As a pastry chef, I was both delighted and embarrassed the first time I tasted brown butter.
Delighted because how can you not be? It’s rich, nutty, a bit salty and just so warm and flavourful. It immediately makes anything it touches 1000x better.
Embarrassed because, like avocados, I didn’t try brown butter until much later in life.
The first time I had brown butter was in a fairly typical dish that I’ve seen on countless restaurant menus in one form or another – stuffed butternut squash pasta with a sage and brown butter sauce. Maybe there were some nuts thrown in there, or maybe the butternut squash was pumpkin. Either way, this is a classic way to use brown butter.
From the moment I tried it, I was hooked. I especially like using brown butter in the fall because it lends itself so well to those rich, warm and comforting autumn flavours.
However, it’s also great in more subtle doses or for snacks.
I love using brown butter in my baked goods to round out the recipe and add that rich nuttiness in a more subtle way. These cookies are a great way to start using brown butter in your baking.
I also recently shared a recipe for popcorn that I drizzle with brown butter instead of regular butter and it’s a game-changer.
However, I found that when I started cooking with brown butter, it was slightly tricky to get it to the exact right colour and flavour, so I’ve put together a little how-to to make sure that you don’t burn your brown butter as I have 🙂
Before we get into it, the most important thing to remember is to just watch what you’re doing. Try not to have too many things on the go at once because once the butter starts browning, it goes pretty fast. One second it will be a light brown colour that’s just about done and the next it’ll be black and burnt and will smell terrible and you’ll have to start all over. So just watch your butter.
Aside from that, it’s a fairly easy process. All we’re doing is heating the butter so that the milk solids start to brown (and get all toasty and nutty) and any water in the butter evaporates leaving you with a rich, luscious product.
The amount of butter that you’ll need to brown will vary recipe by recipe so I’m demonstrating with 1/4 cup, but you can scale as needed. That should be a good starting point for any pasta sauces that you want to make and can be scaled easily for use in baked goods. The method for any amount is the same, just the time will vary depending on how much butter you have in the pan.
I made pasta for dinner tonight with a brown butter, lemon and pecorino sauce (see below!) and oh my god. Please do yourself a favour and make this pasta. The rich brown butter is such a delicious compliment to the tart, acidic lemon and yields a perfectly balanced and damn tasty plate of pasta.
So, let’s go step by step and make ourselves some brown butter!
Making the Brown Butter
Cut up a 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter into cubes and place in a small saucepan over medium heat. Keep an eye on the butter as it’s melting.
Once the butter is all melted, it will start to heat and bubble. The milk solids will start to separate from the fat and the butter will get very foamy.
It’ll be hard to see the bottom of the pan through the foam so give the pot a gentle swirl if need be to check the colour of your butter.
After about 5 minutes or so, you’ll start to see the centre of the foaming butter turning a light amber colour in spots – this is the milk solids in the butter that have separated out and are starting to brown.
Swirl the pot around again and keep watching the butter in the centre of the pot darken. Once it starts to darken, it’s only going to take about another 30 seconds for the butter to be the optimal amount of brown.
You’ll start to notice the smell as well. It’s a rich nutty smell. Once you start to smell this, the butter is very nearly done.
After about another 10 seconds swirl the pan and check the colour. Once the butter in the centre turns amber in colour (similar to the colour of caramel if you’ve ever made that) you’re going to take the pan off the heat.
At this point your brown butter is ready to be used in any recipe you like!
Tips and Tricks for Making Brown Butter
Salted vs. Unsalted Butter: I think traditionally people often use unsalted butter when they make brown butter, but I’ve always used salted and never found the taste to be alarmingly salty. However, if I’m using it in a savoury application like the pasta sauce, I do taste before I add more salt just in case!
If you’re using brown butter in a pasta sauce, you’ll probably want to brown your butter in a pan big enough to eventually toss your pasta in it. For recipes like the popcorn mentioned above, just take the butter right off the heat and pour it on. When using the brown butter in baking, you may have to let it cool first before using so just make sure to check the recipe!
How to make Perfect Brown Butter
- 1/4 cup butter
- Cut butter into cubes and place in small saucepan over medium heat
- Keep an eye on butter as it's melting
- Once it's all melted it will start to heat and bubble
- The milk solids will start to separate from the fat and the butter will get very foamy
- It'll be hard to see the bottom of the pan through the foam so give the pot a gentle swirl to check the colour of your butter
- After about 5 minutes or so, you'll start to see the centre of the foaming butter turning a light amber colour in spots - this is the milk solids in the butter that have separated out and are starting to brown
- Swirl the pot around again and keep watching the butter in the centre of the pot darken. Once it starts to darken, it's only going to take about another 30 seconds for the butter to be the optimal amount of brown
- You'll start to notice the smell as well. It's a rich nutty smell. Once you start to smell this, the butter is very nearly done
- After about another 10 seconds swirl the pan and check the colour. Once the butter in the centre turns amber in colour (similar to the colour of caramel if you've ever made that) you're going to take the pan off the heat
- At this point your brown butter is ready to be used in any recipe you like! (See Tips and Tricks)
See? Not so hard to do.
Once you start making good brown butter, you’ll want to use it on everything. It just adds something special.
I had a craving for brown butter, so I decided to make this pasta and OH MY GOD was it ever good. Literally, the perfect dinner and it’s made using pantry staple and comes together SO quickly. Highly recommend.
Hope you found this helpful and make the foray into adding brown butter into everything you can from now on!
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