Big Little Recipes

This Butterscotch Pudding Has a Secret Ingredient That’s 10/10 Fall

October 22, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a new-classic butterscotch pudding without any sugar.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Butterscotch is one of those words people can’t agree on. But there are a few concessions:

While butter is common, Scotch—as in, malt or grain whisky made in Scotland—has nothing to do with it. That part refers either to “the candy’s origin in Scotland or an original ingredient of ‘scotched,’ or scorched, butter,” according to Encyclopedia Brittanica, but again, this is one of those things people can’t agree on. Like caramel, butterscotch can either be a candy or flavoring or sauce. Also like caramel, it’s mostly sugar, though which type of sugar depends on who you ask (many say brown; others, like The Joy of Cooking, call for granulated).

The butterscotch we’re making today takes all of this in stride. As with the original, it is honey-colored, thrillingly sweet, and syrupy enough to drizzle over ice cream (and you should). But it doesn’t call for any butter or any sugar.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Emma, have you tested it just starting with boiled cider (I get mine from Wood's Cider Mill via King Arthur and am actually OBSESSED with it as an ingredient for baking and eating!)?”
— Posie (.

It calls for apple cider. And that’s it.

Bobbi Lin

If you’re from the New England region, you might be onto me. Boiled cider (aka, apple cider syrup or apple molasses) is a regional classic that starts with apple cider and boils it—and boils it and boils it—until you’re left with something as decadent as caramel or, yes, butterscotch.

I hadn’t caught wind of this magic until tasting our baker at large Erin McDowell’s cider caramel apple pie. She starts with a quart of cider and reduces it into oblivion, turning a humble drink into liquid gold.

In our case, we’re reimaging another old-school recipe: butterscotch pudding. As you’d probably guess, this traditionally starts with butterscotch. Basically, you cook brown sugar (and probably some water) until it’s melty and toasty and roasty, combine that with milk and cream (I like streamlining this with half-and-half), thicken this mixture with egg yolks and cornstarch, and stir in some vanilla and butter at the end.

Ditching brown sugar and swapping in apple cider has a few benefits—and I’ll be the first to say: None of them are time. Turning apple cider into butterscotch takes significantly longer than its brown sugar counterpart. But, where classic butterscotch pudding is creamy and sweet and little else, this rendition is also bright and sunny, like an apple orchard on a late October day.

This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission. What’s your favorite way to use apple cider in the fall? Let us know in the comments!
Order now

Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lissa Jo
    Lissa Jo
  • Nikki Hahn
    Nikki Hahn
  • Lynn D.
    Lynn D.
  • Posie (Harwood) Brien
    Posie (Harwood) Brien
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Lissa J. October 28, 2019
I agree with the comment about the Boiled Cider from King Arthur Flour
Nikki H. October 22, 2019
Any idea if this would work if you substituted tapioca starch for cornstarch?
Lynn D. October 22, 2019
Or how about using frozen concentrated apple cider?
Posie (. October 22, 2019
Emma, have you tested it just starting with boiled cider (I get mine from Wood's Cider Mill via King Arthur and am actually OBSESSED with it as an ingredient for baking and eating!)?