Classic butterscotch pudding calls for whole milk, dark brown sugar, cornstarch, butter, and vanilla extract—maybe heavy cream and egg yolks, too. The crux is the brown sugar (usually dark), which lends the pudding its caramel flavor and chestnut color.
Knowing this, it may come as a surprise when I tell you that this Big Little butterscotch pudding has no sugar. Not dark brown, light brown, or white. Instead, it has apple cider. That’s it. All you have to do is pour it into a pot, bring it to a boil, and leave it alone for an hour or two. (Go read a book or listen to a podcast or catch up on that show.) In this time, the cider goes from a sippable drink to spoon-coating sauce, a lot like the butterscotch you get from melting down brown sugar. In New England, it’s known as boiled cider—also cider syrup or apple molasses. I first found out about this technique from Erin McDowell, thanks to her wonderful cider caramel pie.)
Beyond the apple cider “butterscotch,” the rest of this butterscotch pudding recipe is just what you’d expect: half-and-half (a perfect middle point between milk and cream, if you ask me), cornstarch, egg yolks, and vanilla extract. (I found the usual butter added at the end entirely unnecessary.) From a distance, it looks like any other butterscotch pudding. But go ahead and take a spoonful. It’s as creamy and sweet as it is bright and sunny, like an apple orchard in the fall.
If you want, you can serve this with whipped cream, crème fraîche, or even thick yogurt. —Emma Laperruque
Pour the cider into a large saucepan and set over medium heat to bring to a boil. Boil for 1 to 2 hours, rotating the pan and lowering the heat as needed to prevent any burning along the sides, until the mixture reduces to 1 cup. (No need to hover, just check in every 20 to 30 minutes.)
When the cider butterscotch is almost ready, combine the cornstarch, egg yolks, and kosher salt in a medium bowl. Use a fork or small whisk to stir until smooth (it will be very thick).
When the cider butterscotch is ready (do measure it to make sure you have the right amount), pour a tiny splash into the cornstarch–egg yolk mixture. Whisk to combine. Pour another tiny splash and whisk again. Keep doing this (adding progressively bigger splashes) until all the cider butterscotch has been added. Now slowly whisk in the half-and-half and vanilla.
Pour this whole mixture back into the saucepan and set it back on the heat, this time over medium to medium-low. Bring to a slow-gurgly boil, whisking slowly but constantly, then let it boil for 2 minutes.
Pour the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl to get rid of any chunky bits and bobs. Now transfer the pudding to individual dishes or glasses, if that’s how you’d like to serve it. Cover the top of the pudding with plastic film to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the fridge until completely cold.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.