A few years ago, while still an active voice at Chowhound, I started a heated controversy about a delicious but forgotten flavour. Butterscotch. Many people were reviewing the newly opened Townhall in San Francisco and various 'hounds were eating a butterscotch pudding there they thought was divine. I tasted it and immediately knew it was custard made with artificially flavoured "butterscotch" chips and I said so.
After much, "No, it can't be true!" and, "Well I don't care if it is artificial. I like it!" the jury was in. I was right. A well-known pastry chef was calling something home-made and it wasn't.
I didn't even think this could be a possibility until one day my old 1st Assistant from Citizen Cake had gone to trail at The Fifth Floor and she was so stunned by the fact that the pastry chef there used artificial butterscotch chips, she did not take the job. (Well there were some other "shoe-maker" like factors, but that's another post.)
Butterscotch is a memory. Like the perfume/cologne your first love wore, butterscotch is an elusive flavour and texture. And unless you work in an ice cream parlor, it has basically evaporated from the sweet vernacular.
On the by and by, butterscotch is neither about alcohol, nor references it. It is not Scotch based. It is a sauce made from dark brown sugar, butter, cream, vanilla extract (not Tahitian) and salt. It is sweet and thick but not as much as hot fudge or caramel, its Banana Split counterparts. Butterscotch is old fashioned, could use a revival and is always a gentleman. It's subtle and hard to pin down, but once you get it, it turns around and gets you. Like learning to lasso, or throw a boomerang, or deftly holding a whip.
I learned how to make Butterscotch under the tutelage of Claudia Fleming. We conversed about our memories and added more and less of all the ingredients until we both put our spoons in the shiny wood-colored liquid, made immediate eye contact and said, "YES! THAT'S IT!"
If you love baking, love eating dessert at restaurants and diners and everywhere in between, Claudia's book The Last Course is a must have. It's beautiful, elegant, straightforward and smart and the recipes have, literally, been tested dozens of time. (Not true for many a fine cookbook, believe it or not.) Feel free to click on my nifty Powell's link, and order one today. Even if the recipes seem beyond you, they are not. Everything from plated desserts to cornmeal teacakes to radical but natural pairings such as rosemary and pine nuts, rose and rhubarb, bay leaf and chocolate.
So if you have a craving for the Butterscotch from your childhood, come on into Poulet before July 1st. I can guarantee you it's made from scratch.
m-f 10:30 am-8 pm saturday 10:30 am-6 pm
1685 Shattuck Avenue at Virginia Street Berkeley, California
Spring 07 -- After writing about Butterscotch a few times a reporter from The Washington Post wrote an extensive story on the subject. She quotes me and a few other confectionary experts. Find the article by clicking here.
Want to know how to make this Butterscotch sauce? Follow this link to a step by step post I did at Simply Recipes.