We can’t decide which part of these frosted cupcakes with butterscotch sauce we adore more. The tender, cakey, vanilla cupcake, or the salted butterscotch sauce that is scooped inside the cupcake and drizzled atop, or the fluffy frosting. Perhaps it’s the magical combination of all three that makes the perfect cupcake.
A sweet-salty butterscotch sauce takes these filled and frosted cupcakes from plain to next-level—as long as it’s just the right amount of gooey. If it’s too thick, the filling will be chewy and tough, and if it’s too thin, the filling will soak right into the cupcake.
To create the ideal texture in our salted butterscotch, we first add just enough heavy cream to dissolve all of the sugar, but not so much that our sauce winds up watery. As the melted butter in the sauce cools to room temperature, it goes from a liquid to a solid, helping our sauce set into a perfectly-textured filling, ready to be scooped into each cupcake.–America’s Test Kitchen
Frosted Cupcakes with Butterscotch Sauce FAQs
Can I substitute whole or low-fat milk for the heavy cream in this recipe?
We don’t really recommend it if you’re simply looking to lower the fat or calorie content. These are decadent cupcakes, with a butterscotch sauce and frosting that rely on the fat and texture that heavy cream brings to the table.
If you just don’t have heavy cream in the house and just NEED these frosted cupcakes, we can help: if you have butter and milk (whole milk or half-and-half work best), you’re on your way to a good heavy cream substitute. To make 1 cup of heavy cream, melt 1/4 cup of butter and slowly whisk in 3/4 cup milk. While this alternative works well for most baking or cooking recipes that require heavy cream, it won’t whisk into stiff peaks.
What can I do with leftover butterscotch sauce?
What’s the difference between butterscotch and caramel?
The main difference is the sugar. While recipes vary somewhat, technically most caramel sauce recipes rely on granulated sugar that’s melted to a golden-brown liquid. Sometimes cream or butter (or both) are stirred into the melted sugar.
Whereas with butterscotch sauce, brown sugar is the base of the loveliness and is combined with cream to achieve even loftier heights of lusciousness.
Frosted Cupcakes with Butterscotch Sauce
For the butterscotch sauce
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter cut into eight 1-tablespoon pieces, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cupcakes
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter cut into twelve 1-tablespoon pieces and softened
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the frosting
- 2 1/2 sticks (10 oz) unsalted butter cut into twenty 1-tablespoon pieces and softened
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- Flake sea salt for sprinkling
Make the butterscotch sauce
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, 1/2 cup cream, 4 tablespoons butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often with a rubber spatula, until the butter is melted and large foamy bubbles burst across the surface of the sauce, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to the sauce. Stir until the butter is melted and the mixture is fully combined, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sauce into a medium bowl, and let cool completely, about 1 hour.
Make the cupcakes
- Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Line a 12 cup muffin tin with 12 paper liners.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer), whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Mix on low speed and add the softened butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat until mixture looks like coarse sand, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and beat until combined. Pour in the milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy and no lumps remain, about 2 minutes. Use a clean rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir in any remaining dry flour.
- Divvy the batter evenly among the muffin tin cups, using about 1/3 cup per muffin cup.
- Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of 1 cupcake comes out clean, 21 to 24 minutes.
- Use oven mitts to transfer the muffin tin to a cooling rack. Let the cupcakes cool in the muffin tin for 10 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin; transfer directly to a cooling rack; and let cool completely, about 1 hour.
Make the frosting
- Meanwhile, use a liquid measuring cup to measure out 1/4 cup cooled butterscotch sauce.
- In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a clean large bowl if using a handheld mixer), combine the softened butter, 2 tablespoons cream, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Use a clean rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar, a little bit at a time, and beat until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes more.
- Add the reserved 1/4 cup butterscotch sauce to the bowl. Beat on medium-high speed until fully incorporated, about 2 minutes.
- To fill the cooled cupcakes, use a paring knife to cut out a cone-shaped wedge from the top of each cupcake, about 1-inch from the cupcake edge and 1-inch deep into the center of the cupcake. Discard the cones (or snack on them!)
- Fill each cupcake with 2 teaspoons of the butterscotch sauce.
- Use a small icing spatula or a spoon to spread 2 to 3 tablespoons frosting over each cupcake.
- Drizzle the frosted cupcakes with extra butterscotch sauce. Sprinkle with flake sea salt. Serve.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Prior to being part of this group, I didn’t like to bake because I didn’t think I was “good at it”. Now, I love it and I have really advanced my skill level.
The problem for me is when I bake, I want to eat the sweets. My husband and his coworkers are lucky because as quickly as I bake and taste, I send the majority to work with him. I wish I could send these frosted cupcakes to his workplace now!
The butterscotch sauce recipe is very easy to make and delicious! It will not go to waste in this house. The recipe was straightforward.
The cupcakes are nicely sweet but not overly sweet, luckily. The rest of the ingredients brought the sweetness. I baked the cupcakes for 24 minutes.
Once cooled, I cored the cupcakes and used a pastry bag to insert the butterscotch. The recipe said to toss the “cupcake plug” but I actually reinserted them once I put in the butterscotch.
Finally, the frosting was a standard buttercream with the addition of butterscotch. I piped the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes.
The cupcake batter had a slight curdled appearance, but the mixture cooks ok. The method seems quite involved, but each step can be done separately, so it can be quite a relaxing afternoon’s work.
I found it useful to have a small paring knife to remove the cone of sponge from each cupcake, push a small indentation into the centre of the cupcake where the cone of sponge had been with my thumb then using a piping bag to fill the hole with butterscotch sauce.
The resulting cupcakes were soft and sweet. The icing was smooth and moreish. They were also quite sticky making me want to lick my fingers afterwards.
I was quite cautious with the sea salt and didn’t really taste it in the final cupcakes. I would make these again and would recommend to others.
These frosted cupcakes take a commitment but the commitment pays off in spades. Take a pretty standard vanilla cupcake, fill it with some homemade butterscotch sauce and top with vanilla/butterscotch frosting and a sprinkle of salt. I think that is one of those perfect pairings.
I liked how the cupcakes were on the less sweet side because the butterscotch filling and frosting more than make up for it. But it’s not a cloying sweet. It’s, well, buttery sweet.
I am not an expert froster, so my cupcakes didn’t look bake-shop perfect but they still looked pretty good.
Frosting was the biggest challenge. You can’t really drop the frosting in the middle then spread the frosting, because the butterscotch gets caught up and blended in with the frosting.
So after I did that one, I tried frosting around the edge and then teasing the frosting over the butterscotch lake in the middle. That worked well. I followed up with another layer of frosting to seal the deal. Even then, I ended up with about a cup of leftover frosting.
Originally published August 29, 2022