Kitchen Basics: Brown Butter

October 22, 2012

In her biweekly column, Kitchen Basics, Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen demystifies essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos. Whether she's showing us how much brown sugar we're meant to "pack"(or is it cram?) into measuring cups or how to detect when our onions are properly caramelized, Susan is the nonna we never had -- until now. Now, go on and get cozy under her wing.

This week, Susan demonstrates how to make brown butter.

brown butter

- Susan

Ah, butter. What could be better? That was my attitude until I tasted brown butter frosting slathered atop a pumpkin cake. To be clear, I am not a sucker for frosting. I fantasize about cake. But the brown butter possessed a touch of caramel and a hint of nuttiness. Together they delivered a super-sized dollop of comfort that made me think twice about 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.

A Few Words on Brown Butter

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 Make 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.

butter cubes

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

melting butter

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. 

foam butter

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

brown butter

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.

brown butter

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.

brown butter frosting
Susan decorates a pumpkin cake with brown butter frosting and chopped walnuts

I’d love to see your tips for making brown butter! Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.

Are you new to cooking? Tell me what skills you'd like to learn and your idea could be featured in an upcoming post!

Photos by Susan Pachikara.

Want more basic tips from Susan? Check out her previous post: Kitchen Basics: Roasted Garlic.

Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest. 

susan cardamom kitchen

2 Comments Add a Comment
  • Head_shot

    toosdae says: There's nothing better than browned butter (I leave the solids in) drizzled over shredded Mizithra cheese and fettucine. Decadent? Yes. Absolutely.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Sounds lovely!

    about 1 year ago
  • Twitter-cc

    Creative Culinary says: I found it's easier for me if I brown butter in a skillet; yes, it requires even more careful watching because the result is a thin layer of butter but I can see the results better too. When I've done it in a saucepan, the foam on tops obscures the butter below. I've also refrigerated it after making it to get it firm again so that I can substitute it for the butter in cookies. I think that helps...but then I'm in Denver at high altitude and we always have issues with leavening so my expectations are definitely lowered! :)

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Thank you for sharing your tips! Cheers, Susan

    about 1 year ago

You can post comments here after you log in.