Brown butter. A sexy ingredient, if you ask me.
If you’ve been around the block a time or two, you’ve probably already become acquainted with brown butter. You know it by its nutty aroma and speckled amber hue. You’ve already been allured by the rich caramel flavors, seduced by the complexity it adds to sweet and savory dishes alike. But for the average home baker, brown butter is a mystery. What is it? Where can I find it? How do I make it?
If you fall into that second category, allow me to make the introduction. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the magical world of brown butter.
WHAT IS IT?
Brown butter, or beurre noisette, is basically regular old butter that is gently melted and cooked until it browns which results in a change of flavor, aroma, and color. Butter is made up of water, fat, and protein. When it is cooked beyond the point of melting, the water will slowly evaporate leaving the butterfat and milk protein to continue cooking. As the proteins cook, they will begin to brown, which will be evident in the changes that you’ll notice in your pan.
HOW DO YOU MAKE IT?
A fine question, dear friend. I’m glad you asked. To make brown butter, all you need is a quality stick of butter, a metal pan for your stovetop (I use this one), and a whisk or a spatula to gently stir with. I prefer to use a a light bottomed pan and a whisk, so whip those out if you have them. To help explain the browning process, I’ve taken some photos and notes. Let’s get started!
Step One: Melt the butter
Place your butter in a pan over medium-low heat. I like to cube my butter into equal sized chunks, and I prefer a light-colored pan so that I can monitor the browning process easily. Use whatever you feel comfortable with. Allow the butter to melt, stirring occasionally, until the butter is entirely liquid. As the butter continues to heat, it will begin to sizzle and foam, which is a good indication that the water has begun to evaporate.
Step Two: Begin browning the butter
Once the water has completely evaporated, the protein in the butter can begin browning! This is when you need to stay glued to your pan. Once you notice that the butter isn’t sizzling as much, begin whisking it regularly to ensure that the proteins brown evenly. We don’t want to burn the butter on the bottom of the pan while the liquid skimming the top remains unaffected. So keep whisking and watching. You’ll notice little golden flecks beginning to form on the bottom of the pan which is a thumbs up that you’re getting super close.
Step Three: Brown that butter!
The butter will continue to darken and brown as it cooks. Man your post at the stove and keep that whisk moving to ensure that the milk proteins cook evenly and you don’t wind up with burnt bits of butter. You’ll notice the changing aromas as the butter continues to brown. Trust me when I tell you that it tastes as good as it smells. Keep stirring and agitating the butter until you reach your desired degree of darkness. Then, remove the pan from the stovetop and pour the butter, browned bits and all, into a separate bowl. Don’t leave it in the pan or the residual heat will continue to cook and brown your butter, likely resulting in a burnt finish.
The trickiest part of this process is knowing when to pull you pan from the heat. There are a few different degrees of brown butter. Some recipes may call for a lighter, less-browned butter, while others may encourage you to continuing cooking, even to the point of nearly burning it. So to help identify what you’re looking for, I’ve got you covered with a photo lineup of the different varieties of brown butter.
First up is a super-light, golden brown butter. At this phase of the game, you’ll notice deep golden flecks forming at the bottom of the pan, but the overall hue is still pretty light. This degree of brown butter isn’t as rich in flavor, but may be just the ticket for a number of dishes. If a recipe you’re using calls for “lightly browned butter,” this is exactly what you’re looking for.
Next up is the OG of brown butter- the gold standard. When in doubt, go for this degree of brown butter. Here, the color is darker, and the flavor is richer. This butter will give off a strong nutty, almost caramel scent and those same flavors will be present in the taste as well. This is the brown butter we fold into streusel crumbs, toss in our pasta sauces, and whisk into sugar for a delightfully decadent cake glaze.
If you’re willing to take the risk and allow your butter to brown in the pan just until the point of burning, you can score the darkest butter of all. Ultra-dark brown butter adds scads of flavor when chilled and creamed into cookies, cakes, and more. The extra color results in an extra oomph of flavor, so you’ll land terrific tasting treats every time.
HOW CAN I USE IT?
I have a very specific rule of thumb about when it is most appropriate to use brown butter. Are you ready? Ok, here it is:
USE BROWN BUTTER ALL THE TIME BECAUSE IT’S THE BEST.
That’s it! Simple, right? Ok, I’m kind of kidding. When making things like pasta sauces, salad dressings, toppings for breads and sauces for proteins, brown butter is a perfectly acceptable substitution for regular butter and oil. However, when adding brown butter to baked goods like cookies, cakes, and pie crusts, there’s a few things to consider. Remember how we cooked all of the water out of the butter? Well, water is a really important part of baking! We need water to add moisture, to create steam in the oven, and to do a number of other nerdy food science stuff that I won’t bore your with here. So if we substitute brown butter for regular butter, we have to remember that our final outcome will likely be affected by of the lack of H2O. To compensate, sometimes you can add a bit less dry ingredient (like flour) or a wee bit of extra water or fat. But sometimes brown butter just isn’t a good sub and we just have to dry our tears and be okay with that.
So, do you have any recipes using brown butter?
I thought you’d never ask. Of course! I use brown butter in a number of recipes, a couple of which are already on this site! You can check out my raspberry rhubarb crumb cake (with a brown butter crumb), carrot cake with brown butter glaze, or the ever-delightful hummingbird muffins (with a brown butter streusel) for some delicious and sweet recipe inspiration. I’ll also add the links to a few other personal faves below.
Is there anything else I need to know about brown butter?
Yes. There’s tons. But this isn’t that kind of blog. I’m giving you what I think you want to know as well as a few other science geek tidbits that I just couldn’t hold myself back from. If you have more questions about brown butter or using it in your favorite recipes, please share them with me below in the comments section! I would love to help in any way!
This is the first in what I hope will become a fun and helpful series for you all. Baking becomes so much easier and enjoyable when you understand some basics and have a few tips and techniques up your sleeve to help achieve success in the kitchen every time. So stick around for a few more things you need to know. I can’t wait to share more! Have a great weekend and cheers to you!
If you like this tutorial on how to make brown butter, be sure to check out:
How to Brown Butter
This is a quick and simply tutorial on how to brown butter. Making brown butter has never been easier with this photographic how-to!
- Cook Time: 10
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- 1/2 cup (113 gm) unsalted butter, cut into equal-sized chunks.
- Place butter chunks in a light-colored pan over medium-low heat. Allow the butter to melt completely, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking.
- Once the butter has melted, you’ll notice it begin to sizzle and foam. Continue stirring occasionally. Once the crackling has subsided, you’ll notice small golden flecks forming on the bottom of the pan. Begin stirring constantly with a whisk or a spatula to agitate the butter and keep it cooking evenly. Continue cooking until the desired level of brownness is reached. Remove the butter from the pan to a separate bowl to discontinue the cooking process.