One of the first things I think of when winter comes around is the rich and warming foods that it brings. One element that stands out in these cozy dishes is brown butter. It’s easy to transform a good dish into a great dish with the addition of this simple component. Also, it couldn’t be easier to make.
You just melt your desired quantity of butter over medium heat until it foams and begins to smell nutty; whisk occasionally. When the milk solids in the butter begin to brown, lower the heat and keep a close eye on it. The butter will continue to brown even after the heat is shut off. Once the milk solids have reached a rich brown color and smell of toasted hazelnuts, turn off the heat and use as desired.
If you’re making a large quantity, the butter can be chilled over an ice bath while whisking. This will form the butter into a solid, which can be refrigerated.
Standard whole butter is an emulsified product that is mainly comprised of butterfat and milk solids. When heat is applied to butter, this emulsion separates. The viscous butterfat rises to the top of the pan while the watery milk solids remain at the bottom. Clarified butter is what you have if you remove these solids, but if you continue to cook the butter, the milk proteins will brown. As it continues to cook, the solids will become darker while giving off nutty aromas. After making brown butter once, you’ll smell why its French name is “beurre noisette,” literally translating to “hazelnut butter.”
A classic dish that has been reinterpreted and passed through many chefs is sweet potato gnocchi with fried sage and brown butter. There is no doubt about whether the dish is tasty, but brown butter is so versatile that it can really be used with anything. Try it in place of whole butter in your every day recipes and see how new flavors come through. Also, desserts and brown butter go hand in hand. Ice creams, tarts, and cookies are easy ways to try brown butter in a new way. Last week I experimented with a holiday favorite: eggnog. I’ll just say: this won’t be the last time I make it.
Brown Butter Eggnog
Yields about 1 quart
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup 2% milk
5 egg yolks
½ cup brown sugar
½ stick brown butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons Cognac
3 teaspoons nutmeg
1 pinch cayenne
1 pinch kosher salt
Combine the cream, milk, cognac, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt in a medium saucepan. Slowly, bring to a simmer. While warming the cream mixture, whisk egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until it becomes pale yellow and thick. Slowly pour a few ounces of the hot cream mixture in to the yolks while whisking. Temper the yolk mixture back into the hot cream by pouring it all back into the saucepot. This prevents the eggs from denaturing (or scrambling) from the hot cream. Next, turn the heat to low and bring the liquid to 160 degrees Fahrenheit while stirring constantly. The best way to check if it’s ready is to dip a spoon in the hot mixture and run your finger across the back. If the line stays put, it’s ready.
Be sure not to boil or even simmer, as this will make the eggs coagulate unevenly. Finally, remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the brown butter. Chill the eggnog over an ice bath while stirring occasionally until cold. Adjust seasonings as you please. Enjoy!
- Andrew Black