I was gushing to Chef Jeremy about what I assumed would be a shared love for cream cheese frosting when, in his very sweet and innocent way, he replied, "It’s good, but I’ll never make basic cream cheese frosting again.” Intrigued, I impatiently waited to taste the brown butter cream cheese frosting that changed it all for our favorite pastry virtuoso.
As you can imagine, Chef Jeremy’s frosting was delicious and I can never go back to the frosting made with boring old melted butter again. This was a predictable outcome, though: browning butter is famously a back-pocket trick to add complexity with a toasty, nutty flavor to a huge variety of dishes both sweet and savory, instantly elevating dishes where butter is the predominant ingredient.
How to Use Brown Butter
Known as beurre noisette, or “hazelnut butter,” in French gastronomy, brown butter is incredibly useful for a wide variety of dishes both savory and sweet.
Stew with some fruit to make a rich compote for topping ice cream
Chop almonds and toast in the brown butter, then use to top sautéed vegetables
As a pasta sauce–I like to make a simple pasta sauce with brown butter sage, lemon, and pine nuts
With fish–brown butter and capers is my favorite
Drizzled on popcorn–with sugar and cinnamon for sweet or freshly grated pecorino and black pepper for savory
Some Extra Light Sciencey Stuff
A normal stick of butter is about 80% fat, 15% water, and 1-2% milk protein, or “milk solids.” When you brown butter, you cook it just beyond its melting point (250F) until the water evaporates and the foaming subsides. From there, the butter is able to get hot enough to toast the milk solids, leaving those brown speckles of toasty milk solids in the butter.
Just like browning a crust of meat or even that outer brown layer on your morning toast, the resulting deliciousness of brown butter is a result of what’s known as the “Maillard reaction,” a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar reacting to a heat above 285F, leading to a “non-enzymatic” browning. Because the amino acid is the determining factor for flavor, the Maillard reaction, which creates hundreds of brand new flavor compounds, is the basis of flavor–or what makes things taste delicious!
To put it simply, beurre noisette is that perfect GBD (Golden Brown & Delicious) pan-seared filet mignon crust of the butter world. It’s a huge asset to be used to your advantage!
As simple as it is to stir butter in a pot over medium heat, though, it’s surprisingly easy to mess up. The best tools are a light colored pot (so you can easily see what’s happening), a rubber spatula (so you can easily drag through the foamy butter), your eyes, and your nose! Make sure to keep an eye on things as the butter will change from foamy to browned to burned very quickly. With some practice, you can know how and when to push the limit to that “third stage” of browned butter, or the final stage where the butter is expertly manipulated to draw out the most intensely toasty, nutty flavor.
Watch along as Chef Jeremy himself teaches you how to brown butter like a pro! To learn this and many, many more skills of the pastry world, reserve your spot at Chef Jeremy's Red Velvet Cupcake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting class.
In a small pot over medium heat, stir the butter until melted and foamy.
Continue stirring as the butter boils off all of its water and the foam subsides.
Now, pay close attention and use all of your senses! Watch as the butter develops brown (not black!) specks (these are the toasted milk solids). Smell as it takes on a toasty aroma. The entire process should take around 5-8 minutes.
Transfer your beautifully browned butter to a bowl to cool--don't leave in the pan as it will continue to cook and can easily burn.