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Brown Butter 101

Brown Butter 101

Browning butter takes butter (something that is delicious as-is) and puts it in an elite category of other over the top, out of this world, can't live without it, need more right now food things. Although now that I think about it, there is nothing else in this category!

Swapping butter in a recipe for brown butter will give you an extra dimension and depth of flavor. And don't worry- it takes less than ten minutes and really isn't too complicated. Read on to learn the science behind brown butter, how to brown butter and our favorite ways to use it. 

Table of Contents

What does brown butter taste like?

Simply put, amazing. And like nothing else. Brown butter is generally described as having a toasty, nutty, caramelly (that's a word, right!?) flavor. This flavor comes from breaking down the complex proteins found in butter, which of course is derived from milk. The end result in your recipe is that it adds a toasty, nutty flavor, accentuating both the sweet and savory elements. 

What is the best butter to use for browning butter?

  • We recommend using unsalted butter for any and all baking recipes when browning butter. Cook’s Illustrated actually did a really cool test on it where they compared the browning of both salted and unsalted butters. They found that the salted version initially appeared to make a higher volume of browned milk solids, but half of it was actually just the salt from the butter! It was being coated with the milk solids, making it appear that there were more than in the unsalted version.
  • While any type of butter can be browned, we stick to a high-quality European-style butter. It has a higher fat content, which means there are more milk solids. Remember, milk solids are caramelized during the process, so more milk solids means you’ll have a deeper butter flavor. 

How to brown butter

  1. Cut butter into small pieces and place in a heavy bottomed pot or pan. Using smaller pieces instead of a whole stick allows the butter to melt evenly.
  2. Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy bottomed pot or pan. Your butter will be opaque and look like… melted butter. If this is your first time browning butter, this is probably the point you typically take it off the burner. But wait! Don’t! You are only just beginning.
  3. Keep the butter in the pan on medium heat and use a soft spatula or wooden spoon to stir. As it continues to heat up, the water in the butter will begin to evaporate. Your butter will begin to take on a different appearance as the water content drops. You may notice the butter is beginning to foam or take on a clearer color. Keep on going! Not only can you see the changes, but you can hear it too! Sometimes I’ll start doing something else in the kitchen while waiting for the butter to do it’s thing and then I’ll hear that familiar pop and know my butter needs attention.
  4. Allow butter to continue to heat while stirring. The butter will continue to change in appearance. You will eventually notice small brown bits are beginning to form at the bottom of the pan. THIS, my friend, is the magic! These browned bits are actually the milk solids from the butter that have caramelized. You are well on your way!
  5. Continue to stir until you smell a nutty aroma and notice your butter has taken on a golden hue. Be sure to watch it closely because it can quickly go from browned to burned in a matter of seconds. (The proteins in butter have a lower smoke point than the fat, allowing the protein to brown before the fat burns. If it gets too hot, the fat will burn which will result in burnt butter, not the browned butter we’re looking for.)
  6. You are there! You have done it! You can breathe! But one last thing… remove the butter from heat and pour it into a different container to prevent it from burning. Ok, now you are done!

Tips for browning butter

  • Because water evaporates while browning you will want to replace the water that was removed in your recipe if substituting for regular butter. For every stick of butter browned you will want to add 1 Tbsp of water back into the recipe. Of course, if the recipe calls for browned butter then this will already be accounted for and no tweaks will need to be made. 
  • Stay by the pot! The process happens so quickly and once it burns there is no going back.
  • Stir, stir, stir! Especially as the browned bits begin to form on the bottom.

What is brown butter good on?

  • Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies! I have successfully swapped brown butter for regular butter in several different cookie recipes. If the recipe calls for softened butter, you'll need the brown butter to firm back up before using it. The quickest way to do this is to pop it in the fridge. You'll also want to add water to make up for the water that evaporated during the browning process. Add 1 tablespoon of water for every stick browned before letting it cool too much.
  • PASTA!! Here’s a quick recipe for a brown butter sauce that we love when we need something quick: after browning 1 stick of butter, add 5-10 leaves of fresh sage to the pan/pot and cook until crisp. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Serve with tortellini or ravioli for the easiest and tastiest dinner!
  • Grilled cheese! Before you add your sandwich to your pan, let the butter brown a bit! You won't believe the difference.
  • But also, just use it on everything! No, really. Pancakes? Yep. Pasta? Please. Popcorn? My mouth is watering.

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