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Butterscotch Cream Pie with Gingersnap Crust and Cashew Brittle (via Karen DeMasco) | Pie Month

This is the 5th entry in our Month of Pie. Pie Month is a celebration of things we love. Because life is hard, and there should always be more pie. Have a look at the other entries. Really. 
I have always hated butterscotch pie.

The hatred began at an early age, going to school fundraisers that involved deep frying some sort of meat...breaded cod or breaded pork tenderloin smashed to paper-thin thickness which is pure brilliance. Throw that crispy pork on a bun, add some mustard and extra pickle, and I was very happy.

But in my mind I still see the dessert tables lined against one wall in the school cafeteria, littered with small white styrofoam plates, all topped with butterscotch pudding pies. The chocolate, apple, and cherry pies were long gone, taken by other fundraiser attendees whose parents let them get their dessert before eating their fried meat.

All that were left were the slices of butterscotch pudding pie. Every single time.

For me, butterscotch pudding pies are Pies of Sad, filled with sickly brown tears of disappointment and missed opportunity. 

The flavors from the instant pudding and/or butterscotch chips don’t ring true to me. It’s like they’re trying too hard, amping up their flavors to an aggressive level, trying desperately to convince you that what you’re eating tastes better than it actually does. Throw in some frozen whipped topping with the pudding, a the desperateness ratchets up even higher.

I’m not against using shortcuts in the kitchen. It just needs to taste great. And butterscotch pie always missed the mark by a mile for me.

Until today.

Leave it to Karen DeMasco at Craft in NYC and author of The Craft of Baking
. Chef DeMasco never disappoints, and when we read her recipe for Butterscotch Cream Pie with Gingersnap Crust, we figured that if anyone could convert me to butterscotch, she was the one.

Here’s the thing about’s not aggressive. It’s sublime. DeMasco’s pie is full of caramel-y depth, smoothed out by dairy and infused vanilla bean. The candy crunch of the brown sugar gingersnap crust plays perfectly with the smoothness sitting on top. Add in some unsweetened whipped cream for garnish, and you’ve got something wonderful. But DeMasco wants this pie to be extraordinary and suggests the addition of Honeycomb Brittle (just an extra puffy brittle that looks like honeycomb inside). But we went with another of her recipes for garnish. And for us, the cashew brittle was what took this pie over the edge into pure awesome. Sweet, salty, with the toothsomeness that makes you want to eat a bucket of the brittle. Fortunately, we were left with extra brittle to keep us happy for a while.

Make this pie, especially if you never especially liked butterscotch pudding pie. It’s time to discover what this pie was supposed to taste like.

recipe | Butterscotch Cream Pie with Gingersnap Crust and Cashew Brittle (via Karen DeMasco's The Craft of Baking)

Gingersnap Crust 
note - Chef DeMasco makes her own gingersnap cookies. We did not. It was still good.

  • 1 ¾ cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (blitz the purchased cookies in a food processor until you get small crumbs)
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Turn your oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Mix together the cookie crumbs, sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl. Add the melted butter and stir until evenly coated. If the mixture isn’t sticking together when you press it against the side of the bowl, stir in one tablespoon of water. It’ll stick then.

Dump the mixture into your 9-inch pie plate and press the crust into place. Cover the sides and the bottom. Place the pie plate into the freezer for 10 minutes. Take it out of the freezer and bake for 10 minutes. Take the crust out of the oven and let cool completely.

Butterscotch Cream Filling

  • ¾ cup sugar (divided)
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ½ vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out (but you want to use both the bean and the seeds)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream (to whisk and use as garnish)

Grab a bowl. Doesn't need to be big. Add in ¼ cup of the sugar, the egg yolks, and the cornstarch. Whisk until the mixture lightens and looks like our kitchen wall color. Which is to say a light butter yellow.

In a medium saucepan, add in ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup water, and all of the vanilla bean and seeds. Stir it up to get the water to moisten all of the sugar. Don’t be disturbed by the hunks of vanilla bean. We’ll strain them out later. Turn the heat on high. Be scared a little. Set the timer to 8 minutes and don’t touch it. Maybe a slight move of the pan if you see part of the mixture getting darker faster than the rest. But no stirring. When the caramel becomes a golden color (not brown), turn off the heat. This was exactly at the 8 minute mark for us. Slowly whisk in the cream. Be careful, the sucker’s gonna foam up. Then stir in the milk. Breathe.

Turn the heat back on under the caramel. Bring it to a boil and then turn it off.

Grab that bowl with the egg mixture you whisked earlier. Get it close to the stove.

In a slow, steady stream, whisk ⅓ of the caramel into the eggy bowl. Slowly. Thin stream. Otherwise you’ll get scambled eggs. Once you’ve added enough of the caramel, put the caramel back on the stove. Then add the egg+caramel mixture into the caramel saucepan. 

Turn the heat to medium-low under the caramel saucepan. Whisk. Don’t stop whisking. Bring it to a boil and keep whisking for 8 minutes. Again with the 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the burner and whisk in the butter and salt. Nice work. Really.

Get a smallish bowl and place a fine-mesh sieve over it. Pour the caramel custard through the sieve. See, there’s that vanilla bean. Take the newly strained caramel custard and pour it into the gingersnap pie crust. Let it cool completely while you make the cashew brittle.

Cashew Brittle

  • A silicone baking pad or nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cups salted roasted cashews

If you have a silicone baking pad, use it on a baking sheet. If not, spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Keep it handy.

In a large saucepan (seriously, large, not medium), add in the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water. Stir it gently so the sugar is wet. Don’t get all sloppy while stirring. Gentle. Get a long wooden spoon ready for later.

Turn on the burner to high under the saucepan. If you believe in a higher power, ask for assistance. Cook for about 10 minutes without stirring. You want a dark caramel color. We went dark with ours and loved it. Turn off the heat.

Now, let’s be careful. Add in the baking soda and whisk. Add in the salt and keep whisking. The mixture is going to rise. Whisk. Quickly add in the cashews and stir with the wooden spoon.

Pour the mixture out on to your baking sheet. Let cool completey. We put ours out in the snow. Once cool, break it up into small pieces. Use a kitchen mallet. Or the butt of the handle of your chef’s knife.

To assemble the pie
Whip the heavy cream until you get soft peaks. Top the pie. Sprinkle on smallish bits of the cashew brittle. You might want to add a piece or two of larger brittle chunks to each person’s plate when you serve. 

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Reader Comments (32)

I am loving this flavor profile. The nut brittle just makes it that much more attractive. Well Done!

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKen│hungryrabbit

I've never had butterscotch pie, but I love the pudding so I think this must be awesome.

I've never had butterscotch pie either, but I love butterscotch sauce. I love the addition of cashew brittle, it looks delightful!

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSheena

Hahaha..."Pies of Sad."

January is slowly becoming my favorite month.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAli

I've never had butterscotch pie, but I love butterscotch flavor. I agree with Ken - the flavor profile is very intriguing!

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermerry jennifer

This pie might replace jewelry, as the gift I most want for my birthday.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsWheelbarrow

I'm joining the ranks of butterscotch pie virgin. I could drink the homemade sauce, though, so I'm guessing I wouldn't turn down the pie.
Nice job. Really.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAimee @ Simple Bites

Butterscotch pie? I've never had it either but can't wait to try it. I smother my ice cream in butterscotch topping. I'm sure a butterscotch pie is incredible.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaPhemmePhoodie

You are one heck of a fantastic pie maker and food writer. My heart went out to you as I read the sad account of the fund-raising days of your youth and acquired aversion to butterscotch pie. Then put me on the edge of my seat reading your paragraph on your new, updated, VANILLA BEANED carmely, brittled and cashewed, butterscotch pie. Sexy from *Here's the thing about butterscotch*

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

We are getting quite a picture of Chris's childhood - farm life, animals, and butterscotch pie. What pocket of the world is butterscotch so popular in? While I've never had it in pie form, I too was scarred by childhood butterscotch memories. My mother used to make pudding a lot when I was a kid and my dad was the only one who really liked butterscotch. My sister & I just wanted chocolate. But Dad usually won out. I believe as a small child I was pretty sure that butterscotch was just a cruel joke adults played on children.

But this!! This could also cure me. Nice photo too!!

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbreadandputter

I love everything about this pie!

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

This looks divine. Love the cashew brittle on top and the gingersnap crust.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShaina

This looks divine and I love your photo too.

This looks great! I've actually never had a butterscotch pie! I love the gingersnap crust (I've made two desserts this season w/ ginger snap crusts... If you have a Trader Joe's, I would totally use their triple ginger snaps!) Thanks for sharing!

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

Gorgeous pie! I think that cloying/arificial flavor of the boxed butterscotch pudding is what has prevented me from ever making anything labeled "butterscotch." Your photos have persuaded me to give butterscotch a chance :) Thank you!!!

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLizzy

I have never had a butterscotch pudding pie but my family loves butterscotch pudding. Your pie looks incredible!

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPretend Chef

They keep getting better and better!

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA Thought For Food

LOVE Karen DeMasco and that book! I need to try this pie now!

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen H

I think this is thus far my favorite pie! So looking forward to see all the next coming up!

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersara @ CaffeIna

OMG this looks amazing! I am bookmarking this one for sure!

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison @ Ingredients, Inc.

The pie looks amazing. I so want a piece right now.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpenny aka jeroxie

how did I not even realize you were doing a month of pie? This one looks wonderful - going back to look at them all!

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermegan @ whatmegansmaking

Butterscotch! A fave! And this looks like the perfect breakfast food.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy | She Wears Many Hats

I have never had butterscotch pie. When you talked about the flavor of the pie from your childhood, my mouth pursed up involuntarily - the taste memory came back. I love how you used a recipe with ingredients that were able to capture the flavors you were looking for - that makes it so special!

I think I say this every time I see one of your pie recipes... But, this is my favorite one yet! I especially love the cashew brittle.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen @ My Kitchen Addiction

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