Carla Hall’s Butterscotch Mousse with Almond Tuiles and Sweet and Spicy Walnuts

Butterscotch Mousse with Vanilla Salt

Serves 12

Granny was the ultimate Southern hostess. She always kept pretty little tins of candy in her sitting room. I loved the long candy sticks, but hated the butterscotch rounds. You remember? The ones in yellow wrappers? Mama, however, couldn’t get enough of those. She’d pop them in her mouth and I could smell the butterscotch from across the room. I had no idea what butterscotch was. I just knew I hated it.

Fast forward a few decades and I’m a professional chef who still hasn’t tasted butterscotch. I just had a mental block against it. One night, I went out to dinner with a group of other chefs and somebody ordered the butterscotch pudding. Everyone at the table started raving, “Oh. My. God. This is so delicious!” I took a tiny spoonful and realized they were right. It was so, so good. That was when I discovered that butterscotch is essentially caramel and butter— a combo I adore. I had to learn how to make it. I tinkered until I came up with a silky light mousse, which I paired with crunchy nuts. When I served the mousse in tuile cups at a catering event, everyone went crazy for them! This dessert is such a well-balanced blend of sweet and salty, crisp and creamy. And every component can be made ahead of time. All you have to do is put the pieces together when it’s time to serve.

Vanilla Salt

1/4 dried vanilla bean

1/4 cup kosher salt

Butterscotch Mousse

2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

2 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 vanilla bean, pod split and seeds scraped

2 teaspoons dark rum

1 cup heavy cream

12 Almond Tuiles, shaped into cups if you like or left flat

1/2 cup Candied Almonds, coarsely chopped

  1. To make the vanilla salt: Coarsely chop or break the vanilla bean into two pieces. Combine 1 piece and 2 tablespoons of the salt in a spice grinder. Pulse until the vanilla is very finely chopped and blended with the salt. Transfer to a small bowl. Repeat with the remaining vanilla and salt. This makes more than you’ll need just for this dessert. Store any remaining in an airtight container for up to 1 week and use any way you’d like. It’s good on any caramel or chocolate desserts and on savory dishes such as roast pork.
  1. To make the mousse: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and 1/2 cup of the half-and-half until smooth. Press through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan to break up any remaining lumps of sugar. Whisk in the egg yolks and remaining 1 cup half-and-half.
  1. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with a rubber spatula, until thick and bubbling, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, vanilla seeds, and rum until well combined. Transfer the pudding to a medium bowl and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly against the surface. Refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
  1. Whisk the cream until soft peaks form. Whisk a quarter of the whipped cream into the pudding to loosen it. With a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining whipped cream until completely incorporated. Pipe or spoon the mousse into the tuile cups, if you made them, or glass cups if you didn’t. Top with the candied almonds and sprinkle with a little vanilla salt. Garnish with a tuile if not using tuile cups.

Catering Like Carla: The mousse can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

When I was catering, I usually made these as tuile cups filled with the mousse. Occasionally, my tuile cups would be especially lacy. To ensure that the mousse didn’t spill out through the cups, I’d brush a very thin layer of melted dark chocolate over the bottom and sides of the cups. When the chocolate hardens, it creates a seal. Be sure to brush very lightly. You don’t really want to taste the chocolate at all; it’s just there to reinforce the cup.

Almond Tuiles

Makes about 3 dozen

I first leaned how to make these in culinary school and was so excited by my ability to turn out such delicious, delicate cookies. And then I got over it. I’ll be honest, making these lacy tuiles is a bit of a pain. The dough is easy enough, but then you need to spread the balls flat before baking to get a thin, elegant round. I’ll never forget the time I was cooking at the Henley Park Hotel and we had to make a ton of tuiles. We put our extern in charge of them because the lowest person on the totem pole always got the tuiles. She stayed late to finish them and did a fantastic job. She put the tray of them on top of the ice cream machine and was relieved to be done with them. Later that day, when we were spinning the ice cream, the tray went sliding to the floor and the tuiles crashed and shattered like glass. It was one of those sad slow-motion moments when you watched the shards of cookie spray up in the air. We’ve all had those moments, right?

Have I convinced you to not try these by now? Well, you still should. You don’t need to make nearly as many as our poor extern did. Plus, the dough keeps forever. You can make only as many as you need or want to eat at any given time. When you’re doing a dozen or so, it’s actually a lot of fun. Crackly caramelized almond thins are absolutely worth the effort.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 cups almonds, finely ground (see Note)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, and corn syrup. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and the mixture is well blended.
  1. Stir in the almonds, flour, salt, and vanilla until well combined. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. The batter can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350[DG]F. Line two half sheet pans with Silpats or other nonstick silicone baking mats.
  1. Form the tuile batter into 1-inch balls and place on a pan 3 inches apart. (You’ll be able to fit five balls on a pan: one near each corner and one in the center.) Using a small offset spatula or wet fingertips, flatten the balls into thin 3-inch-diameter disks. Bake until golden brown, about 8 minutes. While one pan bakes, prepare the batter for the next pan. Once the second pan goes in the oven, shape the first pan’s tuiles as instructed below. Keep going from one pan to the other, forming the batter, baking, and shaping. The baking time may shorten as the pans get hot.
  1. To make tuile cups, use an offset spatula to immediately transfer the hot tuile to an inverted shot glass. Gently press the sides of the tuile against the glass to form a cup. Repeat with the remaining tuiles. If the tuiles harden before you have a chance to shape them, return to the oven for a few seconds to make them pliable again. You can also leave the rounds flat or drape them over a thin rolling pin to make cradles. Cooled tuiles will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Note: To grind almonds fine, pulse them in a food processor. Stop before they turn pasty and start to clump; they should just be very, very finely chopped. Freezing them first helps prevent clumping.

Catering Like Carla: You can make these with any type of unsalted nut: pistachios, pecans, peanuts. Just be sure to grind the nuts very fine. Large pieces will cause the tuile batter to tear.

Sweet and Spicy Walnuts

Makes 4 cups

If you don’t consider yourself a cook, you’ve got to start here. Seasoned nuts are the very first thing I tried that made me so proud as a young cook. Before I started to learn how to really cook, I considered sugary spiced nuts a delicious how-in-the-world-do-you-make-that sorta thing. That was my mindset when I tasted the amazing nuts at an event celebrating the renowned cooking teacher and chef Anne Willan. That version was based on a recipe in one of her cookbooks. Those nuts were so good I went home, got the book, and made the recipe. It was such a great feeling! I did it on my own and it was amazing! While I passed a bowl of ’em to my friends, I was like, “Ooh! Aah! Look at these nuts!” I blew myself away with the savory, sweet, spicy balance in the mix and how crisp they were. Not sticky or chewy at all. Nowadays, I whip ’em out as an easy app. (And they are, even if you’ve never tried them before.)

Over the years, I’ve played with the sugar–spice mix to suit my tastes. The three options below are among my favorites, but you can tinker with other spices, too. Just be sure to keep the proportions of nuts to egg whites to sugar the same for each recipe style below (sweet and spicy, savory, candied) if you want to get the right texture.

This all-purpose appetizer can also be made with almonds, pecans, cashews, or a combination of nuts. Serve them as munchies on their own or scatter them on salads or simply cooked veggies.

1 large egg white

4 cups walnut halves

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 300[DG]F. Line a half sheet pan with a Silpat or other nonstick silicone baking mat, or parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the egg white until soft peaks form. Add the walnuts and toss gently until well coated. In a medium bowl, combine the sugars, ginger, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle over the walnuts and gently fold until the nuts are evenly coated. Spread in a single layer on the pan. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown, about 45 minutes.
  3. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. Separate the nuts with a fork and let cool completely in the pan. The cooled nuts will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week, but are best when fresh.

Note: For candied almonds, preheat the oven to 250[DG]F. Substitute whole almonds for the walnuts. Beat 1 teaspoon water into the egg white. Omit the brown sugar, ginger, and pepper, then proceed as above.

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at

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