November 13, 2012
When I was a little girl I ate butter. Not butter on bread or butter on toast or butter on pancakes. Just butter. My family use to tease me about how I’d swipe a spoon into a cube of butter and lick the butter off the spoon like a lollipop.
A few years ago I asked my mom why, when she knew eating butter by the cube wasn’t normal or healthy she let me do it anyway. Her answer? “Honey, you were just so cute eating butter like that I couldn’t bring myself to stop you.”
Word to all you mothers out there. I know your pum’kin is the most adorable child in all the land but seriously, if your waddling toddler offspring is eating butter from a spoon, chasing a porcupine, or fashioning a face mask from a plastic laundry bag, stop them. They might scream and pout now but they’ll thank you later.
Given my history with butter, that my family is fourth-generation dairy people, and that I’m Swiss which mean butterfat flows through my veins, I’m now going to impart two life-altering bits of information with you. You are really going to want to write these down.
1. Margarine and butter are not the same thing. Margarine is not a butter substitute. Margarine is an impostor, a wannabe that never will be. And let’s be clear about this. The day margarine tastes like butter will be the day a slab of Spam can stand in for Kobe beef. “I Can’t Believe it’s NOT Butter.” Oh please. Spare me. “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Automotive Lubricant” would be closer to the truth so do not speak to me of this thing called margarine again.
2. The only thing better than sweet cream butter is butter that’s morphed into brown butter. Brown butter. I need a moment. I don’t know how it is that you can take the most perfect substance on earth and make it more perfect but perhaps some mysteries are better left as mystery. I only know that butter browned is butter glorified.
A few months ago I replaced the butter in LilaLoa’s Vanilla Variation cookie recipe with brown butter and wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, it produced a cookie that was 50 shades of awesome! The simple browning of the butter produced very different results in the taste, appearance, and structure of the cookie.
Taste: Some people describe brown butter as having a caramel flavor. Others describe the flavor as nutty. Most people say brown butter has a more complex butter flavor. To all of these I say “Yes!” Call it nutty or a little bit caramelly or a lot more buttery but I call it divine. The flavor it produces is complex and deep. It’s a cookie flavor for grown-ups. Children need not apply.
Appearance: The cookie dough not only takes on a rich butterscotch brown but in the process of browning the butter the milk solids separate from the liquid butterfat and sink to the bottom of the pan, and these solids create an additional texture layer in the cookie along with adding color variation to the finished cookie. It’s a beautiful thing.
Structure: The structure of a cookie made with brown butter is more dense and chewy than when softened butter is used. This is partly a result of the water content being removed from the butter during the browning process through evaporation and so with less water in the butter there’s also less water in the finished cookie which leads to a more solid chewy cookie.
If you haven’t browned butter before here’s a great little video :
Again, it’s all about the color. Too light and there’s no significant change in the flavor profile.
Too dark and you’ve got a burnt bitter mess.
Three more tidibts before we leave the topic of browning butter.
1. You can brown either salted or unsalted butter depending on your baking preference. When browning salted butter the salt crystals will sink to the bottom along with the milk solids but because we’ll be using both the solids and the butterfat in the cookies that’s not a problem. I always use salted butter in my cookies.
2. Before using the browned butter in the cookie dough, it must return to the “softened” stage which you can do by leaving out for a few hours on the kitchen counter or if you’re in a hurry, putting in the freezer or fridge until it’s solidified. If you attempt to add the brown butter to the sugar while it’s still in liquid form you’re going to end up with a cookie spread to beat all cookie spreads. Allowing the brown butter to return to the softened stage will allow the sugar to better adhere to the butterfat and air can then be incorporated back into the cookie structure.
3. Brown the measurement of butter called for in your recipe. While some of the volume will be lost in the process of browning due to water evaporation there’s no need to add more butter to bring it back to the measurement given in the recipe since the amount of butterfat and solids have remained unchanged. The lack of water will increase the chew of the cookie but if you prefer less chew then add a teaspoon of water when creaming the brown butter and sugars together.
Once the brown butter is “softened” you’re ready to bake. Brown butter works wonderfully with a variety of cookie recipes including chocolate cookies, spice cookies, pumpkin cookies, gingerbread cookies and any and all nut cookies including my Brown Butter Pecan Rolled Cookies. Seriously, you must try these cookies. Brown butter and nuts are rock stars together. Don’t just trust me (although I wish you would for a change) but go ahead and try this recipe just one time and then I dare you to tell me you don’t like it. Double dare you.
Anita’s Brown Butter Pecan Rolled Cookies
This recipe combines brown butter, brown sugar, and almond flour to create a complex nut and caramelized flavor in a chewy textured cookie.
1 cup brown butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 – 3 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 cup almond flour
…..(almond flour or meal can be purchased or save a few dollars and make your own)
*1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
…..Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
1. Combine white flour, almond flour, salt, baking powder and chopped pecans in a bowl. Set aside.
2. Break eggs into a small bowl. Add in extracts. Set aside.
3. Cream the brown butter and sugars.
4. Add in the liquids, beating until well blended.
5. Add the dry ingredients one cup at a time until the dough is fully incorporated.
6. Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface to the desired thickness. Place the cut cookies onto a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet and bake on the center rack of the oven for 8-12 minutes. Baking time will be determined by thickness and overall dimension of cookies.
7. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet before moving to cooling rack.
* My rolled cookies typically have a thickness of 3/8 inch. When I’m doing a basic geometric shape I chop any bits and pieces (nuts or candies) small enough so they don’t stick out of the top of the cookie surface but still have enough size to add a pop of flavor in every bite (left in below photo). When I’ll be cutting out more detailed cookie shapes I chop any cookie add-ins superfine by grinding them in my food processor (right in photo below).