Sunday, May 30, 2010

How to Brown Butter

Until about six months ago, I thought that butter was the most amazing thing in the world.  It takes popcorn from something that threatens to impale your throat on the way down to something that is perfectly salty and delicious.  When spread on toast, it melts into all the nooks and crannies, and when spread on bread before toasting, it forms a crispy layer of golden goodness on the surface of the bread.  It's what makes cakes and muffins and cookies so rich and yummy and melt-in-your-mouth good.  In a lot of cases, all it takes is a drizzle of butter to get kids to eat brocolli (they may not find it delicious, but they will find it entirely tolerable).  There is nothing that can't be improved by butter.

There is, however, a way to improve butter itself: brown it.

Brown butter is made by cooking butter until the milk solids turn brown and the water cooks out.  The melted butter goes from yellow to a golden-amber color, and smells nutty and toasty and caramel-y and all sorts of delicious.

It's best to brown butter over medium heat.  It may take a long time, and you may be tempted to step away from the stove a bit, but browning butter requires constant monitoring.  The change from yellow to toasty brown to burnt black happens very quickly, and it's important to get your butter off the stove as soon as you notice that it has become brown.  Keep a heat-proof bowl or dish next to the stove so you can remove the butter from the heat right away.

How to Brown Butter:

Cut butter into cubes and place in a saucepan.  Heat until melted, stirring occasionally.  It won't take long for the milk solids to separate from the fats and form a white layer of foam on the top of the butter.

This made me a little nervous at first, because I couldn't tell what color the butter was underneath, but I just kept kind of pushing the foam to the side.

After a while, the white milk solids will cook off, leaving an unobstructed view of the butter.

This lasts for about a minute.  Then, a foam will cover the top layer again - it will be harder to push to the side than the initial layer - and the butter will be brown underneath.  I unfortunately didn't get a picture of this stage because I didn't want the butter to burn.  Transfer the brown butter to another bowl or dish.  Don't forget the brown bits - they're the best part!

Once you have brown butter, you can do all sorts of great things with it.  You can toss it with pasta with a little bit of parmesan.  You can substitute it in recipes that call for melted butter to give the dish a greater depth of flavor.  What I did was put it in the fridge to firm up and used it in place of regular butter to make a basic shortbread cookie...but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to get the recipe!

See you then!

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