Butterscotch cake with drips and chocolate curls
Layer Cakes

Butterscotch Cake with Butterscotch Drip

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This butterscotch cake has tender moist brown butter cake layers, a silky smooth butterscotch buttercream, and homemade butterscotch sauce that is so easy to make! It’s topped off with a butterscotch drip, salty crunchy pretzels, and chocolate curls. It’s the perfect cake, filled with warm and comforting flavours. 

Why you will LOVE this recipe:

  • Butterscotch: Homemade butterscotch sauce has never been easier to make! Just mix everything together and simmer. It’s added into the buttercream and in between the layers for lots of flavour. 
  • Brown butter: The cake layers have brown butter in them giving them a warm and nutty flavour that works so well with the butterscotch.
  • Cake layers: The layers turn out so moist and tender thanks to sour cream and buttermilk.
  • Frosting: The frosting has butterscotch sauce to make it silky smooth, and a touch of lemon juice to balance that sweet flavour. It makes for the perfect butterscotch frosting!
Cut open butterscotch cake

Butterscotch VS caramel

They’re both pretty similar but butterscotch it is so much easier to make! Butterscotch is made with brown sugar that doesn’t need to be caramelized before adding in the rest of the ingredients. Just combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer. Butterscotch is caramel’s easier counterpart!

Caramel starts off by caramelizing granulated sugar until it becomes deep and flavourful. The rest of the ingredients are added to the sugar and then it is brought up to the correct temperature for what you’ll be using it for. 

Brown butter

Brown butter is so easy to make and it is going to add a deeper, nutty flavour to the cake layers. 

The brown butter needs to cool so that it becomes a thick but soft spread-like texture. This will let it whip up with the sugar until creamy. I use an ice bath to cool it down faster, but you can pop it into the fridge or freezer. Make sure to mix it frequently because as it cools down on the outside it will start to become rock hard and will be difficult to work with. 

slice of butterscotch cake on plate

Key ingredients

Full steps and ingredients in recipe card below. But read through these for all the tips you will need for success!

Brown sugar: This gives the butterscotch a rich caramel-like flavour, and helps thicken it. You can use a darker or lighter brown sugar, depending on how deep you prefer the butterscotch flavour to be.

Butter: Use a good quality real butter for the best results. I don’t recommend using salted butter for browning because it gets a bitter, metallic taste. 

Buttermilk: Use a storebought buttermilk for the best results. If you don’t have any, you can make buttermilk by adding ½ tablespoon apple cider or white vinegar into ½ cup of room temperature milk. Stir and set aside for 5 minutes. It should become thick and lumpy. 

Sour cream: This gives the cake layers moisture and richness. Don’t substitute sour cream. The higher the fat content, the better! 

Lemon juice: This balances the sweetness and richness in the butterscotch buttercream. Do use freshly squeezed lemon juice for the best flavour. Add as little or as much as you prefer!

Cream: Heavy or whipping cream (35% and up) works great to make a thick and rich butterscotch sauce. Don’t substitute with half and half cream or milk. The sauce will be too thin.

All purpose flour: Weigh the flour to get the most accurate results. If you don’t have a scale, measure properly by stirring the bag and spooning gently into a measuring cup. Scrape the excess off the top with the flat edge off a knife without packing it into the cup.

Butterscotch cake with butterscotch drips

Step by step

Step 1 – Make the butterscotch. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to simmer and simmer for 3 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir gently so that it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and pour into a heat safe container to cool completely. Refrigerate once it reaches room temperature.

Step 2 – Make brown butter. Melt butter in medium saucepan stirring constantly, on medium low heat. The foam will subside as the butter browns. Keep stirring, watching the whole time. The milk solids (little white bits at the bottom) will slowly caramelize and turn a golden brown colour. It will smell like toasted nuts and caramel. Once it starts foaming again and there are golden brown bits, remove from heat and pour into a heat safe bowl or container. 

Let the brown butter come to room temperature and then refrigerate until it becomes thick but still spreadable. Stir it occasionally to incorporate any hard bits on the edges back inside. Use an ice water bath, stirring every minute to speed up the process. 

Step 3 – Combine wet ingredients. Place brown butter, oil, sugar, and salt in a large bowl or stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat until increased in volume and becomes very light. Scrape down the bowl to blend evenly. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, blending well between each addition. Add sour cream and buttermilk, blending well. It’s ok if the mixture separates. 

Step 4 – Make the batter. Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder into the same bowl. Replace whisk attachment with paddle attachment and fold on low speed until a smooth batter forms. Alternatively, you can use a spatula to fold. Distribute evenly into baking pans, smoothing the tops. Use a scale for the most precise measurements.

Step 5 – Bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted through the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes before flipping over on a cooling rack. Use a knife or spatula to help release the edges of the layers. Let cool completely before frosting.

Step 6 – Make butterscotch buttercream. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl or stand mixer until very light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl. Use a paddle attachment for a very smooth buttercream. Gradually add in the butterscotch, beating until very fluffy and light. Add in the freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste. Stop adding when you are happy with the flavour. This will help balance the sweetness of the frosting. 

Step 7 – Finish off buttercream. Gradually add heavy cream and beat until it becomes fluffy. To make the frosting extra smooth, beat on low speed with a paddle attachment to remove any large air pockets. If making the frosting ahead of time, make sure to beat again before frosting the cake so that it is smooth and creamy again.

Step 8 – Stack. Assemble the cake by placing a dollop of frosting onto the bottom of the cake plate or stand. Place the first cake layer down. Add a layer of buttercream. Drizzle butterscotch on top. This is my preferred, less riskier method.

*For a thicker butterscotch layer, pipe a thick border around the cake and spoon a few tablespoons of the butterscotch into the middle. Chill completely before placing the next layer of cake on top or the butterscotch will come out the sides and the layers will slide around. Repeat until all of the cake layers are used up.

Step 9 – Crumb coat. Cover the sides and top with a very thin layer of frosting (crumb coat) and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Step 10 – Final coat. Frost the sides and top with a thicker layer of frosting, smoothing with a bench scraper and/or a spatula. Cover the bottom half with crushed pretzels. Place back into freezer for 10 minutes to firm up the frosting. 

Step 11 – Butterscotch drips. Fill a piping bag with butterscotch sauce and snip the end off. Pipe drips of butterscotch at the edge of the cake. Fill in the top of the cake with a very thin layer of butterscotch and smooth with a spoon or spatula. Place back into the freezer for 10 minutes so that the drips set.

Step 12 – Border. Use the remaining frosting to pipe a border on top of the cake. I piped a rope border using a Wilton 1M tip. Sprinkle crushed pretzels and chocolate curls on top of the cake. 

Step 13 – Serve! Serve the cake at room temperature or slightly chilled for best results! The buttercream will soften and become very creamy at room temperature. Store in the fridge in an airtight container or cake carrier for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. 

FAQ

How do I fix grainy butterscotch?

Gently heat up the butterscotch, stirring until all of the crystals dissolve. Add a tablespoon of heavy whipping cream to help. Let it cool to room temperature and use.

Why are my cake layers dense?

Make sure you are measuring flour properly (using a scale is the best way). Don’t underbake the cake. Make sure the baking powder isn’t expired and is still active. Lastly, check the temperature of the oven with an oven thermometer. A too low oven temperature will make for a dense cake. 

Can I use salted butter for brown butter?

I don’t recommend using salted butter for browning. It makes for a bitter and metallic tasting brown butter. Use unsalted butter for the best results. You can use salted butter for the rest of the cake and for the butterscotch sauce!

How do I get clean sides on a cake?

The best way to get clean sides on a cake is to initially do a very thin crumb coat. Cover all the sides and top of the cake with a very thin layer of frosting. This will seal in all of the crumbs. Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes to let it harden and finish off with a thicker layer of frosting. Use a bench scraper or a spatula to get smooth sides.

How do I get a perfect caramel or butterscotch drip?

For the perfect caramel or butterscotch drip, make sure the cake is well chilled on the outside. This will help set the drips as you make them, preventing any runny and thin drips. Make sure that the butterscotch or caramel sauce is at room temperature or slightly chilled. Test 1 drip on the back of the cake and see if you need to warm up or cool down the caramel to the right consistency.

With a caramel drip, I prefer to pipe drips with a piping bag or with a sandwhich bag, end snipped off. I recommend piping drips on the top edge of the cake, then going back to fill the top of the cake with a thin layer. This gives you more control over the drips. Caramel and butterscotch drips are thicker and set slower than chocolate drips so that is why I prefer this method.

Why is my buttercream very thin and gloopy?

Try chilling the buttercream in the freezer for 10 minutes, and beat again until light and fluffy. If it is still too soft, add more powdered sugar, a quarter cup at a time.

How do I get a smooth batter?

Make sure that all of the ingredients are at room temperature before using them. This is really important to getting a creamy batter that will create a moist and tender crumb!

Serving a slice of butterscotch cake

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Butterscotch cake with drips and chocolate curls

Butterscotch Cake with Butterscotch Drip

Mary
This butterscotch cake has tender moist brown butter cake layers, a silky smooth butterscotch buttercream, and homemade butterscotch sauce that is so easy to make! It’s topped off with a butterscotch drip, salty crunchy pretzels, and chocolate curls. It’s the perfect cake, filled with warm and comforting flavours.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Chill Time 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Baking, Cake, Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 12 people

Equipment

  • three 6" cake pans (see notes for alternatives)

Ingredients
  

Butterscotch Sauce

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 ½ cup brown sugar packed
  • ¾ cup heavy cream whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

Brown Butter Layers

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar packed
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 large eggs room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sour cream room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk room temperature
  • 2 cups all purpose flour (240g)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder

Butterscotch Buttercream

  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar icing sugar
  • cup butterscotch sauce cold
  • 1-3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3-5 tablespoons heavy cream whipping cream

Assembly

  • 1 cup pretzels crushed
  • 1/2 cup chocolate curls

Instructions
 

Butterscotch Sauce

  • Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to simmer and simmer for 3 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir gently so that it doesn’t burn.
    ½ cup butter, 1 ½ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup heavy cream, 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Remove from heat and pour into a heat safe container to cool completely. Refrigerate once it reaches room temperature.

Brown Butter Layers

  • Melt butter in medium saucepan stirring constantly, on medium low heat. The foam will subside as the butter browns. Keep stirring, watching the whole time. The milk solids (little white bits at the bottom) will slowly caramelize and turn a golden brown colour. It will smell like toasted nuts and caramel. Once it starts foaming again and there are golden brown bits, remove from heat and pour into a heat safe bowl or container.
    ¾ cup unsalted butter
  • Let the brown butter come to room temperature and then refrigerate until it becomes thick but still spreadable. Stir it occasionally to incorporate any hard bits on the edges back inside. Use an ice water bath, stirring every minute to speed up the process.
  • Grease three 6” round baking pans with cold butter and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper. See notes for different sized baking pans. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Once thickened, combine brown butter, oil, sugar, and salt in a large bowl or stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat until increased in volume and becomes very light. Scrape down the bowl to blend evenly.
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 cup brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, blending well between each addition. Add sour cream and buttermilk, blending well. It’s ok if the mixture separates.
    2 large eggs, ½ cup sour cream, ½ cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder into the same bowl. Replace whisk attachment with paddle attachment and fold on low speed until a smooth batter forms. Alternatively, use a spatula to fold.
    2 cups all purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon baking soda, 1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • Distribute evenly into baking pans, smoothing the tops. Use a scale for the most precise measurements.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted through the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes before flipping over on a cooling rack. Use a knife or spatula to help release the edges of the layers. Let cool completely before frosting.

Butterscotch Buttercream

  • Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl or stand mixer until very light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl. Use a paddle attachment for a very smooth buttercream.
    1 cup butter, 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • Gradually add in the butterscotch, beating until very fluffy and light. Add in the freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste. Stop adding when you are happy with the flavour. This will help balance the sweetness of the frosting.
    ⅔ cup butterscotch sauce, 1-3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Gradually add heavy cream and beat until it becomes fluffy. To make the frosting extra smooth, beat on low speed with a paddle attachment to remove any large air pockets.
    3-5 tablespoons heavy cream

Assembly

  • Assemble the cake by placing a dollop of frosting onto the bottom of the cake plate or stand. Place the first cake layer down. Add a layer of buttercream. Drizzle butterscotch on top. This is my preferred, less riskier method.
  • For a thicker butterscotch layer, pipe a thick border around the cake and spoon a few tablespoons of the butterscotch into the middle. Chill completely before placing the next layer of cake on top or the butterscotch will come out the sides and the layers will slide around.
  • Repeat until all of the cake layers are used up. Cover the sides and top with a very thin layer of frosting (crumb coat) and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Frost the sides and top with a thicker layer of frosting, smoothing with a bench scraper and/or a spatula. Cover the bottom half with crushed pretzels. Place back into freezer for 10 minutes to firm up the frosting.
    1 cup pretzels
  • Fill a piping bag with butterscotch sauce and snip the end off. Pipe drips of butterscotch at the edge of the cake. Fill in the top of the cake with a very thin layer of butterscotch and smooth with a spoon or spatula. Place back into the freezer for 10 minutes so that the drips set.
  • Use the remaining frosting to pipe a border on top of the cake. I piped a rope border using a Wilton 1M tip. Sprinkle crushed pretzels and chocolate curls on top of the cake.
    1/2 cup chocolate curls

Notes

Serve the cake at room temperature or slightly chilled for best results! The buttercream will soften and become very creamy at room temperature. Store in the fridge in an airtight container or cake carrier for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Baking pan sizes: Double this recipe to make into an 8” or 9” round three layer cake. You can make this cake into a 9” by 12” sheet cake using the same measurements. Frost the top of the cake with butterscotch frosting and drizzle generously with butterscotch. Slightly elevate the edges of the frosting to keep all of the butterscotch inside. Sprinkle top and edges with pretzels and chocolate curls.
Make ahead:
  • Make the cake layers up to 2 days ahead of assembling the cake. Wrap tightly and place into the refrigerator to store. Make the butterscotch up to 2 days of assembling the cake.
  • Store in a jar or airtight container. If it becomes grainy after storing, heat it gently, stirring, to dissolve the sugar crystals. Let it come to room temperature before decorating the cake.
  • The buttercream can also be made a day or two ahead of time. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days. Let it come to room temperature before decorating and beat until light and fluffy again, scraping down the bowl.
Keyword brown butter cake, Butterscotch cake, butterscotch filled cake, homemade butterscotch sauce

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