Butterscotch pudding is a classic recipe, a flavor that is probably right behind vanilla and chocolate in terms of popularity. Butterscotch pudding sounds a little more grown up if you call it Butterscotch Budino instead. Budino is the Italian word for custard or pudding, and it is showing up on more and more restaurant menus as a sophisticated dessert option (and I’ve seen quite a few of the butterscotch variety). The fact of the matter is that pudding, no matter what you call it, is comfort food and sometimes it is best made at home – even if you do dress it up a bit by giving it a new name.
The budino starts with a brown sugar and butter caramel sauce, which gives it that distinctive butterscotch flavor. The caramel is enriched with milk and cream, then thickened with eggs and a little cornstarch. The result is a pudding that is sweet and satisfying, but not too cloying or heavy. It is still comfort food, but it has a lightness to it that you won’t find in just any old butterscotch pudding recipe. I like it plain, but it is just as good when topped with a little whipped cream or a drizzle of caramel sauce.
The method I used making this budino is a little different from other puddings I’ve made. I used the technique described in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated, in their Best Butterscotch Pudding recipe. The technique involved pouring the boiling hot milk-caramel base of the pudding into a cornstarch and egg mixture in a large bowl, and whisking the two components together off the heat. The test kitchen said that it would thicken instantly and eliminate the need to strain the pudding because it would be silky smooth when finished. I found the technique to work just as advertised, and you don’t need to worry about tempering your eggs, either.
The most difficult part of making butterscotch is creating the caramel. Since the caramel is made with brown sugar, it can be very difficult to see the color change in the caramel as it cooks, unlike in caramels made with white sugar. It is best to use a candy thermometer if you want to ensure that you get consistent results and the best flavor out of your pudding. You can’t rely on a cooking time alone, although I do give a range in the recipe, because different pots and different stovetops will cook the caramel a little faster or slower.
1 cup brown sugar
6 tbsp butter, unsalted
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
2 1/4 cups whole milk, warm
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
In a large saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, water and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cook until caramel reaches 300F on a candy thermometer (about 5-8 minutes).
While the caramel cooks, combine cornstarch, egg and egg yolks in a large mixing bowl. Whisk thoroughly to combine. Whisk in 1/4 cup of warmed whole milk. Set aside.
When the caramel comes to 300F, pour in half of the heavy cream. Caramel will bubble rapidly, then bubbles will subside. Pour in remaining cream and milk. Bring mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking regularly to ensure that that caramel is dissolved.
Pour hot cream mixture into the cornstarch mixture quickly, whisking rapidly for about 30 seconds while the pudding starts to thicken. Whisk in vanilla extract.
Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold – about 4 hours – or stir over an ice bath to chill more rapidly, if desired.
Pudding can also be divided into individual serving cups, rather than chilled in one large bowl.