Ultimate Salted Caramel Pudding (with Butterscotch Pudding Variation)

This post began as a response to repeated requests from a tenacious reader for The Best Ever Butterscotch Pudding (her words). She was impressed with Ultimate Vanilla Pudding (Perfect Stovetop Custard) and Ultimate Chocolate Pudding and wanted the same perfect results with a butterscotch flavor. She had tried a few recipes on the web but was disappointed in the results.

I began rather cavalierly with the Ultimate Vanilla Pudding recipe, substituting brown for white sugar. The pudding was pale and bland. The whole bowl went into the fridge until it spoiled, forgotten and uneaten.

Then, in what seemed like a stroke of genius, I tried caramelizing the brown sugar to give it a deeper color and flavor. It burned almost immediately. I tried again. It burned again.

I gave up and moved on to Salted Caramel Pudding instead. It tested perfectly on the first take, and we ate the entire batch within hours.

But after eating it, I felt a little guilty. Not for eating it (heavens no!), but for failing to deliver on Butterscotch Pudding as I had promised. So I traipsed around the web looking for a solution and thought I found it at Serious Eats: Butterscotch Pudding: Searching for the Perfect Recipe. What they did that was pure genius was to caramelize the sugar and then add molasses to give the pudding that distinctive butterscotch taste.

To my palate, however, the taste of molasses was too distinguishable. So instead, I added just a teaspoon of molasses and some brown sugar to the aforementioned Salted Caramel Pudding formula, and by golly, it worked. Because the recipes for  Salted Caramel Pudding and Butterscotch Pudding are similar, I give them both to you here.

How to Make Perfect Pudding

To repeat some of what I said in the Ultimate Vanilla Pudding post:

All we are doing when we make pudding is melting sugar in milk and then thickening it with cornstarch and egg yolks. The cornstarch should be introduced before the egg yolks, although simultaneously will also work.

Without cornstarch, we can’t bring a pudding containing egg yolks anywhere near a boil. In fact, if you want to use egg yolks alone to thicken your pudding, the pudding must not exceed 165°. Otherwise, the egg yolks will curdle. Cornstarch, on the other hand, begins to thicken at 203° and needs to go to 208° for full activation. As long as sufficient cornstarch is present, even a slow simmer will not curdle the egg yolks.

Heat kills enzymes in raw egg yolks, which will otherwise break down the starch bonds and thin the custard. After adding the egg yolks, the pudding must be brought to just under a simmer (208º). I like to maintain that temperature for a minute or longer to be on the safe side.

Ultimate Salted Caramel Pudding

This pudding is heavenly, transcendent, divine. There’s something about the contrast between deep caramel and salt that takes the taste buds on an exhilarating ride that doesn’t end until you shamelessly lick the bowl and then go looking for a second helping.

To recap, all we are doing when we make pudding is thickening sweetened milk with cornstarch and egg yolks. In this case, we add the step of caramelizing the sugar before sweetening the milk with it. Easy peasy!

NOTE   If you want a pie filling that will hold its shape, rather than this more loosely mounding pudding, increase the cornstarch to 5-6 tablespoons.

3 cups whole milk, room temperature (or 2 cups whole milk and 1 cup heavy cream)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks, room temperature

¾ cup sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 12 chunks
1½ teaspoon vanilla (I love Mexican vanilla here)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

lightly sweetened whipped cream, optional

Burnt Caramel Sauce, optional

  1. In a large measuring cup with a pour spout, add 3 cups milk. Set milk and a silicon spatula next to the stovetop.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with ½ cup of the milk until well combined. Set next to the stovetop.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk cornstarch with ¼ cup of the milk until smooth. Set next to the stovetop.
  4. Make the caramel: In a light colored (stainless steel), 3-quart saucepan, add the sugar and set over medium heat. Swirl the pan as the sugar begins to melt. Use a silicon spatula to move the sugar from side to side as necessary to help it melt and caramelize evenly. When the sugar melts entirely and is a medium-dark caramel color, quickly remove from the heat.
  5. Stand back and CAREFULLY stir in the remaining milk. The mixture will boil and sputter furiously. The caramel may seize into a solid sugary mass. No worries! When the mixture stops sputtering, put it over medium heat and bring to a simmer while stirring to melt the seized caramel. Scrape the bottom and sides of the saucepan with a silicon (heatproof) spatula to make sure all seized caramel dissolves.
  6. Stir, and then add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and bring the pudding to a very slow simmer. Simmer, stirring or whisking for 2 minutes to thicken. Decrease heat to medium-low so that pudding is no longer simmering.
  7. Ladle ½ cup of the hot pudding into the egg yolk mixture and whisk rapidly. Repeat two times. Now add the egg yolk mixture back to the saucepan. This tempers the egg and helps to prevent curdling.
  8. Raise the heat slightly, and continue stirring the pudding until it thickens to the point that it thickly coats the back of the spatula, from 2-4 minutes. Don’t boil.
  9. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla, and salt until the butter is melted.
  10. Immediately pour the pudding through a single mesh strainer into a medium mixing bowl or 4-cup glass measuring cup. Alternatively, you can pour pudding directly into six ½-cup serving dishes. (The reason I rarely do this is that I prefer to mound the servings.)
  11. Ignore what David Lebovitz says (just kidding, David!) and quickly press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.
  12. Let cool, and then refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.
  13. To serve, spoon pudding into six, ½-cup ramekins (if you didn’t do this earlier).
  14. Top each serving with a generous mound of whipped cream.
  15. Serve immediately.

Makes 3 cups, or six ½-cup servings.

Ultimate Butterscotch Pudding

This pudding relies on a combination of caramelized sugar, brown sugar, and just a hint of molasses to give it a true butterscotch color and flavor. The process is the same as for Ultimate Salted Caramel Pudding, with a few minor differences: the sugar and salt amounts are decreased, the caramel is cooked to a light rather than medium caramel color, and brown sugar and molasses are added. The four ingredient changes are noted below in red text.

3 cups whole milk, room temperature (or 2 cups whole milk and 1 cup heavy cream)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks, room temperature

¼ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon unsulphured molasses

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 12 chunks
1½ teaspoon vanilla (I love Mexican vanilla here)

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

  1. Proceed as in Ultimate Salted Caramel Pudding, making the following changes.
  2. In Step 4, add ¼ cup sugar to the pan (rather than ¾ cup sugar) and caramelize the sugar to a light caramel hue.
  3. In Step 5, add brown sugar and molasses along with the milk.
  4. In Step 9, add ¼ teaspoon salt (rather than ½ teaspoon salt).

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Copyright 2012 Susan S. Bradley. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. bonjourmn says

    Just found this recipe and had to make it. Pronto!
    Followed the directions to a tee…and mmmmmmmmmmmm. What else can I say? Now, for the caramel sauce.

  2. Jenny says

    I made this pudding twice this morning for an upcoming dinner party. The first batch seized so much I had to toss it. Starting over… the finished pudding was starchy, too salty and honestly a bugger to make. Hated everything about the recipe.

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Jenny, I’m sorry you had difficulty with this recipe. I tested it several times and have made it a few times since posting. When you say “the batch seized,” are you referring to the step where you add the milk to the caramel syrup? The mixture does seize at that point (as stated in the recipe), but if you lower the heat and stir for awhile, the seized caramel dissolves into the milk. It can’t NOT do that, if given heat and time. But, yes, it does look like a mess when it seizes. Also, I purposely kept the cornstarch component of the pudding at a minimum to avoid a starchy tasting pudding. So I am surprised by your comment on that aspect. Nevertheless, I appreciate your feedback and will retest this recipe this week and respond here with any additional tips for success. Best…Susan

  3. kiki says

    hi looks yummy! thanks for your trial and error saves me waisting (sic) ingredients and time. will let you know how worked out. might be a while as cant stop pinning to actually cook/bake! def have pinsomnia!x Kiki

  4. says

    I love how you share your in-depth knowledge about the chemistry of it all. This one sounds pretty exciting when you add the milk to the caramelized sugar, but if I try it, I’ll be forewarned. I’m sure the caramelized sugar adds amazing flavor, mmm.
    Mary (Fit and Fed) recently posted…Vegan Berry CrispMy Profile

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Mary, you will LOVE this pudding! It’s really quite a simple process as well. Thanks for your kind words. :-)

  5. Julie says

    Hi! I’m looking forward to making this and have a question: do you bring the sugar to a boil? The pictures don’t look like that and every other recipe I’ve read about caramel, the sugar is boiled to caramelize. Thanks for any input…and can’t wait to try it!

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Julie, because I am showing the professional sugar caramelization method for this recipe, there is no water added to the sugar and thus the caramelized sugar does not boil. You need to try it to believe it. :-)

  6. says


    My name is Cat from the Philippines, I am so happy to find your website during my depressingly humid summer afternoon. It made me really happy. This recipe is next on my list. May I add your website to my blog link?

    Thank you,

    Catherine recently posted…Churros con ChocolateMy Profile

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Thank you Cat! Yes, of course you may add a pointer to LunaCafe from your blog. Much appreciated! :-)

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Oh Dana, so great to hear from you. You have had a rough early spring, and my heart goes out to you. Spring has finally sprung in Portland. It’s always a relief. I just moved my Jams World Hawaii shirts to the front of the closet. That’s all I wear until fall. Still cooking essentially winter dishes for another month or so. Portland Farmers Market is busting with early spring crops though. Those fiddle head ferns have my name on them this week. :-)

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Mary Anne/Mariel, do give it a try. I am wavering on adding another tablespoon of cornstarch. My last batch was a little loose. It’s a catch 22 in that the cornstarch is perceivable on the tongue, so too much destroys the lushness of the pudding. Oh the things we cooks dwell on. :-) See what you think.

  7. Penny Wolf says

    Both recipes look wonderful! Molasses to the rescue which I love. Seeing these recipes along with a molasses pudding recipe that I have never made, makes me want to have a pudding tasting party.
    Little shooters filled with assorted silks….Yummy!

  8. Nancy Runnings says

    Both sound delicious. Always wondered about puddings from scratch. How long will they keep refrigerated? Thanks! Nancy

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Nancy, I ate the last of the butterscotch pudding last night and it was 3 days old. It had thinned just a bit, which makes me suspect that I didn’t give the egg yolks enough heat (as described in the recipe). Of course it was still absolutely delicious. :-)

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