Brown Butter Makes It Better
Butter is delectable however you use it, but the real magic happens when it turns a deep dark golden brown
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Cauliflower Gnocchi with Blistered Tomatoes and Browned Butter; photograph by Sher Castellano
Like so many culinary wonders — cheese, kimchee, sour cream, or hard pretzels — it seems likely that brown butter came to be because a busy cook lost track of time. And how fortunate we are that the first harried chef paused before tossing it and thought: “That smells kind of good,” then boldly took a taste. And while today we understand the science that turns a pale golden liquid into a mysterious, beckoning tawny brown sauce, it still feels like we’re witnessing a miracle transformation in a frying pan on the stove. Such is the enchantment of cooking.
So what can you make with brown butter? There are very few limits; almost any recipe that calls for butter and would benefit from toastier, nutty flavor notes is a worthy contender. Check out the recipes below using butter that’s converted to a charming russet brown, and you can taste the wonder yourself.
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The mysteries of brown butter, revealed
What is that nutty aroma wafting through the air?
What is brown butter?
When the milk solids in butter are heated, in a few minutes they caramelize and turn a golden dark brown. The process produces a nutty quality and adds a level of nuance and depth to sauces and baked goods, making it an easy way to add sophistication to both sweet and savory recipes.
So how does one brown butter?
There’s no sorcery involved; it’s actually a simple process to make brown butter. The most important thing is to keep an eye on it so you can lower the heat or remove the sauce if it gets close to burning. A frying pan works best, and stainless steel or enamel is ideal; in a nonstick pan, it’s hard to monitor the level of browning. Here’s how to make it: For a stick of unsalted butter (1/2 cup), 3-5 minutes while swirling the pan over medium-high heat should get the job done. If you increase the amount of butter, the cook time will also increase. Be sure to use unsalted butter; salt causes the butter to foam quite a bit, making it tough to keep an eye on the changing color of the sauce.
What should brown butter look like?
Engage both your eyes and nose to determine when it’s finished cooking. The color should be a dark gold-brown, like a very toasted piece of bread, and the aroma from the pan should be nutty. Be sure to thoroughly scrape all the tiny brown bits off the bottom of the pan; those browned milk solids are where most of the flavor is. Once it’s cooled for a few minutes, add seasonings, a spoonful of acidity (whether vinegar or citrus juice), and some fresh herbs and you’re done. Sauce is served.
What if I burned it?
If this is your first time, don’t fret. Even when it looks like burnt butter, don’t toss it just yet. Put a paper coffee filter in a strainer and run the sauce through to collect the burnt milk solids, let the remaining butter cool a bit and then have your tongue decide. Does it taste bitter or burnt? If not, use it to flavor hot rice, steamed veggies, or drizzle it on popcorn.
Brown butter: Savor it
Savory dishes get a layer of complexity and nuttiness in these recipes using brown butter
Please note: This brown butter sauce, while easy to prepare, is anything but basic. It’s ready in about 10 minutes and is amazing on roasted butternut squash and root vegetables, delicate white fish, nearly any ravioli or other stuffed pasta, or earthier risottos. Can’t figure out dinner while you’re hangry? Try steamed or quickly sautéed greens with a poached egg on top, then drizzle with this brown butter sauce — and suddenly you’ve gone from bared teeth to brilliant.
This complete meal is ready to be served in about a half hour, and cleverly uses the white part of scallions to add a gentle allium note to the browned butter sauce that’s prepared while the salmon roasts. The lemon juice provides a bright balance to the nutty butter flavor.
There’s always a twinge of regret when I toss the lovely forest green leafy tops of beets into the compost bin. But with these homemade pierogi, you get to use the entire plant to make an exquisite meal anchored by the iron in the beets and the nutty depth of the brown butter sauce.
Serving scallops makes any dinner a special occasion; yet these jewels of the sea could almost be considered a fast food, they cook so quickly. Be sure the pan is very hot before you add them; this allows the natural sugars to caramelize on the surface and gives them a delicious brown crust, which gets accentuated by the savory brown butter sauce with crunchy hazelnuts.
These fluffy gluten-free cauliflower gnocchi don’t take long to make, and the brown butter adds a roasty note that perfectly complements the cauliflower base. Watch the butter carefully when blistering the cherry tomatoes; 10 minutes at medium-high heat will generally burn the solids in the butter.
Fresh pasta gilds the lily in this incredibly comforting brown butter recipe, but feel free to use the best dried wide noodles you have in a pinch. This Italian-inspired dish mostly calls for pantry staples and doesn’t take long to prepare, making it an excellent choice on a busy weeknight. And who doesn’t love a sauce for pasta made all the more luscious with a runny yolk?
Brown butter: Sweet for summer
Recipes using browned butter aren’t just for chilly winter nights; in the dishes below, summer dishes sing sweet high notes in perfect harmony with the earthy depth of brown butter.
Summer cherries get gently macerated with a mild honey to create a simple yet fabulous uncooked compote that crowns this splendid dish. The brown butter waffles cook up a golden toasty brown color before they’re bejeweled with the ruby red sauce and fruit. Breakfast is served, your Majesty.
This decadent and moist cake buckles like a brown butter belt around the wedges of nectarine across the middle of this cake. And brown butter is cleverly used in both the cake batter and the streusel topping for maximum lusciousness.
Homemade ice cream beats store-bought pints by a mile, and the brown butter provides a satisfyingly earthy counterpoint to the sweet cream custard base.
In this recipe using brown butter, the butter mixture is browned in the oven before being mixed with flour to make the crust. In this quick and relatively simple tart, fresh blackberries provide a sassy contrast to the vanilla cream filling.
Brown butter: A sweet for all seasons
There’s never a bad time to enjoy the earthy lusciousness of a brown butter recipe
Blondies are a celebration of caramelized brown sugar and molasses-y sweetness already; the addition of browned butter in these sweet brownie-like treats offers even greater depth and nuttiness to heighten the pleasure of biting into the walnuts and toffee bits scattered throughout.
Hamantaschen are traditionally eaten during the Jewish festival of Purim, but these tri-pointed cookies are aromatic with vanilla bean and brown butter, which does double duty in the crunchy hazelnut filling; that’s reason enough to enjoy them year round.
These cookies are a bit of a cross between a lacy Florentine and drop cookie, but with a phenomenal amount of browned butter and plenty of coconut. If the dough seems a little dry feel free to add 1 tablespoon of water per stick of butter to replace the moisture lost while the butter is browned.
Use your crunchiest, flakiest sea salt to top these amazing chocolate chip cookies. Brown butter gives them a level of satisfaction you don’t get with standard issue versions, and using chopped up chocolate bars instead of chips extends the chocolate experience in each bite.
Even the banana-hesitant will come back for a second slice of this lush brown butter cake. Crunchy homemade salted toffee bits are sprinkled in the brown butter chocolate ganache that serves as the frosting in each layer of this triumph of a brown butter recipe.
The simple act of browning the butter in these classic Rice Krispie treats elevates them way more than it should. And adding a sprinkling of sea salt makes the sweetness pop against the nuttiness of the brown butter. The final step of toasting the treats briefly under the broiler sends them through the stratosphere; if you need to make new friends, this is the treat to share.
Brown butter and honey make the frosting something special on top of these sweet and tangy cornbread cupcakes. Be sure the cupcakes have cooled completely before icing them, otherwise the whipped brown butter in the frosting will begin to melt. The 1/4 teaspoon of salt in the frosting ensures the sweetness really sizzles.
Walnuts stand in for pecans in this variation on the classic holiday pie, and they get a toasty boost from the browned butter. The whipped cream on top employs powdered sugar and vanilla, and folds in sour cream for a tangy touch to balance out the sweet and nutty filling.
Gather overripe bananas while you may, for baking time is flying. And the same bananas that are edible today, tomorrow will be dying. The glorious brown butter and sugar, with warm spices will be sweet; and banana bread out of your oven, is warm and ready to eat.
More butter, please!
Check out these delicious Yummly stories with plenty of opportunity to use butter.