Brown butter in a glass dish, on a black background,

How to Make Brown Butter and Why You Should

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brown butter, baby, vegetarian

Anywhere butter goes, brown butter goes better, enhancing the aroma and flavour of foods from savoury sauces to roasted veggies and chocolate chip cookies.

In this post, I’ll show you how simple it is to make this one-ingredient recipe. It’s really just about knowing all the stages that it goes through while cooking, so you’re ready to take it off the heat at the right moment. I’ll walk you through this with images and narrative, and there’s even a time lapse video if you truly want to geek out.

Beware though, making brown butter is addictive. Forget its ultimate versatility, the scent alone will send you back for more. I wish the internet had scratch and sniff because this stuff smells like toffee — deep, delicious, nutty.

Jump to Recipe
Brown butter in a glass dish, on a black background,

Brown Butter

This caramel-perfumed wonder is made possible with very little effort and time, and no fancy equipment, just a simple saucepan. The lowdown — brown butter is just regular butter that’s cooked until it releases water and the milk solids caramelize.

Making Brown Butter: The Stages

6 images showing the various stages of cooking brown butter in a saucepan. From cubed butter, to melted butter, to butter boiling, then beginning to foam, foaming with brown flecks and then done.

The image above depicts 1/2 pound (about 227 grams) of butter being browned. With that quantity, the whole amazing alchemical process takes about 18 minutes from start to finish. There’s a time lapse video below the recipe that shows the stages in more depth but this image captures the highlights.

Let’s walk through the cooking process. It might seem intimidating at first, but once you make it and are aware of the stages it goes through, it’ll be something you can easily make while doing other things in the kitchen.

You’ll want to use a light-coloured saucepan, so it’s easier to see the colour changes. Add some cubed, unsalted butter to the saucepan and turn the heat to medium. The butter will begin to melt. You don’t need to do much at this point, just stir it or whisk it every minute or so, to ensure that the milk solids cook evenly.

Cubes of butter melting in a saucepan

Melting stage of making brown butter

Next, you’ll see it begin to boil and bubble. The water in the butter is getting cooked off. (For the curious: if you start with 227 grams of butter (about half a pound), you’ll end up with 180 grams of butter.) At this stage, just keep giving it a stir every minute or so.

Butter boiling in a saucepan.

Boiling stage of making brown butter

Now you’ll want to start paying closer attention. The butter will begin to foam.

Boiling butter is foaming in a saucepan.

Foaming stage of making brown butter

Shortly after that brown flecks will appear. (Geek note: Behind all of this is the Maillard reaction.)

Most excitingly, that tell-tale nutty aroma should be permeating your kitchen. It’s time to get the butter off the heat. Otherwise it will keep cooking in your saucepan’s residual heat.

Foaming butter in saucepan with brown flecks on the surface of the foam, indicating brown butter is done.

Brown flecks are appearing.

I can tell you from experience, you would rather have slightly-less-than-brown butter than black butter. (Although black butter is a thing too, it’s called beurre noire, and it’s combined with lemon juice or vinegar to make a sauce for fish and meat.) If you’re unsure, take the saucepan off the heat and spoon a little bit on a white plate so you get a good idea of the colour.

That’s it!

Transfer your brown butter to a heatproof vessel. If you like, strain out the sediment (the cooked milk solids). Some people like the sediment, some people don’t. If your butter is on the dark brown side, this sediment might be too bitter-tasting to leave in. Only you can decide!

 

What is Brown Butter Used For?

Brown butter elevates so many dishes. When in its liquid state, it’s perfect to drizzle over mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables, anything from Brussel sprouts to yams — really any vegetable that tastes good with regular butter is going to be even better drizzled with brown butter. Or use it to add depth and richness to soups, like this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with brown sugar and brown butter.

Brown butter also goes beautifully with herbs and spices. Pasta or gnocchi with brown butter and sage sauce is a classic pairing. Rosemary and thyme make great options, too, either for a pasta sauce, or to make a fragrant herbed brown butter. Or combine it with fresh ginger, as in my recipe for Roasted Rainbow Carrots with Ginger Brown Butter. 

Another way to use brown butter is on your morning oatmeal, you can just drizzle some on. Or make a quick sweet and buttery sauce by heating 4 teaspoons brown butter with 4 tablespoons maple syrup over low heat.

Staying on the breakfast track, brown butter’s delicious with the turmeric and the warm spices featured in Moon Milk Farina.

I have some really fun recipes in the queue, notably an awesome Brown Butter Pineapple Teriyaki Sauce. The brown butter gives the sauce a lovely richness that works well against the acidic pineapple juice. Watch for that coming soon.

Now, let’s look at a few things to note when it comes specifically to baking with brown butter.

Tips for Using Brown Butter in Baking

To swap out brown butter for regular butter in baking, ensure that the brown butter is the same state that the recipe calls for. Reheat it over low heat to make it liquid again if necessary.

At room temperature, brown butter will have a thick, but stirrable texture, something close to peanut butter.

A close up of brown butter at room temperature. It's amber coloured and has the consistency of peanut butter.

Brown butter at room temperature

If the recipe calls for solid butter, refrigerate your brown butter overnight. Note that it will get a bit more solid, but it won’t ever return to the same solid state as butter.

Brown butter has less water in it than regular butter, so if you are swapping it out for regular butter, add 1 tablespoon of extra liquid for each 1/4 cup of butter.

You can flavour your brown butter with star anise by adding a piece to the butter while you’re cooking it. See this recipe for Pear Tart with Brown Butter Crust, where the star anise adds a subtle licorice note to the spelt crust.

Eating Together Made Easy

If you’ve been to not not before, you’ve probably noticed this section in almost every recipe. My goal is always to make my recipes adaptable so they work for various diets, from vegan to vegetarian and carnivore. This recipe for brown butter is obviously not vegan, but the good news is that I’ve created a vegan version, so that you can make both versions if you have a mixed crowd.

Let’s make some Brown Butter!

Brown Butter
Prep Time
2 mins
Cook Time
18 mins
Total Time
20 mins
 

Brown butter is a one-ingredient recipe that adds a deliciously nutty depth of flavour to recipes both sweet and savoury, from brown butter sauce for pasta to roasted veggies and chocolate chip cookies. 

Course: Sauce
Cuisine: American, French
Keyword: brown butter, browned butter
Diet: vegetarian
Servings: 20 tablespoons
Calories: 81 kcal
Author: Sylvia Eastman
Ingredients
  • 227 grams unsalted butter (This is equivalent to half a pound. You can use salted butter in a pinch, but it may alter the flavour slightly.)
Instructions
  1. Cut the butter into even-sized cubes and add to a heavy-bottomed, light-coloured saucepan. 

  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring every minute or so. The butter will go through various stages. (Note: Mine usually takes about 18 minutes or so, but your saucepan and stove will be different so your results may vary. Also, cooking less butter will take less time.)

    It will take a few minutes for the butter to melt.

    Then it will begin to boil and the water will cook off.

    Next the butter will start to foam as the milk solids brown. You will see the brown flecks and also smell a nutty aroma.

    Take the butter off the heat and pour it into a heatproof cup or bowl to prevent it cooking in the residual heat. 

    Optionally, strain the sediment out during the transfer process. 

    See the body of the blog post for detailed instructions and tips on how to use the butter alone and as an ingredient in recipes. 

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes
Storage

If you will be using your brown butter within a day or so, it's fine to keep it on the counter. Otherwise, just pop it in the fridge and it will last at least a couple of weeks. You can also wrap it well and freeze it. 

Total Yield and Nutritional Information

The yield for this recipe is 20 liquid tablespoons.The nutritional information is based on a serving size of 1 liquid tablespoon. 

Vegan Brown Butter?

Looking for vegan brown butter, see the recipe here.

Summary of Tips

Please read the post for detailed tips, but here's a summary of key points:

  1. Use unsalted butter if possible. Salted butter will work, but the flavour may be slightly different.
  2. Cut the butter into even-sized cubes to ensure it cooks evenly.
  3. Use a light-coloured saucepan so it's easier to see the colour of the butter changing. 
  4. Stir or whisk the butter every minute or so to ensure even cooking of the milk solids.
  5. Watch the butter carefully. When it is foaming and brown flecks appear, it is time to take it off the heat. Pour the butter into a heatproof bowl or cup to stop it from further cooking. Optionally, strain out the sediment. 
  6. Liquid brown butter all on its own makes a simple, one-ingredient sauce to drizzle on roasted vegetables or hot oatmeal.
  7. For baking, when using brown butter as a swap for regular butter, ensure it's in the same state (e.g. liquid versus solid) as the original recipe calls for. 
  8. For baking, remember that brown butter has less water than regular butter. Therefore when swapping brown butter for regular butter in baking, add an extra 1 tablespoon of liquid for every 1/4 cup of butter (4 ounces). 
  9. Come back often to check out my growing list of recipes that use brown butter. And I've got a recipe for vegan brown butter, too, so if you're cooking for a mixed group of vegans/vegetarians/omnivores you're covered here. 
Nutrition Facts
Brown Butter
Amount Per Serving
Calories 81 Calories from Fat 81
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 9g 14%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 24mg 8%
Sodium 1mg 0%
Potassium 2mg 0%
Vitamin A 5.7%
Calcium 0.3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

PIN: Brown Butter

Image with text: How to Make Brown Butter and Why. Includes images showing butter cubes and cooked brown butter.

How to Make Brown Butter and Why

Recipes that Use Brown Butter

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Small white jug filled with liquid brown butter, on a white plate that has been brushed with brown butter
Brown Butter

20 thoughts on “How to Make Brown Butter and Why You Should”

  1. Monika says:

    Is it possible to make browned “butter” but with GHEE as the starting point?

    • Sylvia E says:

      It’s my understanding that Ghee and brown butter are almost identical, except that Ghee has the browned milk solids strained out of it.

  2. Monika says:

    Is my math correct – when browning butter, we lose about 20% of the starting weight?
    So butter is essentially 20% water…

    • Sylvia E says:

      Hi Monika – yes, that sounds right. It will depend on the butter – standards vary in the world, but typically US commercial butters are about 80% fat, 16-17% water, and the rest is milk solids.

  3. Awesome! I am going to give that a try! Brown butter mixed with parmesan might be great tossed on pasta or greens!

    • Sylvia E says:

      Hi Taryn – I think I’ll try that myself! – It sounds like a delicious combo!

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