How to Use Brown Butter in Baking
Learn all about how to make brown butter and how to use it in baking. Brown butter is one of the easiest ways to make any baked good taste gourmet.
I first learned of browned butter in 2010, when I was on the quest to make my perfect chocolate chip cookies. 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.
Since then, brown butter has quickly become a trend in home baking. It was already getting some hype at the time, but it has become increasingly popular over the years. And while there are a lot of food trends that I find kind of silly, this is NOT one of them.
Brown butter adds rich nutty and caramel notes to your baked good. It truly turns up the flavor of most any recipe and is a great little trick to keep in your back pocket when you want to impress with your baking.
What is brown butter?
Brown butter comes from the term beurre noisette which in french actually means hazelnut butter. Once you make this, you will understand exactly why it has this name.
When butter melts, the butterfat and the milk solids separate. If you’ve ever made clarified butter or ghee, then 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 rely heavily on the smell of the butter to know when it is done.
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 allows it to melt quicker and more evenly.
Step 2: Melt the butter over medium-low 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-low 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.
You will also notice that the bubbly sounds of the water evaporating off, will stop and the mixture will become silent. This is really a process that uses your senses!
Once the butter becomes 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 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.
But watch it closely. If you go too far with it, the brown butter will have a very bitter and unpleasant flavor.
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
If the recipe you are using already calls for brown butter, then you will brown the amount the recipe calls for. However, if you are adjusting a recipe to use brown butter that originally called for regular butter, you will need to adjust the amount you are browning.
Butter is about 15% water, and this evaporates out during the browning process. To account for this, you could add a bit of extra liquid into your recipe, but depending on what you are making this doesn’t work as well. For instance, if you are cutting the fat into the flour to make a pie crust or biscuits, the volume of the butter matters much more than the amount of moisture.
For this reason, I typically adjust the amount of butter I am browning to account for the weight loss. For every stick of butter (113 grams, 4 ounces) you will want to brown 1 extra tablespoon (15 grams). This will account for the lost weight.
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 heat-proof container 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. You will notice that all of the milk solids will settle at the bottom as the butter cools. Make sure you scrape all of those out of the container and use them in your baked good.
It is also important to note that browned butter is much softer than traditional butter.
Recipe Ideas for Baking with Brown Butter
You can use brown butter in virtually any baked good that calls for butter. Get creative and play around with it! Some of my favorite uses for it is in my Fudgiest Brownies, my Best Buttercream Recipe, and in my 5 Ingredient Easy Pancakes!
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.
- 226 grams (2 sticks, 8 ounces) butter, salted or unsalted
- Cut butter into small cubes and place in a saucepan over medium-low 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, scraping all of the browned milk solids out of the pan and into your mixture (this is where all the flavor lies!)
- 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 amount you are browning for your recipe. For every 1 stick (4 oz, 113 grams) of butter a recipe calls for, increase the amount you are browning by 1 tablespoon (15 grams). If your recipe already calls for brown butter, then you will not need to adjust the amount.