Saturday, December 19, 2015

Browning Butter

Browned butter
Ah, butter. What could be better? That's what I thought until I tasted pumpkin cake slathered with brown butter frosting. To be clear, I fantasize about cake not frosting. But it was the hint of caramel hidden in the frosting that made me weak in the knees. It delivered a dollop of comfort that made me rethink plain ol' butter.
Beloved by the French, brown butter (or beurre noisette) is used in sweet and savory dishes alike. It deepens the flavor of tarts, cookies, and cakes, and is the backbone of quick-cooking sauces that are drizzled over fish, spooned over vegetables, and mixed in with pasta to make memorable meals.
Before Starting
Some general tips before we start: It’s important to monitor the color of the butter as it cooks, so use a stainless steel saucepan with a heatproof handle rather than a non-stick or cast-iron pan, which tend to have dark interiors that make monitoring color changes difficult. Also, I always opt for unsalted butter unless a recipe specifically calls for salted butter, so I can decide how much salt ends up in the dish.
Although brown butter is incorporated into many desserts, it’s important to note that melting butter changes its structure. Melted butter does not form air pockets when whipped with sugar, which is crucial for leavening. When a recipe calls for creaming plain butter and sugar, brown butter cannot necessarily be used in its place. However, brown butter can generally be substituted for regular butter in icing, mashed potatoes, lemon curd, and many other luscious items.
How to Brown Butter
Set a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl on the counter near the stove.

You can brown any amount of butter. I prefer to cut it into 1/2-inch pieces before placing it in the saucepan.

Cubes of butter

Heat the butter over medium heat. Stir it a few times to ensure even melting.

After a few minutes, the butter will begin to foam. The water is evaporating and the butterfat and milk solids are in the process of separating. 

Butter begins to foam

After a few more minutes, the foam will disappear. The butter will start to darken as the milk solids brown. Watch it carefully.

As soon as the butter turns honey brown, remove it from the heat. If it continues to cook, the milk solids can end up burning, leaving a bitter taste. However, if the butter is dark brown instead of amber, don’t worry -- you can use it as long as it’s not burnt.

Butter turns honey brown

Slowly pour the butter through the strainer into the heatproof bowl to catch the little flecks of milk solids bobbing around the bottom of the pan.
Use the brown butter immediately or store, covered, in the refrigerator for several months.

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