Your neighbor shares a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and they’re phenomenal. What’s their secret? Brown butter, they tell you. It adds a nutty, toasty flavor to everything it touches, miraculously improving sweet and savory recipes alike. In short, it’s liquid gold…and it’s surprisingly easy to make. Here’s how to brown butter, for better baking, cooking and everything in between.
What Is Brown Butter?
You know butter is a fat, and that it’s made by churning cream. But did you know that when you melt it, the butterfat, milk solids and water content separate? While the butter cooks, the liquid cooks off while the milk solids rise to the surface. Once the foaming and bubbling stops, the milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan and begin to brown, according to Sally's Baking Addiction. Once the milk solids caramelize in the liquid fat, boom: You’ve got brown butter.
Brown butter works wonders in dessert recipes, seafood dishes, pasta sauces and beyond. It adds a silky texture and a slightly nutty flavor to whatever you put it in and takes mere minutes to whip up. You can brown just the amount of butter you need for a recipe or brown whole sticks at a time for future use. Just store it in the fridge and use before its original expiration date, or freeze it in ice cube trays for future dishes.
How to Brown Butter
All you need is butter, a skillet or pan and a watchful eye. Browned butter can turn into burned butter in a flash, so don’t walk away from the stove. The less butter you use, the quicker it’ll brown.
If you have multiple pans to choose from, a light-colored one will allow you to better monitor the butter as its color changes. Salted and unsalted butter are both fine to use; just make sure you take the other salt in the recipe into account if you use salted. Now, let’s get browning.
Step 1: Chop the butter into smaller pieces, then add them to a pan over medium heat. Gently stir and swirl the butter around the pan so it all melts evenly, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Step 2: Stir the butter for about 4 minutes as it splutters (meaning as the water cooks off and the fat sizzles). The butter will begin to foam. Lower the heat if the butter is cooking too fast or bubbling too vigorously.
Step 3: Once the butter is a deep yellow foam, let the milk solids at the bottom of the pan brown for about 3 to 5 minutes. The foam will start to subside. Stir the butter in a circular motion as it cooks. Watch the pan carefully to make sure the butter doesn’t burn.
Step 4: The moment the brown butter stops sizzling, transfer it to a heatproof bowl. If you leave it in the pan, it could burn in an instant—even if you remove the pan from the heat. Scrape all the tasty browned bits off the pan into the bowl before using. The butter should be golden-brown to brown (depending on your preference) and smell toasted. Now it’s ready to add to any recipe your heart desires.
Ready to cook? Here are some of our favorite recipes that call for brown butter:
- Roasted Squash with Yogurt and Spiced Buttered Pistachios
- Brown Butter Scallops with Parmesan Risotto
- Brown Butter Mushroom Pasta
- Macadamia, Brown Butter and Cashew Cookie Dough
- Brown Butter Pound Cake with Strawberry Compote