Bourbon butterscotch sauce is sticky sweet with a hint of vanilla and oak. Made from just 5 simple ingredients, it comes together quickly and hasn’t failed me yet. With a rich sweetness that makes a little bit go a long way, it’s the perfect match for all of your fall sweets and treats. Turn your morning latte into a butterscotch latte. Drizzle it on baked pears for a quick dessert. Or make my ultimate fall favorite: Butterscotch Apple Crumble.
To me nothing says “fall” like the taste of butterscotch. Caramel, apples, and pumpkin do come close, but they just can’t outshine butterscotch in my book. Especially when it’s my homemade bourbon butterscotch sauce.
It is sublimely rich with a unique flavor – partly from the dark brown sugar and partly from the underlying notes in the bourbon – that makes it a delicious topping for all your fall treats. Use it as dip for fresh apple slices. Drizzle it on roasted sweet potatoes or squash. Wrap it up and give it away as a homemade gift. You really can’t go wrong!
NOTE: This bourbon butterscotch recipe has spent the last three years masquerading as a bourbon caramel sauce and hiding out my Beginner Chef Holiday Gift Guide. Well not anymore! It’s getting own bright, shiny, new post, along with an instructional video and a better title. Afterall, who wants to settle for caramel when you can have butterscotch?
The difference between caramel and butterscotch
In the world of culinary baking some of the biggest differences are a result of the smallest details. Take caramel and butterscotch for example. They both include sugar and butter, they both can be made in a variety of consistencies from a syrupy sauce to a hard brittle candy, and they both are sticky sweet and hard to resist. (In my world they are both better than chocolate, but that’s another topic for another day.)
Where they differ is in the type of sugar. Caramel uses white sugar, while butterscotch uses brown sugar. When I first created my bourbon caramel sauce, I thought that the dark brown sugar would give it a richer flavor. It did, but that one swap meant I was no longer making caramel. I was making butterscotch instead. The name has been corrected in this new post, but whether you are looking for a bourbon caramel sauce or a bourbon butterscotch sauce I hope you will give it a try.
Time & Temperature: Does It Matter?
When I first started making this sauce, I relied completely on smell and sight to get it right. As I’ve become a more competent cook I often now rely on more scientific measures, like thermometers. While the thermometers are more exact, the only time you’ll see me using a thermometer to make bourbon butterscotch sauce is in the video.
In making butterscotch, the addition of heavy cream is going to have a bigger impact on the overall texture than the cooking temperature. The initial cooking melts the sugar. Once you add in the cream it does not need an extended cooking time to turn into a delicious sauce.
If you don’t have a thermometer, that roughly translates to cooking it to the texture of lava, adding the cream and letting it triple in size, which is why you need a 4 quart pan. If you have a thermometer, this translates to around 225 degrees.
The video above will walk you through the steps, but the image below show the caramel as it expands after adding the cream.
As a girl from Kentucky, I’ll always be looking to sneak a little bit of home into my seasonal treats. As a self-educated home chef, I know that bourbon makes an excellent replacement for store bought vanilla in many recipes.
Have you ever noticed that store bought vanilla extract tastes awful? Did you know that it is required by law to taste awful? Thanks to prohibition, the bourbon I can buy in stores tastes better than any store bought vanilla extract, while still having many of the same underlying flavor components. With only 5 total ingredients in this sauce, that is important.
Most bourbon also has a similar alcohol content as vanilla extract. Bourbons usually fall around 40% – 45%, while vanilla extract is legally required to have a minimum of 35% and usually falls between 35% and 40% alcohol. This is also thanks to prohibition.
When baking with bourbon, the bourbon, like vanilla, is being used as a flavoring agent to enhance the existing flavors in the sugar, butter, and cream. This means you can replace it with vanilla (especially if you have a quality homemade version) or you can also choose to omit it. No, it won’t taste the same but if you don’t miss it, neither will your tastebuds. (*For more on how prohibition impacted vanilla, check out this BonAppetit article.)
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Bourbon Butterscotch Sauce Recipe
This bourbon butterscotch sauce has a rich, buttery flavor with hints of oak and vanilla. Put it on a sundae, drizzle it over roasted apples, or mix it into your favorite coffee drink. It’s the perfect addition for all of your favorite fall sweets. If you are looking for more sweet bourbon recipe inspiration, check out my Butterscotch Apple Crumble, Bourbon Caramel Popcorn, or Maple Bourbon Whipped Cream.
Leftover bourbon butterscotch sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container. It will firm up as it chills, but can be scooped while cold or reheated in 20 – 30 second increments in your microwave. WARNING: Select a storage container that gives the sauce space to double in size while reheating. If you do make a mess in your microwave, it cleans up easiest while still warm and a wet rag will melt any stuck on sugar.
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- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp bourbon or vanilla
- 1/2 tsp salt
- In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt 1/2 cup of butter until foamy.
- Add in 1 cup of brown sugar and continue to cook 3 - 5 minutes or until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan.
- Stir in cream, 1/2 tsp salt, and bourbon or vanilla and continue to cook over medium heat.
- Mixture will bubble up and expand. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
- Once the mixture has tripled in size remove from heat and allow to cool slightly in the pan.