Everyone seems to be watching their fat intake these days. Given the fact that a tablespoon of fat has the same calories whatever the source, it only makes sense that when you do consume fat, that it should be a fat that tastes good.
Next to duck fat and lard, brown butter is my favorite luxury fat for the depth of flavor it adds to recipes. Browned butter is not burnt butter. It’s also not clarified butter. It’s butter than has been cooked until the milk solids in the butter become golden and nutty. The French term for it, beurre noisette translates to “hazelnut butter” and really does describe the nutty flavor well.
As an ingredient in various recipes it imparts a rich, deep flavor. Used alone it can elevate plain pasta, fish, chicken or vegetables to something very elegant. There are many recipes both sweet and savory that make excellent use of browned butter. One of my favorites is sizzling a farm fresh over-easy egg in it till the edges of the white become crisp and fragrant from the butter.
To brown butter simply heat it in a heavy pan over medium heat. Once the hot butter foams watch it carefully. The butter solids will become aromatic and turn a nutty brown very soon after. Remove from the heat right away and pour into a heat proof cup or bowl until ready to use. Can be done well in advance and stored tightly covered and refrigerated for a week
In baking, the most luscious use is to substitute butter that has been browned and chilled for the regular butter in buttercream frosting for cakes. For a decadent cookie that goes perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea this recipe for shortbread cookies made with brown butter and studded with chopped hazelnuts is simply outstanding
Browned Butter Hazelnut Shortbread
1 1/2 cups butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
1. Cook butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, 6 to 8 minutes until the foam subsides and the butter turns golden brown. Remove pan from heat immediately, and pour butter into a small bowl. Cover and chill 1 hour or until butter is cool and solidifies.
2. Beat cooled butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add brown sugar and powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Gradually add flour to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in the hazelnuts.
3. Shape dough into 2 logs as large as you wish your final cookies to be. Since the recipe doesn’t contain any leavening, the cookies will not spread or puff up and will remain the same size when baked. Wrap logs tightly in plastic wrap, and chill 4 hours or until firm.
4. Cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds; place on lightly greased baking sheets or sheets lines with baking parchment
5. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Do not over bake. Transfer to wire racks to cool.