As soon as I finished making this pie for this post, I took a few pieces across the road to my mom. I was feeling good about this recipe, since it’s my favorite pudding. As I handed the pie to Mom, lofted high with meringue, she exclaimed, “Oh this looks perfect! Is it Grandma’s recipe?!”
I hadn’t even realized Grandma used to make a butterscotch pie. I went home to look through Grandma’s recipes and there it was: butterscotch pie! Really, this is how it should be: even when I don’t mean them to be, my recipes are always connected to my family and the amazing cooks, bakers, and gardeners before me.
In comparing the recipes, Grandma’s and mine are almost identical. To start, you have to do the most important part: caramelize the sugar. This is the base for all the flavor and really completes this pudding. The amount of sugar is small, but taking it to a deep amber color creates a complex caramel flavor.
This leaves the question: what is butterscotch? The main difference between butterscotch and caramel is the use of brown sugar and molasses. Caramel is simply melted sugar while butterscotch includes more complex flavors with the molasses that’s in brown sugar. It sounds like a simple step, but the outcome will be incomparable.
Once the sugar is caramelized, the process is just like any other old-fashioned pudding. Brown sugar, eggs, milk, cream, and flour are mixed together. The flour stabilizes the egg yolks and there’s no need to temper the yolks with hot milk. Flour is often used in old pudding recipes, while modern recipes would use cornstarch. I like the consistency of the flour and the ratio of flour to egg yolk creates a silky smooth result.
A butterscotch pie sounds intimidating. But when broken down, it’s really just a homemade pudding in a pie shell. When the warm pudding is poured into the pre-baked pie shell, it sets up, allowing it to hold together when cut but still be velvety soft.
Since Grandma also used meringue as a topping, I can say it’s traditional. I use Swiss meringue, which involves heating the egg whites with sugar until the sugar is dissolved. The result is nothing short of spreadable marshmallows and I’m convinced you will now only make this meringue.
Pudding is my comfort food and pie is my love language, so I think you can see why I love this.
Watch how to make this butterscotch pie:
For the pie
- 1 9-inch pre-baked pie shell
- 3 tbsp sugar
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- ½ cup flour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 1 ⅓ cups heavy cream
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ⅓ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
For the meringue
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- In a medium bowl, mix together the dark brown sugar and flour, breaking up any sugar lumps. Add 1 cup of whole milk and the egg yolks. Whisk until smooth and set aside.
- In a 4-quart saucepan, melt the sugar over medium-low heat. Shake the pan periodically to evenly heat the sugar. Once the edges start to melt, stay with the saucepan and swirl until all the sugar is melted. Continue to cook until the sugar reaches a deep amber color, 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly add the heavy cream and remaining ½ cup of whole milk. The mixture will sputter and the caramelized sugar will harden.
- Return the mixture to medium-low heat and stir until the caramel is melted into the milk mixture, 3-5 minutes. Slowly whisk in the prepared egg yolk mixture. Continually whisk and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens. Keep whisking until it's just beginning to bubble throughout and thick, 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and add the salt, vanilla extract and butter. Whisk until the butter is melted and the pudding is smooth. Pour into the prepared pie shell. Press plastic wrap directly on the pudding surface to prevent a skin from forming. Place in the refrigerator and chill until firm, at least 6 hours.
For the meringue
- Bring a saucepan with a few inches of water to a slow simmer on the stove over medium-low heat.
- In a large bowl (I use the bowl of my electric mixer), combine the egg whites and sugar. Whisk to combine. Set over the slightly simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved or the mixture reaches 160°F, 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and add the salt and cream of tartar. Using an electric mixer, whisk until stiff peaks form, 5-7 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla extract.
- Spread meringue on pie creating peaks. Place the pie under a low broil. Watch closely and brown the meringue until golden, 1-2 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.