Sharing with you my comprehensive guide on How To Make Brown Butter. With its rich, complex, nutty flavour, it's a game-changer for your sweet baking and savoury dishes. Along with the simple steps needed to make it, I'll share with you what type of butter to use, how to use it in your recipes, my top tips and everything in between.
What is brown butter?
Let's dive headlong into what brown butter actually is. It's simpler to make than you think. Originating from France, brown butter or beurre noisette literally translates as 'hazelnut butter'. But there are no nuts in brown butter! Its name is indicative of the toasted, nutty aroma that is so unique to the process.
The technique of heating the butter for long enough on the stovetop allows the milk solids to separate from the butterfat and then toast until golden brown. Without getting too geeky on you, the technical term for this process of browning is a chemical reaction called the Maillard Reaction. As a result, the flavour of the butter is instantly accelerated to one of pure magic. The nutty, complex taste and aroma are intoxicating. Bonus that it's made with only one ingredient too!
This method is so quick and easy to do yet elevates your everyday food to a masterpiece, especially when it comes to desserts! You can understand why it's a staple in French kitchens. It's a skill everyone can and should be mastering and I'm here to show you how.
- What is brown butter?
- Why you should make brown butter
- What butter is best?
- What equipment you'll need
- How to make brown butter - a step-by-step tutorial
- Allow the solids to separate and brown
- Brown versus burnt butter
- Should you strain brown butter?
- Pro tips
- Frequently asked questions
- Moisture loss and how to use brown butter in recipes
- More recipes using brown butter
- 📖 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
Why you should make brown butter
- Only uses one ingredient. I mean, it's quite amazing that by using a simple kitchen technique on a staple ingredient, you can ramp up the flavour of your baked goods. Priceless in my book.
- Quick and easy to do. Depending on how much butter you're browning, you'll have your little pot of gold in under ten minutes.
- Got to love its versatility. Make brown butter sauce for your pasta, add it to ALL your baked goods, such as Brown Butter Madeleines or slather it on your favourite sourdough. Brown butter can be used in all the same ways you'd use regular butter.
What butter is best?
There's a wide range of butters on the market and it can feel a little confusing as to which butter you should use. In truth, considering that the butter is the star of the show, I recommend using the best quality butter that you can buy.
In the UK, the supermarkets stock a wide variety of butter ranging from the supermarket's own brand through to speciality butter. Personally, my favourite butters to use are Lurpack and Kerrygold for their quality in comparison to their price point.
If based in the US, try to use a 'European-style' butter. It's churned for longer than an American butter which produces a higher fat content which in turn produces a creamier texture, richer flavour and a yellower appearance.
Can you make brown butter with margarine?
Margarine and other vegan butters contain different levels of fats and water than regular butter. They don't contain the milk solids that are needed to brown.
Can you brown salted butter?
Technically yes you can. The salt, however, will sink to the bottom with the milk solids and the overall taste will be affected. It's best to use unsalted butter so that you can then control the amount of salt you add to the recipe.
What equipment you'll need
The joy of this kitchen technique is that you only need a couple of pieces of equipment. And you'll definitely have them available so there'll be no need to buy something that will sit in the back of your cupboard never to see the light of day again!
Saucepan or Frypan - I recommend a light colour saucepan or high-sided frypan. Stainless steel or white/cream coloured ones are perfect as you can clearly see the colour changing as the butter browns and you're less likely to burn it.
Wooden spoon or whisk - both utensils are perfect to use, the important factor is that the butter is stirred constantly for even heat distribution. Pick whichever you are most comfortable with.
Rubber spatula - technically you don't have to use a rubber spatula, I just find it super easy to scrape all the brown bits stuck at the bottom of the pan. Remember - these teeny bits are where all the flavour are at.
How to make brown butter - a step-by-step tutorial
So, how do you brown butter I hear you asking? It's a really easy process once you have the know-how and one that you'll be able to use over and over again. As well as being simple, it's also quick and only adds a little extra to your prep time. No biggy really!
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
Melt the butter
Cut the butter into slices and pop them in the saucepan set over medium heat (Image 1 & 2). Note: the butter can be used straight from the fridge or freezer as it's being melted so you don't need to worry about bringing it to room temperature.
Gently heat the butter until it starts to melt.
Whisk continuously as it melts and becomes cloudy. A small foam collects on the surface (Image 3). As the butter heats, it will start to bubble gently (Image 4).
Allow the solids to separate and brown
As the melted butter heats, the milk solids and butter fat will start to separate. You'll see white particles which are the milk solids, fall to the bottom of the pan. The water in the butter will start to evaporate causing the bubbles to get larger and pop and splutter. The small foam will turn into larger bubbling foam with a slight colouration on the edges where the milk solids have started to colour (Image 5 & 6). Keep whisking to keep the foam at bay.
These milk solids are gradually going to caramelise and turn brown in colour which then turns the butter amber, then golden then to a rich golden brown (Image 7). Whisking continuously means that the milk solids don't catch and burn on the bottom but also helps clear the foam so that it doesn't obstruct your view of browning butter.
As soon as it's at your desired colour (Image 8), take the pan off the heat immediately as the butter will continue to brown even when off the heat source.
Pour the butter into a heatproof bowl or jug. Make sure to scrap all the brown bits from the base of the pan (Image 8). Don't leave any behind, I repeat, don't leave any behind! These are little nuggets of gold that hold all the flavour!
Just like with regular butter, brown butter can be used whilst melted, at room temperature on when chilled. Once the brown butter reaches room temperature, the brown bits will have sunken to the bottom of your dish. At this point I suggest giving the butter a quick stir to scrape the bits off the bottom and mix them in.
How long does it take to brown butter?
This totally depends on how much butter you are browning. I recommend browning no more than 230g / 1 cup/2 sticks at a time. Any more and the butter won't heat evenly. It usually takes between 8-15 minutes.
Don't be tempted to turn up the heat thinking it will make the process go quicker. All you'll end up doing is burning the milk solids at the bottom of the pan before the rest of the butter has had a chance to turn the right shade of golden!
Brown versus burnt butter
There are varying degrees of how brown the butter can go. It totally depends on personal preference as to how deep a colour you go. You may prefer a lightly golden, mild-tasting butter, or prefer a deeper-toned, toastier flavour. In the image below, you can see the stages of colour that the butter goes through from regular melted butter through to burnt.
It's so interesting to have a visual to see the colour change with brown butter. The perfect browning needs to sit between Images C and D. Here's a breakdown of each stage:
- Image A: is simple melted butter. It's still yellow in colour with a slight separation of fats and milk solids. It's bright yellow and cloudy.
- Image B: The milk solids have continued to separate and water evaporates from the butter leaving you with a clearer liquid. The milk solids have just started to turn a light caramel, but not enough to impact the flavour. Along with Image A, this is undercooked.
- Image C: the milk solids have continued to caramelise and the butter has turned a light amber colour. The nutty flavour will be subtle. If a recipe calls for lightly golden butter, then this is the perfect amount of browning.
- Image D: The milk solids are a deep caramel colour and the butter is a rich golden brown. The aroma will have an alluring, intoxicating nutty smell. This is the perfect state for most uses.
- Image E: The milk solids are blackened and the butter has turned a very deep dark brown. In my opinion, the browning process has been taken too far and the butter is overcooked. It will start to smell burnt and the taste will be quite bitter and unpleasant.
Should you strain brown butter?
Due to the caramelised milk solids, you'll see the brown specks throughout the butter. If you're cooking a dish where you don't want to see these specks, then yes, pass the melted brown butter through a fine-mesh sieve or muslin cloth to remove the specks.
You'll impart the maximum flavour to your dish if you keep the specks in though. I, without fail, always keep them in when baking with brown butter.
- Use the best quality butter you can afford. Better quality = better-tasting browned butter.
- Cut butter into small pieces. Cutting the butter into small pieces, it allows the butter to melt quicker but also more evenly.
- Use a light-coloured pan. This makes a huge difference in being able to see how golden brown the butter is turning.
- Don't stop stirring. Constantly stirring the butter allows the heat from the bottom of the pan to be evenly distributed and will prevent the solids from burning before the rest of the butter has browned.
- Take your time: don't rush the process of browning the butter as you can go from lovely golden browned butter to burnt butter very quickly. Patience is definitely a virtue here.
- Keep the brown bits. When scraping out the butter from the pan when freshly browned, or when spooning it out of the container when chilled in the fridge, make sure to catch all the brown bits at the bottom. They're like magic dust!
Frequently asked questions
This is a totally normal part of the process. As the butter fat and milk solids are separate, the water in the butter is evaporating causing the butter to foam. Depending on your butter which has varying quantities of water and the intensity of the heat will determine how much or little your butter will foam.
If using American butter, there is a higher percentage of water that needs to evaporate before the proteins in the milk solids will start to brown. Stick with it, the butter will turn eventually. Don't be tempted to turn the heat up though- once the solids start to brown, they turn pretty quickly. You don't want to overdo it and burn them.
Yes, you can and it's very simple to do. You simply place butter in a microwave-safe bowl, cover it, and microwave for 4 to 5 minutes until the butter is golden brown. Your total time will depend on how powerful your microwave is. It may take a couple of minutes more.
Absolutely. Make the brown butter, let it cool to room temperature then store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Yes, it can. Just like regular butter, store in a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 4 months. Thaw in the refrigerator. Freezing brown butter is a great way of getting ahead for the holiday season.
Moisture loss and how to use brown butter in recipes
When using a recipe that calls for brown butter, then go along with the quantity of butter that the recipe states.
However, if you want to substitute regular butter in a recipe with brown butter, then you're going to need to tweak the recipe a little. This is because on average, butter accounts for 15% water.
During the process of browning butter, the water evaporates out thus reducing the amount of liquid. As you can see in the image above I melted 230g (1 cup) worth of butter and it came out as 230ml. I then browned the same amount of butter and it measured out at 200ml. As you can see - it's less due to the water evaporation.
You need to compensate for the decrease in moisture by adding a liquid such as milk or water into the recipe. A general rule of thumb is to add 1 tablespoon of liquid for every 115g/1/2 cup of butter.
But think of how the brown butter is being used in the recipe. If it's for a cake batter, then no problem, add in the extra moisture. But if, for example, it's to make a shortcrust pastry, then it's probably not best to add more liquid into the recipe. I would add more butter at the start before browning to account for the weight loss. For every 115g of butter (½ cup/1 stick), I would add an extra 15g (1 tablespoon) at the start.
More recipes using brown butter
Brown butter can be used in practically any baked treats that require butter. It will deepen the flavour adding extra refinement to the overall flavour. Now you have this newfound skillset under your belt, you can enjoy the following recipes with brown butter.
If you tried making Brown Butter or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how you go in the comments below. I love hearing from you. Also, please leave a star rating whilst you're there!
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How To Make Brown Butter (Beurre Noisette)
- Saucepan or High-sided fry pan
- 230 g unsalted butter, room temperature or cold
- Cut the butter into small evenly sized pieces. Heat a nonstick light-coloured saucepan or high-sided fry pan on medium heat. Add the butter and whisk it occasionally to ensure that it melts evenly.
- As the butter melts, it will start to bubble, pop and splatter. The milk solids and fat will start to separate and you'll see the white milk solids fall to the bottom. Continuously whisk. The water in the butter starts to evaporate and the butter will foam up. Watch the butter closely. The milk solids caramelise on the bottom of the pan and the butter will turn from a bright yellow to light amber, to golden through to a deep rich brown.
- When it starts to smell intensely buttery and nutty, and the butter is a deep golden brown then remove the pan immediately from the heat and pour the butter into a heat-proof bowl. If left in the pan, the butter and milk solids would continue to cook in the residual heat and burn to create a bitter-tasting butter.Use straight away if melted brown butter is called for. Or leave to cool to room temperature and refrigerate.
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.
What an incredible guide Emma. I've always been nervous about making brown butter - but I followed your instructions to a tee and it's so much easier than I ever thought. Your process images are what got me through the stages- a resounding thank you!
Hi Emma, Thanks so much for letting me know how my guide managed to help you along. made my day!
Just made brown butter using your instructions. Worked perfectly. Will freeze and use next week. Plan to make a vanilla brown butter cake. One less thing to do on baking day.
Brown Butter is the most amazing addition to any recipe isn't it! Glad that my post helped show you the way Michael, Emma