What is the technical difference between caramel, butterscotch, and toffee sauces? The answer is, today, not a lot. They are all terms which are used interchangeably, especially since many are made with agarve syrup and golden syrup and not the specific sugar which differentiates these sauce. To clarify:
Technically caramel uses white sugar – caster or granulated.
Butterscotch sauce uses dark brown sugar. It does not (or at least it doesn’t have to) contain Scotch whisky. The meaning of ‘scotch’ in butterscotch is the same as in ‘hopscotch’ – defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “an incised line or scratch”. It refers to the way the butterscotch is scored when it is being made into a hard sweet.
And toffee and butterscotch sauce are essentially the same – it’s just that when they are made into hard sweets the sugar in the butterscotch is boiled to the soft-crack (135-145°C) as opposed to the hard-crack (149-154°C) stage. Hard-crack is used for crunchy sweets like peanut brittle,barley sugar, lollipops… and toffee.
All of these are perfect with either bought or quick-made vanilla ice cream. The caramel sauce is a good stalwart; the Pedro Ximenez toffee sauce is great on fruit pies; the butterscotch sauce is the classic American ’50s sauce to go with the iconic banana split.
Improper rosemary-infused salted caramel sauce
This is a recipe for salted caramel sauce to go with last month’s chocolate mousse. The marriage of the two makes it super-rich but good – the saltiness cuts through the rich, mellow chocolate. Not for those on a diet…. I got the idea for infusing the sauce with rosemary from Gizzi Erskine – as she describes it, “it gives a mature depth to this normally too-sweet treat”. It’s improper because instead of using white sugar it uses soft brown sugar. A cheeky cheat would be to buy a good quality ready made sauce – Artisan du Chocolat do an excellent one (also using ‘a blend of sugars’) – and infuse it with some rosemary.
However – if you want to make salted caramel sauce from scratch this is how:
- 100g/½ cup soft brown sugar
- 45g/3 tbsp golden syrup or agave syrup
- 120 ml/½ cup double cream
- 80g/3 oz/⅓ of a brick of butter (if you use unsalted you will need to add salt – take the opportunity to add some really nice sea salt – I like the smoked salt)
- sprig of rosemary
- Technically you should ‘melt’ the sugar and the syrup first before adding the butter, but I always find I somehow manage to burn it. So I melt the butter, sugar and the syrup all together in a large saucepan (it can spit)
- Get it bubbling for a minute or two
- Add the cream, mix in, add the sprig or two of rosemary
- Taste and if you think it needs a bit more salt, add good quality salt
- Keep warm for about ten minutes then take out the rosemary
- Serve it hot – or you can keep it in the fridge for a week or so, but leave it to cool down slowly before you put it in the fridge or it may separate. If it gets a bit thick in the fridge you can warm it in the microwave for a few seconds.
Dead Easy Pedro Ximénez Toffee Sauce
You can make a really excellent and quick toffee sauce by bubbling 50g/1 oz butter with 60g/1 oz/2 tbsp agave or golden syrup (the easiest thing is to grease the tablespoon with a little of the butter and then measure) and stirring in 7 tbsps of the heavenly Pedro Ximénez – you may already have a bottle of this sweet Spanish sherry if you have made the cocktail, Spain in a Glass. If you don’t have any Pedro Ximénez then any sweet, cream sherry will do.
Dark Butterscotch Sauce
- 50g/2 oz (a fifth of a brick) butter
- 200g/1 cup dark brown sugar
- 170 ml pot/¾ cup double cream
- 1 tbsp vanilla paste
- 1 tsp salt
- get all your ingredients to hand and measure out the butter, sugar and cream
- melt the butter in a robust saucepan
- add the sugar and stir it all in
- continue to cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until the grains of sugar have dissolved and the mixture begins to bubble and become liquid
- lower the heat, and whisk in the cream, ideally using a capuccino whisk, but an ordinary whisk will do
- raise the heat, and continue to cook for about ten minutes, whisking intermittently, then leave to cool
- add the salt and vanilla paste to taste (rather enjoyable)
- transfer to a sterilised heatproof glass jar and leave to cool – it will keep for a month or so in the fridge
On the banana split – see photo caption for how to make
“It’s difficult enough to order, this mountain of pure and simple happiness….. there is something very childish in this overwhelming yearning, which is not prey to any dietary demands, wholly without restraint, and has no concern for aesthetics. The banana-split is just pure greed…..”
La Première Gorgée de Bière by Philippe Delerm
Roughly translated by me from the original French: “C’est assez dificile à commander, cette montagne de bonheur simple….il y a quelque chose d’enfantin dans ce désir total, qui ne vient cautioner aucune morale diététique, aucune réticence, esthétique. Banana-split, c’est la gourmandise….”
Listen to this gorgeous score for the Lebanese film, Caramel while you make the sauce.