With its incredibly rich, nuanced, bittersweet flavor, from-scratch butterscotch pudding is worlds away from the dull, sweet kind you get from an instant mix. But making butterscotch pudding can be temperamental: A custard is combined with homemade caramel, and the usual approach of boiling it from start to finish is tricky in a blink-and-you've-burned-it way. Our method is forgiving: Boil the caramel to jump-start it, then reduce the heat and gently simmer it until it reaches the right temperature. Most recipes have you temper the yolks and cornstarch, add everything to the dairy in the pot, and stir away. We swapped this fussy method in favor of pouring the boiling caramel directly over the thickening agents. When taking the temperature of the caramel in step 1, tilt the saucepan and move the thermometer back and forth to equalize hot and cool spots.

Serves 8 | large saucepan

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

  • ½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar

  • ½ cup packed (3½ ounces) dark brown sugar

  • ¼ cup water

  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  • ¾ teaspoon table salt

  • 1 cup heavy cream, divided

  • 2¼ cups whole milk, divided

  • 4 large egg yolks

  • ¼ cup cornstarch

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon dark rum

1. Bring butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, water, corn syrup, lemon juice, and salt to boil in large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar and melt butter. Once mixture is at full rolling boil, cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes (caramel should register about 240 degrees). Immediately reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer (caramel should maintain steady stream of lazy bubbles—if not, adjust heat accordingly), stirring frequently, until mixture is color of dark peanut butter, 12 to 16 minutes (caramel should register about 300 degrees and have slight burnt smell).

2. Remove saucepan from heat; carefully pour ¼ cup cream into caramel mixture and swirl to incorporate (mixture will bubble and steam); let bubbling subside. Whisk vigorously and scrape corners of saucepan until mixture is completely smooth, at least 30 seconds. Return saucepan to medium heat and gradually whisk in remaining ¾ cup cream until smooth. Whisk in 2 cups milk until mixture is smooth, scraping corners and edges of saucepan to remove any remaining bits of caramel.

3. Microwave remaining ¼ cup milk until simmering, 30 to 45 seconds. Whisk egg yolks and cornstarch in large bowl until smooth. Gradually whisk in hot milk until smooth; set aside.

4. Return saucepan to medium-high heat and bring mixture to full rolling boil, whisking frequently. Once mixture is boiling rapidly and beginning to climb toward top of saucepan, working quickly, immediately pour into bowl with yolk mixture in 1 motion (do not add gradually). Whisk thoroughly for 10 to 15 seconds (mixture will thicken after a few seconds). Whisk in vanilla and rum.

5. Press lightly greased parchment paper against surface of pudding. Cover and refrigerate until fully set, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days. Whisk pudding until smooth just before serving. 

Reprinted with permission from America’s Test Kitchen as originally published here