Brown Butter How-to
Brown butter does not come from brown cows. Brown butter is nothing more than plain old butter…on steroids. I don’t mean artificial growth hormones or anything like that! All you need is a stick of butter, a heat-safe rubber spatula, a frying pan, and about 20 minutes.
Few things on this earth smell as good as brown butter. Like a good red wine, brown butter has a complex flavor and aroma profile, and if I were to attempt to describe it in 1000 words or less, I could not possibly do this fragrant miracle justice. Though it won’t get you buzzed, brown butter will take your staple cookie, cake, and bar recipes to levels of deliciousness heretofore thought unachievable by human hands. But, my friends, they truly are achievable.
Start with a humble stick of butter — I like unsalted — and a small frying pan. If you have a metal or light-colored enamel saucepan, either would be ideal so that you can better monitor the browning process. There exists a fine line between perfectly browned butter and revoltingly burned butter. You’ll be able to smell instantly if you have crossed that line, and sadly, there’s no going back — once it’s burned, it’s rubbish.
Begin heating butter over medium heat. It will follow the normal progression of melting butter, and you can be puttering around the kitchen, for the first minute or two, until the stick melts completely. The melted butter will start to make cheery crackling and popping sounds. You still don’t have to do anything yet, but you can gently swirl the pan occasionally if you have a pathological need to feel useful.
Once the butter becomes silent, IT’S GO TIME! Have your heat-safe rubber spatula ready, and occasionally scrape the bottom of the pan, as it continues to cook. This scraping has two purposes: 1) to allow different portions of the melted butter to be directly in contact with the bottom of the pan, and 2) to see when brown bits start to form. These brown bits are actually cooked milk fat solids that separate from the rest of the butter as it continues to cook. When they sit on the hot bottom of the pan, the milk solids get brown and give off a wonderfully inviting, warm, nutty aroma. Why Yankee Candle has yet to make a Brown Butter Bliss scent is beyond me!
As you begin to smell the brown butter, start to scrape the bottom of the pan more frequently, but keep heating over medium heat. From the time you start to smell the brown butter, you have about 30-45 seconds left to go. You will know you are done when most of the foam has disappeared, and the bottom of the pan has lots of golden flecks. If you’re using a light-colored pan, you’ll be able to see that the melted butter has turned a uniform amber color. Once you get there, remove the pan from heat, swirl it twice, and stick it in the fridge for 10 minutes. Finally, transfer the butter into a mixing bowl, using your rubber spatula to scrape EVERY LAST BROWN BIT out of the pan, for whatever purpose you desire. Whew! You made it! This process can be a bit nerve-racking at first — kind of like giving local anesthesia to a real person for the first time, and the second time, and the third… — but you will get a better feel for how quickly the butter moves through it’s evolution from solid yellow to liquid brown, based on your stove and pan type.
Brown butter, once cooled to room temp, can be used just like regular butter (same ratio) in your favorite recipes. You might notice slight textural changes, but feel free to experiment with reckless abandon. I am known for substituting brown butter into almost everything I make, from chocolate chip cookies to baklava to cornbread. It’s flavor can be used to complement both sweet and savory recipes, and I promise you, it will change your life! It will become, dare I say, the bread and butter of your cooking and baking arsenal. SO, now, answer me this: what can brown do for you?