Learn all about how to make brown butter and how to use brown butter in baking. Brown butter is one of the easiest ways to make any baked good taste gourmet. Even the simplest of recipes can be quickly elevated with the addition of brown butter.
When I very first started getting into baking in 2010, cookies were my obsession. I was totally focused on creating the most perfect chocolate chip cookie and did endless research on various ways to amp up the flavor and texture of what I dreamed my perfect cookie would be.
I can’t even remember where I first saw it, but I read somewhere about using brown butter in a cookie and how much depth of flavor it added.
At the time, I was still a newbie in the kitchen and didn’t even know what brown butter was. But I was bound and determined to make it and put it in cookies.
After I made brown butter for the first time I was absolutely obsessed! The nutty aroma is intoxicating and the flavor profile it added to my cookies was like no other!
Since then, brown butter has quickly become a trend in home baking. It was already getting there at the time, but it has gotten huge over the last 5 years. And while there are a lot of food trends that I find kind of silly, this is NOT one of them.
Using brown butter in your baked goods is a trend that should never end! In my personal opinion, brown butter is one of the easiest and quickest ways to take a very ordinary baking recipe and make it extraordinary!
What is brown butter?
Brown butter comes from the term beurre noisette which in french actually means hazelnut butter. When butter melts, the butterfat and the milk solids separate.
If you’ve ever made clarified butter you have seen this in action. Because the milk solids are heavier than the fat, they sink down to the bottom of the pan and after some time they begin to brown.
As the butter browns, it takes on a whole new flavor profile. It becomes nutty and rich. You will begin to smell it very distinctly once the butter is beginning to brown. In fact, I relied heavily on the smell of the butter to know when it was done the first few times I made it.
Brown butter is used in many savory preparations for sauces and is also used in many french pastries. More recently, it has become popular to use in many other simpler baked goods to enhance the flavor.
How to make brown butter.
To make brown butter you only need 1 ingredient: butter. I prefer to use unsalted butter because I like to control the salt content in my baking, but salted butter will also work.
Step 1: Cut the butter into pieces
Cutting the butter into smaller even pieces serves two purposes. It melts faster and, more importantly, it melts more evenly. You don’t want bits of the butter to start browning before others.
This is a good rule of thumb when you are ever cooking with a large amount of butter.
Step 2: Melt the butter over medium heat.
You do not want to rush this process because you can easily go from melted butter to burnt butter if you aren’t careful. I suggest putting your saucepan over medium heat and sticking close by. Stir the butter frequently and keep a close eye on it.
Step 3: Continue cooking and stirring until butter browns.
The process of browning butter goes through several stages. If you watch the butter closely you will see it melt, bubble up and get murky, then clear up, then brown.
As the butter cooks, a few things happen. The water evaporates out of the butter and then the milk solids fall to the bottom of the pan.
You will be able to see when it has gotten to this point because the butter will become noticeably clearer and you will be able to see to the bottom of the pan.
At this point, once the butter becomes very clear, you could ladle off the butter fat leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the pan and you would have clarified butter. But if you continue cooking, the milk solids and the butter fat will begin to brown.
This process of browning food is actually a chemical reaction called the Maillard Reaction. You will begin smelling a distinct nutty aroma and if you watch it you can see the butter turn an amber color. I like to shoot for a medium to dark amber color.
Error on the side of lighter the first few times you make it. Because if you go too far with it, the butter will taste bitter and burnt. There is a fine line between dark brown butter and burnt butter.
This butter here has just barely started to brown. It is a light amber color. Do you see how the milk solids are settled there at the bottom? That is natural.
When you remove the brown butter from the heat to cool, the milk solids will stay separated. It is important to get all of those brown bits into your batter when baking. That is where all the magical brown butter flavor lives!
Step 4: Adjust the Recipe to Account for Water Loss
Butter is about 15% water and all of this evaporates off during the butter browning process. To account for this loss, you need to adjust the liquid in your recipe.
For every 1 stick (4 oz, 112 gr) of butter that is browned you will need to add an additional 1 tablespoon of water or liquid to the recipe. If your recipe calls for milk or coffee or another liquid, you can just increase that amount. Otherwise, use water.
Step 5: Consider the Original Recipe & Bake with the Brown Butter!
If the original recipe uses melted butter, then you are good to go once the butter has cooled. However, if the original recipe uses solid or cold butter, then you need to return it to that state.
You pour the butter into a bowl and let it return to room temperature for recipes that call for softened butter. Or you can refrigerate it if your recipe calls for cold butter.
Recipe Ideas for Baking with Brown Butter
These brownies are the perfect canvas for using your brown butter. The recipe calls for melting butter first and then adding in chopped chocolate to the warm butter.
I almost always make these with brown butter and, holy moly, are these good. I have had numerous people tell me they are the best brownies they ever had!
If you’ve ever read the recipe for or even made my best chocolate chip cookies then you know that brown butter is a major component.
In this recipe you need to make the butter at least an hour ahead of time so that it can re-solidify. They are so worth it!
My simple pancake recipe is my go to for quick weekend breakfasts. They are simple and perfect. But when I want something a little more special, instead of just melting the butter I go ahead and brown it. Brown butter pancakes are to die for!
These biscuits are absolutely my favorite biscuits. They are super flaky and buttery. BUT when made with brown butter, it is a whole new animal.
For these you have to brown the butter and then let it get cold again because a lot of the rise from this biscuit recipe has to do with keeping the ingredients cold. It also has to do with the moisture evaporating, so I suggest only browning half the amount of butter called for so that you do not evaporate out all of the water in the butter.
You want at least some of that to help with the rise. So good!
Tips for Making and Using Brown Butter
- Always cut the butter in small pieces first for even cooking
- A better quality butter equals a better tasting brown butter
- Always stay close and watch the butter, stirring frequently. It can go from brown to burnt very quickly.
- All of the brown bits that sink to the bottom are the browned milk solids. Those are liquid gold and packed with flavor. Make sure you use those in the batter.
- Part or all of the butter in a baking recipe can be browned depending on the intensity of flavor you are looking for.
- Use the brown butter like you would regular butter in the recipe. If the recipe calls for melted, room temp, or cold butter, make sure the brown butter is in this state before baking.
- Cut butter into small cubes and place in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Let the butter melt and then begin cooking. Stir frequently and watch the butter. It will bubble up and become murky then clear up as the milk solids fall to the bottom of the pan.
- Continue cooking and stirring until the butter starts to smell nutty and turns a medium amber color. Remove from the heat and transfer into a heat proof bowl.
- The timing for how long it takes the butter to brown will really vary depending on how much butter you are browning. I find that a half pound of butter usually takes about 13-15 minutes to brown over medium heat.
- If you will be using your brown butter in a baking recipe that originally called for regular butter, remember to adjust the liquid in your recipe. For every 1 stick (4 oz, 112 gr) of butter a recipe calls for, increase the liquid by 1 tablespoon. If your recipe calls for milk or coffee or another liquid you can increase that amount. Otherwise, add water.