Butter is easily my favorite ingredient in cooking and baking. But let me tell you about one thing better — brown butter. Brown butter is butter that is slowly melted and caramelized until it has a bold nutty flavor. You can use this ingredient as a sauce or as a substitute for regular butter in all recipes. I find brown butter to be particularly wonderful in fall cooking and baking.
Here’s a run down of all things brown butter.
What is Brown Butter?
Buerre noissette, as the French call it, or brown butter, is essentially melted butter with an amplified flavor that comes out only after slowly cooking it on the stove. It adds a warm and nutty element to any dish it’s used in. In no more than 10 minutes, butter progresses through stages of melting, sizzling, and foaming; moving from a pale yellow color to a golden amber, until it transforms into a caramelized nutty ingredient you can use as a sauce over meat or veggies, or as a direct substitute to regular butter in dessert recipes. Brown butter chocolate cookies, brown butter rice crispy treats, brown butter blondies… you get the idea!
Browning butter is an easy skill anybody can learn it and the versatile ingredient easily levels up the flavor of any dish it’s used in. Let’s walk through the steps.
What you need:
- Butter: Salted or unsalted, just make sure it’s cut into evenly sized pieces so that they melt evenly. Otherwise the butter may splatter as it cooks and parts can burn easily.
- Pan: Any pan will work, but a light colored pan is preferred so that you can spot the color changes as the butter browns.
- Something to stir with: A wooden spoon or rubber spatula would work.
Place your pan over medium low to medium heat and carefully place the pieces of butter into your pan. It’s important not to start the heat too high since butter has a tendency to burn. As the butter begins to melt, start stirring the butter around the pan. Once fully melted, the melted butter will have a pale yellow hue and begin foaming and sizzling around the edges. Keep stirring every few minutes so that the melted butter is caramelizing evenly. Do this for about 5-8 minutes, at which point the butter should have turned a more golden brown. You’ll notice a nutty aroma coming from your pan and little brown specks appearing at the bottom of the pan. Don’t be alarmed! These are milk solids from the butter that have toasted and settled at the bottom, they are full of that rich nutty flavor we are looking for.
Brown Butter Can Burn
Just like in baking, brown butter can go from perfectly browned to burnt butter in a matter of seconds. So this is not the time to set it and forget it! Keep your eye on the stove the entire time and keep stirring! Browned butter is close to being done with the foam begins to dissolve and the color reaches a deep amber hue. Once the specks at the bottom of the pan have reached that deep amber you’re looking for, immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the browned butter into a heat-safe bowl to stop the cooking process. Don’t leave it in the pan! Otherwise the butter will burn, which is bitter and unusable in any of your recipes.
What Are the Brown Specks?
The brown specks at the bottom of your brown butter are milk solids from the butter that get toasted during the slow cooking process. These milk solids are actually where most of the flavor of brown butter comes from, so please make sure to scrape these out when you’re pouring your brown butter out of the pan.
Is There a Loss of Volume?
YES. One thing that’s important to remember when substituting brown butter for regular butter in recipes is that a part of the water in butter gets cooked off in the browning process. This means if a recipe asks for “1/2 cup melted butter”, you may need to brown a little over 1/2 cup (let’s say, 9 tablespoons) or butter to ensure that you end up with 1/2 cup melted brown butter.
Tips for Brown Butter Success
- Cut the Butter into Pieces: This ensures the butter will melt and cook evenly.
- Just Keep Stirring: Again, this also makes sure the butter will cook evenly.
- Use a Light-Colored Pan: We can identify precisely when the butter has browned and keep an eye on it before it burns when using a light-colored pan. I prefer to use my stainless steel skillet, but any ceramic fry pan will work too.
Substituting With Brown Butter
You can use brown butter in practically any recipe that calls for melted butter. Just make sure you adjust for volume loss as mentioned above. If you’re using brown butter to substitute in a recipe using softened butter (for example, creaming butter and sugar), make sure you cool your browned butter before measuring for the recipe.
You can prepare brown butter ahead of time, since it will solidify once reaching room temperature. I like to make a batch for recipes and more for later so that I can cream up brown butter anytime a recipe calls for butter. Browned butter can be cooled, covered, and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months
- 1 light colored pan or skillet
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) cut into 1 tbs sized pieces
- Prep note: Brown butter can go from perfectly browned to burnt in a matter of seconds, so don't leave the stove unattended! Have a heatproof bowl next to you ready to go when you start
- Place your pan over medium heat and put the pieces of butter into your pan. As the butter begins to melt, start stirring the butter around the pan. Once fully melted, the melted butter will begin foaming and sizzling. Keep stirring! Do this for 5-8 minutes, at which point the butter will have turned a golden amber color, the foam subsided, and specks of toasted milk solids will have settled at the bottom of the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the browned butter in to the heat safe bowl to stop the cooking process. Use as desired!