How to: Brown Butter

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Moving back home after leaving school has been…challenging. Don’t get me wrong: I love my family, and I am so grateful that they are supporting me while I figure my life out. Sometimes, though, I sort of miss being on my own.

I only lived away from home for all of two years. But in those two years, I felt like I was becoming independent and learning how to do things like an adult. I did all my own grocery shopping, paid my own bills and my rent, and was only responsible for myself. It may not be a huge deal to most people to have to do those things, but I don’t think I was mentally prepared for all of it. I’m glad I experienced it, but what I really miss is the freedom I had in every aspect of my life.

I credit a lot of my baking and creativity to those two years. Being responsible for all my own meals, I started looking online for ideas and became more obsessed than ever with trying new foods and broadening my cooking/baking horizons.

I was 18 when I first heard of brown butter. Which, I now realize, was 18 years too late.

In French brown butter is known as beurre noisette, which literally means hazelnut butter. I believe this is because that is what it smells the most like, but if you make it you’ll notice that the nutty smell a bit different, but oh-so-much better.

The Science

The first step in browning butter is to begin to clarify it. Clarifying butter is essentially melting it down to reduce the amount of water through evaporation, which yields a higher fat butter. Some of the proteins will float to the top, and if you wanted to stop at clarified butter you would scrape those off and use the higher-fat melted butter underneath, also known as ghee. Because we’re browning butter, however, scraping off the proteins is not necessary.

When you brown butter, you keep cooking it until some of the milk solids – the proteins in the butter – brown a little bit*. This caramelization is what makes it so freakin’ delicious. It’s important to remove the butter from the heat before it burns too much, or else it will burn and taste…well, burnt. The whole process takes about 5-10 minutes.

Uses

I use brown butter on everything from toast with Nutella to pasta to veggies to cookie doughs and frostings. The sky is the limit. If you put butter on something, you can most likely replace it for brown butter. (I’m currently working on a Brown Butter Croissant recipe…muahahaha).

Here are some of my favorite recipes to make with brown butter, whether or not it’s called for:

Apple Pie filling

Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins

Blondies

Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties

Brown Butter Parmesan Chicken Linguine

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ice Cream

Mac and Cheese

Rice Krispies Treats

and oh so many more. Explore, experiment, and use it in crazy ways! When I first started experimenting with it, I was lucky to be living with 14 other poor college students who loved to eat. But be warned: this stuff is addictive and dangerous if you are only one person.

In most baked goods, the brown butter flavor won’t be blatantly obvious, but it will definitely lend a certain melt-in-your-mouth quality that normal butter can’t. Because it’s higher in fat and lower in moisture than normal butter, some adjustments to recipes may be necessary when swapping in brown butter, such as slightly increasing the other liquids in the recipe.

Brown butter can be refrigerated or frozen immediately after it’s made to be used when you need it.

What You’ll Need

A light-bottomed metal pan or pot. This is important because if you use a non-stick, dark bottomed pan you will not be able to see when the solids are browning.

A heat proof spoon, spatula, or whisk. You have to have something to scrape the bottom of the pan as the butter browns, so the solids keep moving and can brown more evenly.

A rubber spatula. Just to make sure you get every last bit of brown butter out of the pan.

Oven mitt. If your pan handles get hot.

Air-tight container. Get it ready to go because once your butter browns you want to get it out of the pan as fast as possible.

Butter! I usually brown half a pound (2 sticks) at a time, but you can brown anywhere from 1 tablespoon to 3 pounds if your pan is big enough.

Directions

Cut butter into big pieces and throw it into a pan over medium heat.

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Keep melting. It will bubble, and you’ll notice it start to get foamy on top. These are some of the milk solids we talked about. They’re your friends; they can stay. If you want you can stir the butter around every now and then to check the bottom, but it won’t be brown just yet.

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Around the 6th or 7th minute, you’ll start to smell a difference – the nutty aroma coming from the butter should start to make you salivate. This is a good sign that your butter is beginning to brown.

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Keep scraping the bottom of the pan, keeping your eyes peeled for specks of brown. At first there will only be a few, then a few more, then a lot. When you see a lot, it’s done!

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Quickly remove the pan from heat and transfer the brown butter, solids and all, to a heat-proof container to stop it from continuing to cook. Use, refrigerate, or freeze, but above all, enjoy!

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After 20 minutes in the freezer:

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Brown Butter Nutella and Banana Toast. BOOM.

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*Actually, there are differing thoughts on the ideal level of browning: I like to see a lot of golden specks before I turn off the heat, but other people see brown specks as overly burnt and strain them out (a shame, really, although the rest will still taste like brown butter), and still others take it really far until it’s a very dark brown. It’s totally up to you – after you make it once, you’ll get a taste for how you like it.

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