Butterscotch pudding is elusive. Not the pudding itself, of course, but the right creamy caramelized flavor. I’ve made plenty of butterscotch pudding, using recipes from pretty much any cookbook or clipping I can get my hands on. It’s always sweet and smooth, but the flavor isn’t as bold and round as I want it to be; it’s somehow just not brown enough. I think the platonic ideal butterscotch pudding would have all the brown-sugar-and-butter taste of a good toffee, but with a silky pudding texture. Certainly there have been rousing successes in the pudding field, but usually with the help of cream and eggs. Was it possible to make a dreamy dessert ever-so-slightly lighter? I knew it could be done, and I was the one to do it. Armed with a cup of coffee, I set out this morning to conquer butterscotch pudding.
Keeping in mind the toffee ideal, I thought I should just make caramel and thin it out with milk, then thicken it with cornstarch. So I did that – I first made caramel, then melted in brown sugar and butter, whisked in milk, thickened it all with cornstarch – and the flavor was pretty good, but still not brown enough. I stood at the stove sipping my coffee and wondering what would make this pudding perfect. Maybe I should have used more brown sugar? It was too late to add more sugar now, but what if I added some molasses? I did, and it helped, but the pudding still didn’t have the warm, rich, roasty aroma I’d imagined. I looked down at the mug of coffee in my hand – could that be the answer? Wait, not a cup of coffee, but a bit of instant espresso powder! I stirred in one teaspoon, then another, and there it was: the rich dark flavor and silky texture I’d imagined. Not exactly a traditional butterscotch pudding, but exactly what I wanted. I consider it a win. For game two, I’m saving half of this batch to run through the ice cream machine.
- 1c sugar
- 1c dark brown sugar
- 2 oz unsalted butter
- 4c milk
- 3 Tbs cornstarch dissolved in 1/4c water
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbs molasses
- 2 tsp instant espresso powder ( I used Megdalia d’Oro)
In a large saucepan, melt the white sugar over medium heat, shaking occasionally to bring the still-granulated sugar towards the edges. You can also stir gently with a silicon spatula. When the sugar is melted, it will caramelize quickly, so watch for the dark amber color and immediately turn the heat to low and stir in the brown sugar and butter. The caramel will sputter and foam, but calm down with a little stirring. Then on low heat, slowly whisk in the milk. Pour about a tablespoon of milk at a time and whisk thoroughly before adding the next. If the milk curdles, that’s fine. Just remove the pot from the heat, place it on a hot pad, pour in all the milk at once, and pulse with a hand blender. The pudding will come right back together. (I did this, and since I had the blender out, I used it to mix in the cornstarch, too. Otherwise, I would have whisked it in while the custard was on the stove.)
Over medium heat whisk the pudding continuously just until it bubbles and thickens. Your whisk should leave a trail when you lift it out of the pudding, and if you dip a spoon in and run your finger across the back, the pudding will not run into the little clean trail. Remove from heat and whisk in the salt, vanilla, molasses, and instant espresso. Pour into serving cups and refrigerate 2 hours, or as long as you can stand to wait.