Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Is it Caramel, Toffee or Butterscotch?

Toffee has been on my mind recently for a couple of reasons. First, I am getting ready for our local Honey Festival. One of the goodies I make for this festival is Orange Blossom Honey & Walnut Toffee. The other reason is that I am also prepping for a class I will be teaching on British Fare. One of the British desserts I might be making is Banoffee Pie. It gets its name be combining the two major ingredients – bananas and toffee. I have written a prior Cooking Tip on Caramel before but decided to write a Tip on how those two differ from each other and from butterscotch. I will give you the classic differences but please realize that many recipes may depart from these classical definitions and use the names interchangeably.

Caramel is basically cooked sugar. There are two main methods of making caramel – a wet method and a dry method. The difference is whether or not water is used. See the above referenced Tip for more detailed information. Whether you use the dry or wet method, when you are done, you have caramel. However, to turn that into a beautiful caramel sauce, you will want to add cream to the finished caramel.

Toffee is actually a candy made from caramel and butter that is cooked to the hard-crack stage. To make it, you add white sugar, water and butter to a pan and cook until the butter melts and the sugar begins to turn brown. It is done when it reaches the appropriate temperature.

Butterscotch is made with butter and brown sugar that is heated to the soft crack stage. Since brown sugar contains molasses, this gives butterscotch a darker color and a deeper favor. It is also moister and more acidic, the latter which helps to fight crystallization.



  • Caramel is made from white sugar either by itself or with water and then cream.
  • Toffee is made from white sugar and butter.
  • Butterscotch is made from brown sugar and butter


  • Caramel usually contains cream rather than butter. Cream contains lactose. As lactose cooks, it undergoes a process known as the Maillard reaction. This gives it a brown color but also a deep, nutty flavor.
  • Toffee will have a darker flavor since it is cooked much longer.
  • Butterscotch will have the flavor that is imparted from the molasses in the brown sugar.


  • Caramel is cooked to whatever darkness you like.
  • Toffee is cooked to the hard-crack stage.
  • Butterscotch is cooked to the soft crack stage.

Have you every tried making these delightful confections? Caramel is probably the trickiest due the crystallization risk as explained in my prior Tip. The other concern with all of these is for those of us who live at altitude. You will notice that when I mentioned cooking them, I talked of hard and soft crack stage. Although these correlate with certain temperatures, those are meant for people who live closer to sea level. See my Tip on Candy Making for altitude adjustments.