Brown butter is the result of a quick technique of melting and toasting butter to achieve an irresistible nutty, almost toffee-like flavor. It’s absolutely transformative in baked goods–especially chocolate chip cookies! Here’s how to make it and how to use it.
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Ever wanted to try a recipe that calls for brown butter? Then you may have wondered brown butter is and how to make it. Brown butter is simply butter that has been melted and cooked until the milk solids start to toast.
You will see swirls of brown bits in the bottom of your pan when brown butter is ready. The process cooks out a lot of the inherent water content of butter, so it shouldn’t be used as an exact replacement for a standard stick of butter in recipes without some modifications.
Recipes that call for browned butter often use the butter right away. This is convenient because the butter doesn’t need to be softened in advance. Another perk is that these recipes can often be made without a hand mixer or stand mixer because you don’t need the extra strength for creaming together room temperature butter with the sugar.
Note that if desired, the butter can also be refrigerated into solid form again.
How to Brown Butter
Melt a stick of butter slowly on medium-low heat in a saucepan or skillet. Choose a light colored pan so that you can tell once the butter begins changing color.
Once melted, turn the heat up a bit and watch the butter closely while stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.
The butter will be bubbling and popping as the water is evaporating away. Once this bubbling and popping slows down you need to keep a close eye as the next step is the toasting of the milk solids.
Once the milk solids are beginning to toast, you’ll start to notice tiny brown flecks forming in the pan. Swirl the spoon around the pan a few times more and remove it promptly from the heat.
Once the solids have started to brown, the butter can go from toasted to burnt very quickly. It’s important to keep a close eye and remove the pan from the heat a few moments after you notice the brown bits have formed.
Pour the butter immediately into a heat-proof bowl to stop the cooking process.
Is Browned Butter a Substitute for Regular Butter?
If you try to brown butter and then use it in a recipe without adjusting the quantity, it won’t work. Why? Because we’ve lost water content during the cooking process which means your recipe will also be missing moisture.
J. Kenji López-Alt (the incredible author of The Food Lab) uses brown butter in his chocolate chip cookie recipe and includes a little trick: whisk an ice cube into the butter. This replaces some of the evaporated water AND cools the butter. This allows the butter to be used immediately in his cookie recipe.
King Arthur Flour suggests adding 1 tablespoon (14g) of water (or it could be another liquid) to every 1/2 cup of butter that you’ve browned. This will replace the water content and ideally make it work for the recipe you wish to use brown butter in. I would do some testing and see how it works for your favorite recipes.
Can I Only Use Brown Butter While It Is Still Melted?
You can actually pop the butter in the fridge to re-solidify it and use in recipes that call for creaming the butter (or cutting butter in) versus recipes that use melted butter. I haven’t tried this yet myself, but I would follow the advice given above about adding in additional water (probably using the ice cube trick from J. Kenji López-Alt and then refrigerating after that) if you are using it in a recipe that is not already formulated for brown butter.
How Long Does It Take to Brown Butter?
Depending on your stove and the amount of butter it should take about 5-8 minutes. The most important thing is to keep a close eye on when you notice the first flecks of milk solids toasting and turning brown.
How Can You Tell If It’s Ready?
There is actually a bit of range with the “readiness” of browned butter. You can push it almost to “burnt” and stop just shy of that for a deep brown butter that has a ton of flavor. Or, you can remove it from the heat at the first sign of browning.
Basically, it counts once you have a little browning…and don’t burn it. Everything in-between will be delicious!
Sure, it’s an extra step and an extra pan, but it’s SO GOOD. The first time I tried browned butter, I was like, this is the only way I will ever make cookies now. I relented eventually that not every cookie recipe needs it, but wow does it add a lot.
It’s a totally free way to add plenty of flavor many recipes. I recommend simply doing a Google search for the recipe you’d like to make + “brown butter”. Then, select a recipe that’s already been tried and tested for your first few forays into the world of browned butter.
Should I Use Unsalted or Salted Butter?
Use what your recipe suggests if the recipe calls for browning the butter. If you are coming up with your own recipes or adapting a favorite, bear in mind that the butter will be more highly concentrated since the water is cooking out. That means the salt content will be more concentrated too. I always use unsalted butter when baking.
What to Try With Browned Butter
I’ve got a few recipes featuring brown butter such as my S’mores Cookies (a Crumbl copycat recipe) and Raspberry Cheesecake Cookies. Try it in cookies, muffins, biscuits, shortbreads, drizzled on pancakes, waffles, or on top of popcorn. And yes, you can use it in savory recipes too. The possibilities are endless here and I hope to follow up with some of my own experiments shortly!
How to Brown Butter
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
- Melt one stick of butter (1/2 cup) slowly on medium-low heat in a saucepan or skillet. Choose a light colored pan so that you can tell once the butter begins changing color.
- Once melted, turn the heat up a bit and watch the butter closely while stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.
- The butter will be bubbling and popping as the water is evaporating away. Once this bubbling and popping slows down you need to keep a close eye as the next step is the toasting of the milk solids.
- Once the milk solids are beginning to toast, you’ll start to notice tiny bits of brown forming in the pan. Swirl the spoon around the pan a few times more and remove it promptly from the heat. You can keep going a bit longer as the butter will toast more and more–but the trick is removing it before it burns!Once the milk solids have started to brown, the butter can go from toasted to burnt very quickly. It’s important to keep a close eye and remove the pan from the heat a few moments after you notice the brown bits have formed.Transfer the butter into a heatproof bowl to prevent it from burning as the hot pan will continue to cook it.
- Use the butter as called for in your recipe–or, get creative and experiment with it!