch.

  • David,

    Thanks for the recipe and the lovely tribute to Marion. It prompted me to pull out my 1980 vintage Fannie Farmer cookbook. She passed away at a hospital where I worked for many years….

  • Such a lovely story and tribute! This recipe looks like one my grandma would make to add to cakes. Very American, indeed! :)

  • I’ve only recently discovered David but he has changed my world!! Not only does he offer beautiful recipes, but he introduces us to other wonderful people whose cooking changed the world! I never knew about Marion Cunningham, but my Nana and I were surely familiar with Fanny Farmer…thank you, David, for sharing such touching stories.

  • Marion is my first baking idol! My mom and I used to bake together from Fanny Farmer when I was a child. We used it so much that I have the page numbers memorized for my favorites- pg 202 is peanut butter cookies! Lovely tribute.

  • I really enjoy hearing about Marion……and like this recipe, too.
    As for shortening – I don’t use it much, but when necessary, I always use SPECTRUM (non-hydrogenated organic palm oil).

  • Well that was lovely — and what a way to celebrate such a woman! Thanks for the recipe, and the eulogy.

  • For some reason I’ve seen little notice of Marion Cunningham’s death. I greatly admired her down to earth practicality. My favorite book is The Supper Book. It is crammed with clippings from the San Francisco Chronicle which, years ago, ran a series of articles with recipes of hers. Favorites of mine are her hamburger and bun instructions, California style, and coleslaw. Since I’m an old Californian myself, her recipes fortified my memories of food. Thank you for your tribute.

  • It is sad to hear that another American culinary icon from a bygone era is no more. Thank you David for a very fitting tribute to a great cook and personality. I recently discovered MC’s ethereally light and tangy yeasted waffles recipe which have become a breakfast staple in my household. Thank you too, for sharing your butterscotch recipe. Looks like it will be on my repertoire soon and might just be a perfect accompaniment to the waffles and some vanilla ice cream – for dessert. Might just try it with palm sugar for a local variation.

  • Hi David. I’m reading first free chapter of your book “Ready for Dessert” at Amazon (considering to buy it) and I wonder if every recipe featured there have its own photo? That is very important to me.

    Hope to receive a reply from you. Thank you!

    Rina

    • Because of the expense involved in photographing 150 recipes (or more), and adding an additional 150 pages to a book, there are very few cookbooks where each recipe is photographed. A good portion of the recipes are photographed, but not each one.

  • Great portrait of Marion Cunningham. Hadn’t noticed that she passed away; all the obituaries I’ve read are really respectful.

  • What a great tribute to Marion! She really was a big supporter of home cooking and dinner at the family table… I had the honor of working with her on a Web project several years back–we worked in her kitchen, and she was adamant about feeding me every time I came over! I loved that about her, and I loved that she was such a down to earth person.

  • I’ll happily eat brown sugar by the spoonful. Your butterscotch sauce looks divine, a perfect tribute to Marion!

  • LOVE this. What a sweet tribute. Just read Sweet Life in Paris for the first time – laughed out loud at the allergic to gluten diary, and anything with DNA line, among others. Thanks for the great read.

  • Loved reading your previous entry as well as today. I didn’t know about Marion’s passing, but I got to meet her several times at the James Beard House and even draw her on occasion. Her down-to-earthness was so engaging.
    She was certainly one in a million.
    Butterscotch sauce was always my favorite growing up.
    Who doesn’t eat brown sugar right off the spoon?
    Thanks carolg

  • Many years ago, I had the good fortune of taking a cooking class from James Beard and Marion was with him. What a treat!! They were amazing together. She was a special lady……thank you for honoring her in such a “sweet” way.

  • What a wonderful way to remember a person by.

  • So you’re saying I don’t need a candy thermometer to make this?! *victory dance*

  • I had never heard of Marion Cunningham – she doesn’t seem to have been celebrated on this side of the Pond, but then, I dare say, you don’t know in the USA about Fanny Cradock or Delia or Nigella. But what a lovely tribute!

    And doesn’t everybody eat brown sugar by the spoonful?

    • Annabel: Nigella is on American TV constantly as are Jamie Oliver and Rachel Allen. And we still get reruns of the 2 Fat Ladies.

  • There are few things I like more in this life than butterscotch…red wine…skinny dipping…galloping across an open meadow might take precedent, but otherwise this is always top of the list. I’ve never made my own though, so excited to try!

  • Another very nice post – that piqued an interest in Ms. Cunningham leading me to read your previous post about her. Which in turn led me to Amazon.com where I purchased “The Fanny Farmer Cookbook” and “The Breakfast Book”.

    Also, after your last post about Israel, which also led me to impulsively visit Amazon where I preordered Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” sight unseen, with no reviews, and with just his reputation to rely on. All this after just a few days earlier promising I would not order any more cookbooks – EVER! Hopefully, fingers crossed, they’ll all be delivered when no one else is around and since there are already so many, just maybe, I can discretely shelve them and no one will notice.

  • The Baking With Julia episode with Marion is one of my favorites. I watch it every time it comes on. She fixes up a scone with cream and berries (I think raspberries) and Julia just loves it! You can see the interaction between them as 2 old pros doing what they do better than anyone else.The affection is obvious. You could always tell when Julia was really relaxed and having a good time with a guest, and clearly this was the case with her and Marion Cunningham.

  • What’s the difference between caramel sauce and butterscotch – are they the same thing?

    I grew baking from FF as a teen at home. The pound cake and banana bread with walnuts were on a nearly monthly rotation. No other banana bread has ever been as good and it’s the only one I ever used.

  • She has always sounded like someone I would have liked to know. I made Pecan Rolls yesterday and licking the spoon is part of the fun.

  • I am back after a long while-mostly due to illness, but feck it, I am back! Anyway, your blog is as entertaining and uplifting as ever, thank god! One thing, though, what happened to “Oswego Tea”?? Did she start a new blog, and if yes, what is the name? Please????? Thanks.

  • I do believe my first cavity was from secretly eating brown sugar when my mom was cooking…and love it still today (and can’t deny I might still sneak a spoonful even though it’s not sneaking anymore is it if mom isn’t there?).

    Love this sauce, love everything butterscotch; as a matter of fact today attempting to figure out how to make butter brickle ice cream…a decidely more butterscotchy/toffee ice cream than just a butter flavor like butter pecan. Send some of your ice cream fairies my way, OK?

  • What a lovely tribute to an amazing woman. Good on her for eating sugar off the spoon. People with a sweet tooth do that on the odd occasion.

    Love butterscotch and it’s perfect over your ice cream.

  • I bet there is a widespread a rush on grocery stores for brown sugar and cream going on today! I was just watching a news segment about how toxic sugar is. Single handed, you may be responsible for a world-wide uptick in heart disease and cancer. On the other hand, I just tasted a wonderful spoonful of childhood memory. So thanks just the same.

  • David ~ I remember meeting Marion years ago through Marsha Guerreo {did you know her? friends with Alice, husband worked at CP}.

    What a nice tribute to a women who was so influential in American food and cooking. That butterscotch sauce sounds like the cats meow, I’ve ordered up the cream and hope to make it tomorrow. ~ebh

  • What a lovely post. I love the image of her eating brown sugar from a spoon.

  • I’ve always found butterscotch to be the perfect sweet flavor. To my palate it is both sweet and salty, in balance.

    Exquisitely written tribute to an interesting woman!

  • Butterscotch sauce made with palm sugar and coconut milk is equally, if not more moreish!

  • what a lovely tribute! and what a lovely sauce, yum!

  • David, thank you for this wonderful post. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook was the first cookbook I ever owned, given to me by my mother. Marion has been a great part of my life through this book and was responsible for the foundation of my cooking knowledge. I still make her banana bread recipe almost monthly.

    I love your writing, topics and humor. Keep the posts coming. You keep me inspired to try new things and to get back to Europe one of these days.

  • Thank you, David. Maybe mixing myths here, but wasn’t she a pilot? Didn’t fly herself around the country, too? I mean, she did this all herself. She had the time, interest and money to do what she wanted to do and didn’t waste a moment of it.

  • Elle: Buttterscotch is made with melted brown sugar and caramel sauce is made from granulated sugar that’s been cooked to a higher degree, until it’s caramelized.

    Henry: I love palm sugar and do use it in sauces like this. It also makes great ice cream!

    Margaret: A lot of things are considered bad for you – driving a car (and breathing exhaust), living in polluted cities, the carbon footprint from airplane travel, alcohol, etc.. and I think one should be conscious of how much you do all that things, and how much you consume. Like Marion, I eat sugar, but I also eat alternative sweeteners and use things like honey, rice syrup, and unrefined sugar.

    Jeff: I’m looking forward to that book by Yotam Ottolenghi as well. I’m sure just like his previous two books, his next one will be equally as enticing.

  • Or was that Paddleford… Yup. Darn. I mixed my myths. Both institutions!

  • The Fannie Farmer Baking Book was my first cookbook, a present on my 14th birthday. I still have it, with pages covered in frosting stains and penciled calculations for halving or doubling recipes. I will always be grateful to Marion Cunningham for teaching me so much. I only wish we had met.

  • Last butterscotch sauce I made, as it cooled it crystallized in the pot before I got a chance to serve it. (Sticky Toffee Pudding)

    I threw the recipe out, so can’t compare proportions, but is there something I could consider when I try it again?

    Last time that happened to me, I was 12, making fudge, but this strikes me as such a different process!

    It looks dreamy, what a lovely tribute.

    • Brown sugar, because it has natural impurities, can crystallize – especially upon cooling. When it’s warm, it should be smooth, but some strategies for smoothing it out are to add an invert sugar (such as corn syrup), or a squirt of lemon juice. As I mentioned at the end of the recipe, I used a less-refined brown sugar for this but most American brown sugar that’s sold commercially is pretty well refined. When I lived in the US, C+H worked well in most applications.

  • I love butterscotch sauce and make it from a similar recipe several times a year. Now, if I could only figure out how to make the brown sugar centers that See’s Candy makes. You must know the ones I’m referring to..Like a brown sugar fudge, but kind of melty and granular, coated with a milk chocolate. To die for.

  • I absolutely adored Marion’s helpful cookbooks. Her Breakfast book was the first book of hers that I bought and it is literally held together with tape because I wore it out. I love the recipes for her raised waffles served with strawberries and whipped cream on top. I always wanted to meet her, but alas, did not have that chance. Thank you for sharing your memories of her with us. It makes her books seem even more special to me now.

  • Oh David, I have a tear in my eye. What a lovely tribute to a dear friend and colleague. She sounds like a very interesting person to have known. My mom who makes the best pie crust in the world, -i’m not kidding, -it is always tender AND flaky, uses shortening. She’s demonstrated her recipe and technique to me many times, and mine is not the same at all! And you are one of those people that makes caramel (or butterscotch) look easy. I’ve tried making caramel a couple of times now (with a candy thermometer) and it never gets to temperature. It’s like the temperature gets ‘stuck’ and won’t go any higher. I’ve stirred that caramel for 2 hours and it just won’t get to the right stage on the thermometer. (the flavor was spectacular, but it was too hard, although still edible if you softened it in your mouth for a couple of minutes). And yes, I thought I needed a new thermometer, but when I tried it again with the new one, -same story. If you have any suggestions, I would be grateful.

  • It’s funny; last night I made her version of Schraftt’s Butterscotch Cookies (from Lost Recipes) and I have to say, tastes have changed radically in the last 60 or 70 years. What she and Judith Jones describe rapturously as “big, rich, crisp cookies” are actually very ordinary cookies with a faint butterscotch-and-pecan flavor (and yes, I toasted the pecans and used the requisite dark brown sugar). Huh. They are pretty and crisp, though.

    I knew Marion slightly and never found her (or her recipes) to shy away from big flavors, but these cookies are oddly disappointing. But maybe extreme subtlety is what she and Jones were going for here. I think I’ll try this sauce – maybe it will be what I was looking for in the cookies.

  • I’ve found that melting some white chocolate into butterscotch or caramel sauce is a great shortcut to making something which resembles your famous caramelized white chocolate. Dangerously addictive, though.

  • Lovely recipe that I will make in our kitchen of sorts that is undergoing a remodel and into our second year now with some…..a lot of healthy breaks. Would love an update on your kitchen remodel……..All the best to you……

  • Is the brown sugar caramelised in butterscotch sauce? I always wondered what the extra boiling does – is it to thicken the stuff?
    On a different note, why does brown sugar rarely receive caramelisation in recipes?

  • *whispers* when no on is looking, I totally eat a little bit of brown sugar right off the spoon…..shhhhhhh!

  • I made this tonight. It’s perfectly lovely. How could it not be with butter and brown sugar and of course heavy cream. I love reading your posts.

  • This sounds amazing! I really like your inspiration of a lot of your recipes mostly because I am striving to become a pastry chef. Don’t know much about American chefs, so now I am looking forward to Marion Cunningham’s stuff!

    Thank you :)

  • What a great story. This is also the same butterscotch sauce recipe I use… although I call it a caramel sauce. I love it on warm sticky date pudding with ice-cream!!

  • I can think of about 300 reasons to make this sauce. I would ask how long it keeps, but I doubt it would last more than a day or two at my house!

  • This looks amazing David!

    Do you think it would work in a recipe for butterscotch muffins? A friend and I have been looking for a recipe. :)

    Thanks for the post!

  • David,

    Since I read about this I wanted to make it. I have just made a batch and am thanking you by the cupful. You truly are a rock star!

    Thank you for making us happy for years, with your recipes and stories!!

  • Oh my goodness, David – I have just made this to go with (or possibly in, as a ripple) peach ice-cream that is waiting to be churned in a bit. I am having to be INCREDIBLY strong-minded not to stand there and just eat it with a spoon, it is so delicious!