How To Prevent Butterscotch Sauce From Separating

Butterscotch sauce is made from a harmonious blend of basic ingredients: brown sugar, butter, cream, and salt. This simple mixture, when cooked with patience over a moderate flame, becomes a smooth, tan-colored elixir that enhances everything from waffles to ice cream. One thing to make clear, however, is that butterscotch sauce is not caramel sauce. While both butterscotch and caramel have a common foundation of sugar and butter, butterscotch is made from brown sugar and caramel is made from regular granulated sugar. 

Nonetheless, making each of these sauces out of melted sugars is a task that requires much attention and care. At any moment, you can end up with a butterscotch sauce that has split, with the glob of sugar floating in a mass of melted butter. Separation usually occurs due to a shock in the temperature, meaning the sugars are heated or cooled too quickly. To prevent this, you have to watch your heat closely, which is why low to medium heat is the best way to go for both melting the sugar and combining the mixture.

Troubleshooting split butterscotch sauce

Butter is prone to splitting from sugars and proteins given any drastic temperature change. This chemical change can occur in almost all butter-based emulsions, like caramel sauce and toffee. The greatest concern is that the two ingredients will melt at different rates. Over high heat, the butter will melt faster than the candy and you'll find that the milk solids have separated from the oil, creating a split sauce. 

Moreover, the likelihood of separation increases when utilizing thinner or less sturdy saucepans because they cannot efficiently distribute heat. This creates uneven temperature zones that encourage the separation of fat from sugar. To avoid this, stick to a heavy-bottom pan, preferably a stainless steel one since they're great for sauces and caramelization. If your sauce splits on the stovetop, you can take it off the heat momentarily and stir vigorously. The reduced temperature should help the butter solidify and combine with the sugar mixture, leaving your sauce smooth again. Another way to fix a split sauce is to add a tablespoon of hot water or milk to combine the oil with the sugars. Stir this into the mixture over medium heat and you'll see the sauce become smooth again.