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Bully For Butterscotch

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, December 19, 2011

Download the Grange's recipe for butterscotch putting (pdf)

Butterscotch is all too often confused with caramel. Caramel is cooked sugar. It starts clear and bubbly, and if you keep cooking it, it turns color, becoming amber and ending about the color of iced tea. Soon after, it burns. But if you add cream to that nicely browned liquid sugar, you get caramel sauce, which looks like butterscotch. For butterscotch fundamentals, we turned to Teresa Urkofsky, pastry instructor at American River College.

"The essential ingredients are brown sugar and butter," she says. "It can be light brown sugar or dark brown sugar."

Urkofsky makes butterscotch pudding on top of the stove. The browns the sugar and butter, adds milk, cornstarch and tempers in egg yolks. There is no question, she loves it. ""It's such a round beautiful flavor that might remind you of home."


Memories of butterscotch may be that from-scratch effort, or the quick method from the boxed butterscotch pudding mix introduced by Jell-O in 1936. The origin of butterscotch is rather murky. Food historian Ken Albala, who teaches history at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, found an obscure, older butterscotch origin. 

1219EC Butterscotch pic 2"There's a company called Parkinson's of Doncaster, which is in southern Yorkshire, which started marketing their own brand of butterscotch in 1848," he says. "I couldn't find reference to the word in print until about 1852 or 1853."

The mention of Yorkshire in England scotches any belief that the "scotch" in butterscotch has anything to do with Scotland. Albala has one more butterscotch bummer. "Of course, it doesn't contain Scotch."


That's right, there's no Scotch in butterscotch, unless you're talking about the butterscotch pudding at Sacramento's Grange restaurant. It's made by Pastry Chef Jackie Phongsavath. She works in a basement dessert corner, and yes, she's putting the Scotch in butterscotch. But has to go upstairs to the bar and ask for it. The bartender usually gives her well Scotch, something like Dewars.


This butterscotch pudding has become so popular it's enjoyed the unofficial designation of Destination Dessert. The staff wanted to tweak the dessert menu and once took  the popular butterscotch off the menu. This was a fiasco.

"I thought there was going to be a riot at the corner of 10th and J," recalls Chef Jackie.

So the staff brought it back, this time retooled for guaranteed consistency. A new daring recipe it is, because it defies the essence of butterscotch. There's no butter, brown sugar or thickener. Without these traditional elements, how does Chef Jackie get to butterscotch?

First, she separates 30 eggs for the yolks. "I'm probably not world champion, but I usually get that task done in about three minutes," she says. 


She was allowed to reveal the new recipe's two prevailing secrets. One, there's a shortcut that uses Guittard-brand butterscotch chips. Taste test after taste test proclaimed this twist gave the best tasting, best consistency and best flavor than the previous traditional stovetop version. But the second secret is more challenging. It's exacting sugar work that takes sugar and water to about 230 degrees F - still clear but beginning to caramelize.


1219EC Butterscotch pic 3"This is the fun part," Chef Jackie says. "We just wait. You just basically want to bring your sugar to a stage before it hits any brown caramel stage."

With sizzling fanfare, cream hits the bubbling sugar, along with salt, vanilla and the Scotch. She adds the chips last, so they lay on the surface before they can sink to the bottom and possibly scorch. She whisks without end to prevent hot spots and to keep all smooth.

"You know it's ready when everything is melted," she says, "and you lift the whisk to make sure there's no sugar, no butterscotch chips stuck to the whisk."

Finally, the yolks are worked in. This is called tempering. A small amount of the hot butterscotch base is whisked in to all the yolks, then that lukewarm mixture is added back to the hot base and whisked with determination. It's important to strain the base. Sure enough, a strainer caught some cooked whites and unsmoothed yolk.

To bake, Chef Jackie fills 30 ramekins per daily batch. For a gentler ride through the heat, they bake in a pan with water added, called a water bath. She covers the pan with foil, being sure to crimp it around the sides well. The ramekins, essentially, bake and steam.


When they're done and cooled, Chef Jackie head upstairs to the dining room. Here, she presents each serving with a dollop of crème fraiche.

I got to sample the result with the pastry chef, and I thought I'd never tasted butterscotch so sublime. She could barely sustain her own swoon. "Ummm," the pastry chef said, feigning weakness. "Give me a minute! It's a really rich dessert I would only eat once and I'd probably just fall over."


Some might quibble this is not pudding. But it's not quite pot de crème or crème caramel, either. Chef Jackie defends her glossy spoon-soft  result. "It's not a stovetop pudding. It's a pudding baked in a waterbath. It's pudding, but it's a fancy pudding."

With its smoky hint of Scotch, sometimes it pays to think outside the pudding box.

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