Here's why you should add brown butter to desserts and savory dishes—plus, how to make it.

Hilary Meyer
December 18, 2020
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Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

If you're looking to inject a little something special into your cooking and baking, look no further than what's probably already in your refrigerator: butter. Its creamy texture coupled with a perfect balance of sweet and savory flavors make it hard to imagine it could be improved upon, but butter carries the potential to add even more pizzaz to your cooking and baking projects just by spending a little extra time in the pan. Here's how to make the best brown butter to take your dinner (and dessert!) to the next level:

What Is Brown Butter?

The French refer to brown butter as beurre noisette or hazelnut butter. There are however, no actual hazelnuts in brown butter. Brown butter is simply butter that has been cooked long enough for the milk solids to toast, turning the butter brown and giving it a nutty aroma (hence the hazelnut reference). It's quite simple to make, but the flavor it adds is rich and complex, which is why it's so nice to turn to when you want to take your cooking and baking from good to great.

How to Make the Best Brown Butter

Making brown butter is very simple. When you're making it for the first time, there are only a few key points to keep in mind. First, you'll want to start with unsalted butter. Because the butter is losing water as it cooks, starting with salted butter can leave you with brown butter that's just too salty. (You can always add salt later.) The next step is to start cooking the butter! You can cook a tablespoon or two or an entire stick (or more) at a time. Small amounts will go quicker. Melt your butter over medium heat. Once it's melted and heats further, it will begin to foam. (This is the water leaving the butter). Stir it with a wooden spoon so it continues to cook evenly. Eventually you'll notice the butter beginning to turn color—from yellow to golden to a deep brown. The darker the color, the nuttier the flavor. Once your butter is browned to your liking, remove it from the heat and transfer it to a heatproof bowl so the residual heat from the pan doesn't continue cooking it (which can result in a burned mess). Voilà! You have yourself some brown butter.

How to Cook and Bake with Brown Butter

Cauliflower Gnocchi with Brown Butter & Sage Sauce served on white plate

Brown butter is equally magical in both sweet and savory dishes. It adds nutty notes to pies like this Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie and Brown Butter Apple Pie. You can use it as a sauce to slather on pasta or gnocchi like in this Cauliflower Gnocchi with Brown Butter & Sage Sauce recipe (pictured above). Or jazz up simple roasted vegetables with a drizzle of brown butter like in this Roasted Mushrooms with Brown Butter & Parmesan recipe. EatingWell magazine's food features editor Carolyn Malcoun has a great idea for using brown butter in an unconventional (but delicious) way. She tells us: "Last year my friend Meghan told me she made cream cheese frosting with brown butter. So I tried it when I made carrot cake. It was so amazing! Not only did it taste great, but the texture was incredible. I'll never make it any other way. Just let the brown butter cool to room temperature before making your frosting."

And that brings up another tip for using brown butter: You can use it in its liquid form or, as it cools, in its solid form. You can make it ahead of time too—simply brown your butter and store the browned butter in the fridge in a covered glass container for a week or two.