Hot Butterscotch Might Be Your Next Favorite Winter Drink

Michelle Polzine is well-known for her legendary Russian honey cake, and her talent as a pastry chef has been lauded by The James Beard Foundation via her nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2018. James Beard award-winning author and chef Samin Nosrat has praised Polzine's pastries, calling them "extraordinary."

While Polzine's San Francisco-based 20th Century Cafe closed its doors for the final time in 2021, Polzine's sweet and savory concoctions are still accessible. In 2020, Polzine's cookbook "Baking at the 20th Century Cafe: Iconic European Desserts from Linzer Torte to Honey Cake" was published, offering home bakers the opportunity to recreate the European-style treats she had served at the Eastern European-inspired cafe.

The award-winning book that's received accolades for its written content and aesthetics features 352 pages of recipes ranging from marmalade and lekvar to cakes, cookies, and knishes (via Eat Your Books). There are sweet and savory strudels, fruity tarts and cobblers, bagels, blinis, and bread. While there are plenty of sweets and snacks, we'd gladly sink our teeth into; there's a unique recipe that has the potential to become a solid swap for hot chocolate for cold-weather sipping: hot butterscotch, a creamy, warm drink that might become as legendary as Polzine's cake.

The inspiration behind Polzine's hot butterscotch

Interestingly, the talented pastry chef says she doesn't really have a sweet tooth and is actually a fan of consuming butterscotch more in theory than in practice (via Epicurious). "Butterscotch always sounded so wonderful to me," Polzine told Epicurious. "But then I always thought butterscotch things were disgusting, like butterscotch chips for baking and butterscotch candy. It was all gross."

However, when her husband unearthed that the word "butterscotch" was possibly initially pronounced "butterscorch," her interest was piqued. Off to scorch the sugar, she went.

Like caramel, butterscotch is made by cooking sugar. However, while caramel is typically made from white sugar, butterscotch relies on brown sugar for its flavor. Polzine decided the sugar she was intent on burning for her butterscotch would be a mix of brown sugar with light muscovado sugar, an unrefined cane sugar with a flavor slightly reminiscent of toffee (via Healthline).

How to make hot butterscotch

Besides the two sugars, the recipe calls for a handful of other ingredients: unsalted butter, whole milk, cream, salt, water, and dark rum. And a decent amount of patience, too.

Polzine's instructions initially call for stirring the sugar and butter mixture as you typically would when making caramel or butterscotch until the butter is melted (via Baking at the 20th Century Cafe). However, in addition to the sugar darkening in color, she advises that for this recipe, the sugar should smoke slightly, creating the challenge of getting the sugar to just the right temperature and smoke point.

While the faint of heart in the kitchen might be intimidated by this part of the process, remaining brave has its rewards. When you sense a sweet aroma, it's time to finish making the butterscotch beverage by whisking in the remainder of the ingredients.

The recipe, which serves 8-10, only calls for two tablespoons of rum but adding more sounds like a solid way to start a wintertime soiree. Or, you can store it and serve it cold if the weather is warm when you crave a creamy butterscotch beverage.