Brown butter: It’s an ingredient that gets name-dropped often, especially in “elevated” dishes or otherwise fancy dining settings. But aside from sounding luxurious, what does brown butter actually bring to a recipe? More importantly, how does one make it? Whether you’re whipping up a batch of cookies or finishing off some ravioli in a sauté pan, here’s everything you need to know about making, using, and eating brown butter.
What is brown butter?
To get the inside scoop on all things brown butter, I turned to Food52’s Food Editor Emily Ziemski. At its most basic, brown butter is butter that’s been, well, browned. Specifically, it’s butter that’s “cooked until its proteins morph into charred, browned bits that provide LOADS of flavor,” Emily says. It’s a process that relies on something called the Maillard reaction: “A cooking phenomenon where proteins caramelize when under heat and time,” she explains. “It’s the same process that makes your chocolate chip cookies brown in the oven, and your proteins get a crust when seared in a pan.”
Browning butter is one of those low-effort, high-payoff techniques that can take everyday dishes and baked goods and make them near restaurant-quality. On its own, butter is creamy, rich, and slightly sweet—when browned, those flavors are amplified and rendered more complex, thanks to the savory, toasty, and nutty notes that result from the browning process.
How to Use Brown Butter
Incorporating brown butter into your cooking repertoire is fairly simple: In most recipes that call for butter, you can use brown butter instead. However, because of its toasty, butterscotch-like flavors, the ingredient especially shines in sweet applications and baking projects. Think loaf cakes, cookies, and fruit-based sweets. Its deep flavor can have practical benefits, too: “If you have someone in your life with a nut allergy,” Emily says, “the browned bits have a nutty quality that can replicate that missing nut element in baked goods.” Brown butter is also a wonderful complement to roasted or sautéed veggies—like carrots, mushrooms, and cauliflower—and is stellar when served alongside fresh pastas (especially ravioli and gnocchi).
Just keep in mind that you may need to cool your browned butter before incorporating it into recipes, especially when baking, where the consistency of the butter used often impacts the final product.
How to Make Brown Butter
Generally, “Browned butter is butter that’s cooked just a touch longer than you’re comfortable with,” says Emily. You’ll want to maximize the roasty, toasty flavors that come when the butter is deeply browned—while also avoiding burning or scorching it.
Start by putting your cold or room-temperature butter in a small pot over low heat, stirring frequently. “Take your time,” Emily advises. The butter will melt and sizzle, and, for a while, it may look like very little is happening. Don’t worry, we promise it’ll brown eventually! Once the browning does begin, it happens very quickly, which is why it’s essential to keep a close eye on the pan. “This is definitely a technique that should keep you at the stove the whole time,” Emily says. Visually, you’ll know the butter is done when the butter is foaming, the liquid part of the butter has taken on a caramel color, and there are dark brown bits (aka milk solids) at the bottom of your pot. It should smell extremely nutty and toasty. (In fact, it’s probably one of the most delicious smells you can experience in your kitchen, and is worth making for that reason alone.)
Once it’s browned, Emily recommends transferring it to a heat-safe bowl so that the butter doesn’t over-brown in the hot pot. Because the milk solids are where most of the flavor in brown butter comes from, make sure to use a silicone spatula to scrape those into the bowl, too. There you have it: brown butter that’s easy, delicious, and very much worth the hype.
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