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Salted Butterscotch Shortbread from DOA

Salted Butterscotch Shortbread from DOA

Drums of Autumn

There was time for a wander up and down the aisles of the vendors’ stalls, selling everything from tartan ties to penny whistles, silver jewelry, clan maps of Scotland, butterscotch and shortbread, letter openers in the shape of claymores, lead Highland figures, books, records, and every imaginable small item on which a clan badge or motto could be imprinted.

Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autumn (Chapter 4 – A Blast from the Past)

Someone put their butterscotch on my shortbread!

And just like the chocolate/peanut butter scenario, the results are pretty outstanding.  If you make just one candy/cookie for Christmas this year, make this.

Sweet, crumbly, chewy, buttery and salty – Salted Butterscotch Shortbread has 2 layers and 5 taste experiences.

230-degrees salted butterscotch shortbread

Butterscotch is a rare breed these days…in the battle of cooked sugars, caramel seems to have edged butterscotch out in the 30 years since my childhood, when you couldn’t offer me a bigger treat than a Dairy Queen butterscotch-dipped ice-cream cone.

What’s the difference, anyway?

Caramel is generally granulated sugar that has been melted and heated until it is brown but not burned, ranging from 320 to 350 degrees.  Some people mix in a little brown sugar, and if you add cream, you get soft caramels or even a luscious sauce.

Butterscotch, on the other hand, is usually a mixture of brown sugar and butter, but recipes can also include sugar, butter, cream and/or vanilla.  It is cooked to similar temperatures as caramel, and is actually easier to work with because of the stability the butter provides to the mixture.  Once you cook butterscotch beyond the hard-crack stage, you have toffee.

Corn syrup lends a chewy texture to both caramel and butterscotch, and is included in most modern recipes.

After the butter is added, you’ve got butterscotch

Contrary to some hopes and dreams, it’s not called butterscotch because of it’s whisky content.

Scotch is an old word for “scorch,” so it could come from the process of browning the sugar. Alternatively it also means “to score,” so it may refer to the traditional practice of marking the soft mixture so it could be broken later.

Certainty on the name’s origin is lost to history.

pan of salted butterscotch shortbread

This is my Outlander twist on Millionaire’s Shortbread, a tri-layered confection consisting of a shortbread base, caramel middle and chocolate top.  I decided to garnish it with sea salt and leave it there, but if you want chocolate, then do it.  I would probably drizzle it from a spoon rather than coating (and covering) the beautiful shiny gold of the butterscotch, but I leave the important aesthetic decisions up to you.

If you prefer to separate your butterscotch from your shortbread, no worries!  Either can be made separately.  See the notes at the bottom of the recipe.

salted butterscotch shortbread

(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)

Salted Butterscotch Shortbread from DOA

: A sweet, crumbly, chewy and buttery holiday treat.

Yield:  approx 5 dozen 1” pieces


  • Unsalted Butter, soft – ¾ Cup
  • Powdered Sugar – ½ Cup
  • Salt – ½ tsp
  • All-Purpose Flour – 1½ Cups


  • Sugar – ¾ Cup
  • Brown Sugar, lightly packed – ⅓ Cup
  • Light Corn Syrup – ⅓ Cup
  • Water – ¼ Cup
  • White Vinegar – 1 tsp
  • Salt – ½ tsp
  • Unsalted Butter – ⅓ Cup
  • Vanilla – 1 t
  • Sea Salt, Fleur de Sel for garnish

Read the instructions through at least once before beginning, and have all your ingredients measured and ready.

Centre the rack in the oven and preheat to 350°.  Lightly grease an 8”x8” pan, then line it with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl with an electric hand mixer (or a wooden spoon) cream together the butter, powdered sugar and salt on low speed.  Add the flour, then continue to mix on low until well combined and fluffy.

Press the dough into prepared pan, poke 15-20 holes in the dough here and there (to prevent bubbling) and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges are golden.

Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before starting the butterscotch.

Combine the sugars, vinegar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir while the sugars dissolve, then insert a candy thermometer. Cook the candy without stirring until it reaches 230° F on the thermometer.

Once the candy reaches 230° F, add the butter and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until it reaches 240° F. (Be careful, once the temperature starts to come back up, it rises VERY quickly, and it will continue to rise once you’ve taken it off the heat.)

Remove the pan from the heat immediately and add the vanilla, stirring until it is well-incorporated – be careful of splatters. Pour the candy over the shortbread and sprinkle generously with sea salt.  Cool on a wire rack and allow to set at least 4 hours (preferably overnight) at room temperature.

Use a large sharp knife to cut into one-inch, one-bite squares.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)


  • Hot sugar syrup is dangerous.  Always have a large bowl of ice water nearby in case of accidents.
  • Do you HAVE to use unsalted butter?  No.  But professional bakers/candy makers & cooks use it because salted butter can contain up to 3% salt. Professionals prefer to control the amount of salt by adding it themselves.
  • You can certainly try this without a candy thermometer — use my photos and this candy temperature guide to help.
  • Turn these into Millionaire Butterscotch Shortbread by drizzling the tops with melted chocolate.
  • Both components can also be made separately.  Prepare the pan the same way for either.  If you prefer to roll the shortbread dough out and cut cookies, wrap it well and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes, up to 1 day.

cuttting salted butterscotch shortbread



  1. Mary
    December 18, 2012 at 4:46 am

    This looks wonderful, being both my favourites combined. One question though, in the directions for the butterscotch you mention adding the vinegar but it isn’t listed in the ingredients. How much is needed.
    Thanks, love your recipes.

    • Theresa
      December 18, 2012 at 5:05 am

      thanks, Mary! it`s a 1 tsp of vinegar…adding now!

  2. Karin Thomas
    December 18, 2012 at 5:49 am

    O holy mother of YUM!!!

  3. Aaron Brown
    December 18, 2012 at 6:48 am


    • Theresa
      December 18, 2012 at 11:48 pm

      thanks, Aaron!

  4. Cornelia
    December 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Absolutely love your web site. Am a “new arrival” to all things Outlander. Am deep into book three and the dust bunnies will just have to wait today. Thank you so much for the Outlander Kitchen. I’m addicted….

    • Theresa
      December 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm

      Cornelia — we love newbies around here! Welcome! Just watch out for spoilers, aye? Wouldn’t want to spill the beans to ye too soon…:)

  5. Iseabail Wright
    December 18, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Theresa these look great! I have yet to get any of my cookies made! My mom would love these, she’s 87 and never met a cookie she didn’t like!

    • Theresa
      December 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm

      Thank Iseabail, Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  6. Anne
    December 21, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Musha! I just made these to bring to a Christmas party. They are amazing (and may not make it to the party–they may disappear before then.) Thank you so much for your wonderful recipes.

  7. Nicole Guido Mahoney
    December 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Made a batch today and it is cooling now…. I can’t wait to try it!

  8. Christine Rogers
    July 25, 2014 at 12:35 am

    I always make my “caramels” (maybe it’s really butterscotch??) with 100% brown sugar, I never put any white sugar at all. I also make a lot of cookies etc with no white sugar. I just love the flavor of brown sugar and how it’s more than just “sweet”. Anyway, this looks amazing. Going to try it with GF flour b/c wheat is not my friend.

    • Joanne Ward
      September 30, 2014 at 11:51 am

      Christine, Please post how they turned out? My daughter is gluten free and I’d love to make these that way. Thanks! Joanne

  9. Whitney Dineen
    October 1, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Dear God, thank you for this!!

  10. Julia
    October 5, 2014 at 11:43 am

    I can’t wait to make this! But question, the vanilla says 1t. Is that a teaspoon or tablespoon?

    • Theresa
      October 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm


    • Julia
      October 5, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      Awesome! Thanks! I just didn’t want to add to much or to little ^_^

  11. Renée
    October 5, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Julia– usually when using a single letter for a measurement such as t or T, t=tsp/teaspoon and T=Tbsp/Tablespoon.

  12. tabitha
    November 2, 2014 at 7:01 am

    I usually replace corn syrup with maple syrup…I’ll let you know how the “canadian” version turns out

    • Theresa
      November 2, 2014 at 10:32 am

      Please do Tabitha! Candy making can be tricky, especially with substitutions, so I’m very interested to hear how it goes. Good luck!

  13. Kristin Peturson-Laprise
    November 5, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    I can’t wait to try this recipe! We tried Millionaire’s Shortbread while in Scotland last year (our trip did include a guided tour in the Highlands with a wonderful fellow who does Outlander tours and has toured Diana Gabaldon!)

  14. Ayla
    December 13, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    If I want to double the recipe – anything to consider in regards to either butterscotch or the shortbread? Does the candy cook any differently if it’s twice as much?

    • Theresa
      December 14, 2014 at 7:20 am

      To be honest, I’m not really sure…but if it were me, I would simply try doubling it. Just make sure you butterscotche pan is big enough to avoid spillovers!

  15. Kim Saltmarsh
    December 21, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I’m not much of a baker, but after I type this post, I’m making your shortbread. So excited! Thank you.

  16. Nadene
    December 29, 2014 at 8:22 am

    These are wonderful!! Thank you for the excellent directions as well!

  17. Cindae O'Brien
    January 2, 2015 at 4:07 am

    My sister and I made these for Christmas and they were so wonderful that we hid the tin from the rest of the family.

  18. Janet Jenkins
    April 23, 2015 at 4:58 am

    Hello! I made the Salted Butterscotch Shortbread and your directions were wonderful.

    I was curious if you had ever frozen these treats? They are delicious but I would like to save some for a future date.

    • Theresa
      April 23, 2015 at 6:55 am

      freezing should work, Janet, but I`ve never tried myself. Let me know if you do, and how it goes!

  19. Eryn
    October 12, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Hi there, I made these yesterday, and they taste terrific. The only trouble I had was that the shortbread kind of fell apart when I cut them into the small pieces. Any ideas? Not a sharp enough knife? Cooked the shortbread too long? Couldn’t wait more than 4 hours to dive in? 🙂

  20. Jody Allen
    December 12, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    For the Shortbread can I use caster sugar or superfine sugar rather than powdered sugar?

    • Theresa
      December 13, 2015 at 7:28 am

      No…powdered sugar contains cornstarch, which is integral to this recipe.

  21. Virginia Nino
    December 21, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    This looks wonderful. Can I use a double boiler?

    • Theresa
      December 22, 2015 at 6:03 am

      Virginia, a double boiler won’t work. The butterscotch has to get very hot, and that just won’t happen if you separate it from a direct heat source. Theresa

Comments are closed.