There's a quick and easy method to fancy up just about any food, from Brussels sprouts to baked banana donuts. All you have to do is learn how to make browned butter.
By cooking butter until it turns a toasty brown, you'll bring out a unique, nutty flavor that will add a certain je ne sais quoi to just about any food and cooking project, from savory roast recipes to buttercream (really). This simple browned butter recipe comes together in minutes, and requires minimal equipment.
So come on, let's get toasty!
Photos via CakeSpy
Browned butter (or buerre noisette, if you want to be particular, or just sound fancy) is made by simply cooking regular butter until the milk solids turn brown. During the cooking period, much of the water content evaporates. The resulting flavor is more complex than mere melted butter or even clarified butter. Buerre noisette ("burr nwha-zette") is the proper name for the French cooking technique, which translates as "hazelnut butter." Though there are no actual nuts present in browned butter, it certainly does take on a toasty hue as well as a unique, nutty flavor as it cooks.
Prepping the butter
You can use salted or unsalted butter for this recipe, but consider what dish you'll use it in. Since the amount of salt added to butter isn't always the same, it might add too much salty flavor to baked goods, but if you're using the butter to spread on warm homemade bread or in savory dishes, the extra salt may be welcome.
The butter can start out cold or at room temperature, because you're melting it, anyway. But regardless of the type of butter and the temperature, it is a good idea to cut your butter into pieces before applying heat. This will help the butter melt quickly and evenly.
If you're new to browning butter, it may be easier for you to learn if you have a clear or light-colored saucepan. This will make it easier to detect when the butter begins to brown at the bottom of the pan. It isn't necessary, but it can be helpful.
The brown bits
It's true: when you make browned butter, little brown bits will form (this is the milk solids, which will burn more rapidly and settle to the bottom, like sediment). Listen, you can leave them in the browned butter -- some say that the slightly burnt taste adds a certain something to finished dishes or classic sauces -- or strain them out through a mesh strainer. This will also lighten the color of the browned butter.
For this recipe, we tried part of the mixture strained, and part unstrained. Can you see the difference in the photo below?
Storing browned butter
You can make just the amount of browned butter required for a recipe, or you can make extra and store in the refrigerator or freezer. It is good to skim off any foam before chilling.
Storing the butter in wide mouth mason jars makes for a pretty presentation, and could even make the a browned butter a gift-worthy food item for your favorite cook or baker.
Here's a tip for storage: measure out quantities of 4 ounces and store individually. That's the equivalent of a stick of butter, which can make measuring easier later.
How to make browned butter
Once you're ready to make browned butter, here's what you'll need:
- Butter (in whatever quantity you'd like to make; in the photos below, the amount browned was one stick)
- Saucepan or skillet that will allow you ample room for whisking the butter
- Wire whisk
- Heatproof container(s) for storing the finished butter
Place your pan on the burner. Now, add the sliced butter. Once the butter is ready in the pan, adjust the burner to medium heat. Have your whisk at the ready.
Whisk the butter frequently as it melts. You'll see that it will start to leave streaks of white foam as it melts.
Once melted, the foaming will become more assertive, which will make monitoring it tough, but you should be able to clearly see the yellow of the butter in the wake of your whisk.
The foam will subside, and the butter will begin to bubble lightly. Continue stirring. As you watch, the butter will begin to change color: first, it will go from light yellow to bright and lemony.
Next, it will turn golden.
Then it will progress to a toasty light brown.
Smell the butter once it starts to look toasty. Does it smell sort of nutty? The browned butter is done. Remove from heat (don't forget to turn off the burner).
Either place on a cool surface, or immediately transfer to heatproof containers. Basically, you are avoiding the butter possibly burning by continuing to cook in the residual heat.
If desired, strain the butter; skim off any excess foam on top. Your browned butter is complete. It can be used immediately (it will be melted), or you can wait until it becomes firm at room temperature, or if you're not using it right away, store in the refrigerator or freezer.
How to use browned butter
Now that you've browned the butter, what gold-star recipe will you choose to use it in? Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Browned butter served with fish is a traditional French method of cooking.
- Roasted vegetables are much more flavorful when brushed with browned butter before being put in the oven.
- If a soup or classic sauce calls for butter, substituting browned butter can add a depth of flavor to the dish.
- Have you ever had cream cheese icing made with browned butter instead of regular butter? It's very much worth a try -- trust us. In this case, do not use melted browned butter; let it solidify first so that you can cream it.
- How about making your chocolate chip cookies with browned butter? Add sea salt on top and you have a surprisingly sophisticated twist on what many consider a childhood treat. Once again, wait until the butter solidifies before using it in baking recipes that call for sticks of butter.