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What Is the Difference Between Toffee, Caramel, and Butterscotch?

Toffee, caramel, and butterscotch are three classic desserts featuring very similar recipes. From butterscotch sundaes to decadent English toffee, each features an irresistible combination of sugar, butter, and cream. Whether you operate an ice cream shop, bakery, diner, or catering company, it’s important to understand the difference between butterscotch, toffee, and caramel. Keep reading to learn more about each type and how to make them below.

Types of Sugar Candy

To understand the difference between each of these popular sugar candies, read below to learn what makes each one unique.

What Is Caramel?

Caramel Sauce

Caramel is a type of candy created by heating white granulated sugar slowly to 340 degrees Fahrenheit. This gradual heating process breaks down the sugar’s molecules and creates a deep golden brown color and rich flavor.

While caramelization can be achieved by simply heating sugar, other ingredients including butter, milk, and vanilla are often added afterward to produce a thick, creamier caramel used in sauces, drizzles, candies, and classic caramel apples.

When creating caramel, there are typically two different versions: wet caramel and dry caramel. Wet caramel refers to caramel that has been made by adding water to the sugar during the heating process. Adding water can help to distribute heat evenly across the mixture to prevent burning and crystallization. Dry caramel simply refers to sugar caramelized without water added.

What is Butterscotch?

Butterscotch is a type of soft-crack candy created by slowly heating butter and brown sugar together. Just like caramel, the brown sugar molecules break down and, thanks to the addition of molasses in the sugar, caramelize into a richer, deeper flavor than classic caramel.

To create a sauce, topping, or candy, additional ingredients like vanilla, salt, and cream can be added once caramelization has occurred.

Butterscotch vs Caramel

Caramel is created using white granulated sugar, whereas butterscotch is made with brown sugar. Butterscotch is cooked to a lower temperature of 289 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to caramel’s 340 degrees. Both are often enhanced with additional ingredients to alter the texture, taste, or consistency depending on their intended purpose or the recipe used to make them.

What Is Toffee?

Toffee

Toffee is butterscotch that has been cooked for a longer period of time. Toffee begins as a base of butter and brown sugar that is gradually cooked to the hard-crack sugar stage between 295 and 309 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toffee vs Butterscotch

While butterscotch is cooked to a soft-crack stage, toffee is produced by allowing that same butter and brown sugar mixture to reach the hard-crack stage. Butterscotch tends to be chewy and pliable; toffee is brittle and more breakable.

Sugar Stages Temperature Chart

When sugar is boiled, the concentration of sugar molecules increases as water is evaporated. The longer sugar cooks, the higher the sugar concentrate becomes. This sugar concentrate is what creates the varying stages of sugar.

The chart below outlines the most common sugar stages and the temperature needed to achieve each stage.

Sugar Stage Example of Candy Temperature (in Degrees Fahrenheit) Percentage of Sugar Concentrate
Thread Syrup 230 to 234 80%
Soft Ball Fudge 234 to 241 85%
Firm Ball Soft Caramel 244 to 248 87%
Hard Ball Gummies 250 to 266 92%
Soft Crack Butterscotch 270 to 289 95%
Hard Crack Toffee 295 to 309 99%
Clear Liquid N/A 320 100%
Brown Liquid Caramel 340 100%
Burnt N/A 351 100%

How to Make Caramel

The trick to making caramel is to constantly stir the sugar while slowly and gradually heating the mixture. This keeps sugar crystals from burning instead of caramelizing.

There are many different varieties of caramel, but this recipe can be used to create a caramel sauce or drizzle perfect for topping sundaes, cakes, and other desserts.

Ingredients:


Directions:

  1. Place your sugar into a pan on medium heat.
  2. Watch for the edges of the sugar to begin to turn to liquid.
  3. Using a heat-resistant spatula or spoon, stir the sugar every few seconds. Be sure to scrape the bottom for any bits that may start to stick.
  4. Continue to stir as the sugar clumps together in large lumps and begins transitioning into a golden-colored liquid.
  5. Stir constantly until the clumps are gone and the sugar is now completely liquid.
  6. Turn the heat off as you carefully add in the butter. Use a spoon or spatula if possible, as the butter will cause the caramel to bubble up when added.
  7. Stir in the butter for 2 minutes.
  8. While stirring, carefully pour the cream into the mixture. Once fully combined, remove the pot from the stovetop and allow to cool.
  9. Serve immediately or store in jars and refrigerate for future use.

How to Make Butterscotch

Butterscotch Cupcakes

Butterscotch’s main ingredients include butter and brown sugar, but the addition of some heavy cream and vanilla extract makes it perfect for topping sundaes and other sweet treats in your kitchen.

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt

Directions:

  1. Using a heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Once butter has melted completely, add brown sugar and stir until sugar is completely coated.
  3. Watch the mixture closely and stir occasionally for three to five minutes. Be sure to scrape the bottom and corners to prevent clumps from burning. The mixture should turn from grainy and lumpy to smooth and bubbly.
  4. Using a whisk or rubber spatula, carefully pour in the heavy cream, lower the heat, and stir until cream has been completely mixed in.
  5. Turn the heat back up to medium and continue to stir occasionally until the desired color and thick, smooth consistency is reached, or about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
  7. Stir in vanilla extract and sea salt. If the butterscotch is cool enough, taste as you go and add more vanilla and salt if needed.
  8. Serve immediately or store in the refrigeration for later use.

How to Make Toffee

To make toffee, follow the directions above to make butterscotch. In addition, you’ll want to use a candy thermometer to track when your butterscotch reaches the hard crack stage, which is around 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toffee is often combined with nuts such as almonds and semi-sweet chocolate to create classic English toffee. This is done by spreading the hot toffee out flat over a sheet pan, and topping it with semi-sweet chocolate chips. Allow the chips to melt for about 30 seconds and carefully use the back of a spoon to spread the chocolate over the entire top of the toffee. Top with chopped or slivered almonds. Allow the English toffee to cool for about 3 hours before breaking it into small pieces.

Tips for Making Caramel, Butterscotch, and Toffee

While the three may differ in taste and texture, the methods used to cook them are similar. To produce decadent-tasting sugars, be sure to keep the following tips in mind:

  • Never step away from the sugar when it’s cooking. It only takes a few seconds of neglect for sugar to burn.
  • Do not try to touch or taste the sugar while it’s cooking, it will be extremely hot and sticky.
  • Cook your mixture in a larger pot than you think is necessary because the sugar can produce large bubbles as it turns into a liquid or additional ingredients are added.
  • Opt for a stainless steel pot to best handle the high temperatures. Some non-stick coatings may be affected by the hot sugars.
  • When making caramel, wait to add ingredients such as cream and butter until after the caramelization process has occurred.
  • Squeezing a small amount of lemon juice into your sugar while it’s cooking can help prevent crystallization.
  • Keep ice water on hand in case you accidentally come into contact with the hot sugar.


While some may think caramel, butterscotch, and toffee taste the same, any candy connoisseur knows each of these delectable sweets has its own unique flavor, texture, and consistency. And now that you know the difference, you can confidently create and serve customers the best sugar candy to top their hot fudge sundae, decadent cheesecake, or classic cupcake.

Posted in: Recipes | Bakeries | By Rachel Jenkins
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