Caramelized Sugar: Caramel, Toffee & Butterscotch

Making caramel sauce in pan

Making caramel sauce in pan

By Cat, Jan 2008 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1.  Sticky Toffee Pudding; 2. Butterscotch Pudding (2 versions); 3. Toffee or Butterscotch Sauce; 4. Caramel Sauce; 5. Glycation (in Diet & Health section of old site)

Who doesn’t like caramel – sweet, crunchy, lick-able. Caramel, Toffee & Butterscotch are all varieties of caramelized sugar:

  • Caramel is sugar melted and cooked until it begins to turn golden, and then stirred with butter and cream.
  • Toffee is made by melting and/or boiling brown sugar or molasses in a bit of butter, then stirring in cream.  Melting these ingredients together makes a sauce; bringing the mixture to a boil at 302–320°F (hard crack stage) makes toffee candy.
  • Butterscotch is basically toffee that has been allowed to boil at 270-290°F, to soft crack stage (1).

The process of producing these treats is known as glycation (links to Diet & Health section of old site), and there is some evidence that consumption of glycated foods may hasten aging.  In addition to the high sugar content, this is another reason not to eat these sauces very often (1).

Beware: Many commercial caramelized products are made from GMO beet sugar, and contain toxic additives & preservatives, so be sure to read the label! Caramel is also used as a colorant in many processed foods; this caramel is highly likely to be GMO.

These sugary confections are often used to make candies.  While I don’t make candy, I like to make these as sauces for a special occasion dessert, or incorporate with milk and egg (or cornstarch) to make a soft pudding. See Caramel & Toffee Sauces.

Be VERY CAREFUL when melting sugar, as it melts at a much hotter temperature than boiling water, and can cause severe burns.  When stirring in the cream, the mixture will foam up, so be sure to use a much larger saucepan than you would think for the amount of ingredients.

Sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol, etc,) will not caramelize, so cannot be used as a substitute for sugar to make caramelized products.


  1. Simply Recipes (formerly on recipe, with photos
  3. The Best Recipe (from Cooks Illustrated magazine)

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