Know Your Sweets: Hard Sauce
The name of hard sauce (aliases: brandy butter, rum butter, Senior Wrangler sauce) is a bit misleading, as the dish has more in common with a melt-in-your-mouth butter mint than a drizzly glaze. This highly moldable, rich, firm mixture of confectioners' sugar, butter, and spirits is the traditional addition to any number of holiday sweets. When paired with a steaming hot pudding or piece of pie, it slowly melts into a deliciously sweet coating.
Desserts Served with Hard Sauce
Suet Pudding, Christmas Pudding, Plum Pudding, Fruit Cake, Mincemeat Pie
Key Ingredient Spotlight: Butter
If you've yet to encounter hard sauce in the wild, imagine a saccharine butter...that's a little boozy. (In the rural South until the 1970s, a similar combination of sugar and butter—minus the liquor—was given to children in a piece of thin linen as a make-shift pacifier called a "sugar teat".) The percentage of milk fat in the butter used for making hard sauce is incredibly important, with anything below 20% not officially sanctioned as a hard sauce by the European Commission.
Key Region: Lake District, England
While this scenic area of England is more widely known for its literary ties than its sweet tooth, this holiday sidekick has been considered a specialty of Cumberland, England in the Lake District since at least early in the eighteenth century. The majority of the hard sauce created in the Lake District uses rum as the spirit of choice instead of brandy.
Hard sauce can be made with rum, brandy, scotch, bourbon, Irish whisky—or if you're feeling adventurous—a little bit of lemon or orange liqueur. Many hard sauces also include a good bit of nutmeg, which compliments the liquor nicely and attempts to, at least slightly, balance out the dish. During the holidays, many hostesses get creative with their hard sauce molding (think: Christmas tree, Frosty the Snowman) or garnish the sauce with a piece of festive holly.
While this sugary treat has been around since long before Charles Dickens, its place at a large, festive Christmas dinner can only be traced back to the era just prior to A Christmas Carol. With little exception, the dish has been an accompaniment to puddings and other holiday sweets since King George I (alias: The Pudding King) demanded that plum pudding be a part of all royal Christmas dinners from the time he took the throne in 1714. Prior to this, the difficulty of obtaining sugar and its prohibitive price made hard sauce a dish practically impossible to construct, with pies and puddings largely used as a preservation method for savory ingredients such as wild game.
Queen Victoria, currently the longest serving female monarch in history, was well-known for her love of hard sauce, and refused to eat pudding—at any time of the year—without this sweet accompaniment.
Do you have a favorite recipe or use for hard sauce? Tell us about it in the comments section below!