Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Bit of Better Batter -- with Browned Butter!

My world has been changed.

Two words:
Browned. Butter.

If you've ever smelled it cooking, or eaten anything made with this stuff, you know that it truly makes everything better.

A year or two ago, I stumbled upon a recipe for chocolate chip cookies made with browned butter. Although they were crispy and I much prefer soft cookies, they were delicious. I was hooked.

Before I left for college, I made a batch of cookie dough to leave in my parents' fridge so that when they missed my baking they could stick some in the oven and have fresh, hot cookies in 10 minutes. The limitations were no chocolate and no nuts (because my grandma, who lives there, can't have them). This really narrows down the field for cookies, so I decided on some simple oatmeal cookies, from my mom's favorite old recipe.

How boring, I thought. Why don't I make them a little more interesting? So I replaced the shortening with browned butter. Voila, the best oatmeal cookies I have ever eaten! And darn close to the best cookies I've ever eaten, period.

About halfway through the semester, my aunt invited me to a birthday dinner they were hosting for a family friend. Of course, I volunteered to bake a cake. But what kind? Browned butter, of course!

So much better than plain ol' white cake. And topped with a whipped cream-mascarpone frosting and fresh fruit? Divine.

Later, I made a Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake. I had two versions of the recipe saved. The difference? Yup, you guessed it.

I regret to inform you that I don't have pictures of this delicacy. We were too busy devouring it.

The best part of this? Browned butter is incredibly simple to make, requires only one ingredient and one pot, and kicks up your flavor to 11.

My brown butter tips (see recipe below for instructions):

  • Stir continuously. This will help you avoid having too many brown/burnt bits at the bottom of the pan.
  • Keep the heat on the low side of medium. Too low, and it will take a very long time. Too high, and you can end up with burnt butter.
  • The longer you let it cook, the more intense the flavor and the darker the color. Depending on the recipe, this may be better or worse. For the cake, I left the butter for quite a while and it ended up a fairly dark brown. For the cookies, I kept it lighter.
  • Brown butter will re-solidify if you put it in the fridge for an hour or two. I did this for the cookies, before creaming it with sugar.  (Stir it every once in a while, as it cools, to prevent the lovely browned parts from settling at the bottom.)
  • Pour it into another bowl or dish to prevent it from continuing to cook after it has reached the desired color and aroma. Then soak up any last drops from the pan with a slice of bread. Believe me.
  • If you have very little self control, like me, you might need to take drastic measures to prevent yourself from sticking your face in the pan. But please try, I wouldn't want you to burn yourself.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with browned butter as much as I have! As my friend Phoebe wrote, "we could all use more butter in our lives."

Peaches & Cream Brown Butter Cake

Cake adapted from Honey and Jam, frosting adapted from Always With Butter

2 cups sugar (1 cup white, 1 cup brown)
4 eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 cup browned butter*
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt

1 lb. mascarpone
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups heavy cream, cold
1/2 tsp. vanilla
5 donut peaches (I used 2 or 3 regular peaches, plus some fresh strawberries)


*To brown butter:
Heat pan on medium heat.
Cut butter into pieces and melt in pan.
Stir continuously. Butter will foam up.
After foam subsides, small brown flecks will start to appear in bottom of pan.
Continue stirring, until butter has reached a nice brown color, and nutty aroma.
When you want to lick the spoon, you know it's ready.
Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350°.
Prepare pans – grease, line with parchment, and grease the parchment.
Beat sugar and eggs together until slightly thickened, about a minute.
Add milk, browned butter, and vanilla, stirring just until combined.
Sift together and add flour and baking powder, beating until well mixed--about a minute. Don't over mix.

Bake in preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes, until tops are springy to the touch and a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.
Allow to cool before removing from pans.

For frosting, whip heavy cream until it reaches stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, whisk mascarpone with sugar until smooth. Add vanilla. Fold in heavy cream.

Cut peaches into thin slices.
Layer cake, frosting, and peaches. Dust with cinnamon if desired.

More browned butter recipes that I want to try:

No comments: