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From a taste perspective, I love the nutty flavor of browned butter. From a culinary perspective, I'm curious what the process does to the butter.

I used browned and cooled butter in cookies yesterday. The cookbook I was working with had another recipe for cookies with melted butter (not browned) and suggested using egg yolks to add some extra fat because melted butter is different than softened butter, but did not explain.

I followed the tips for adding egg yolks and the cookies came out well, but I'm curious if I could have skipped the egg yolks and cooled the butter until it was the temperature of butter for creaming (which I've read is around 70 degrees F) and creamed it as normal softened butter, or if browning it altered it permanently.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Your recipe is suspect. Melted butter is the same in chemical composition as softened butter. The two react a bit differently in recipes due to the way that they interact with the other ingredients to impart textures: in short, the creamed butter will hold microscopic bubbles that the fully melted butter will not. Adding egg yolks will help the melted butter incorporate, and probably lead to more cakey cookies (compensating for the flatness you get from melted butter), but the effect is hard to isolate.

As for brown butter, what happens is that as moisture evaporates from the butter, the boiling point increases (similar to what happens when making caramel or candy). As the boiling point of the butterfat increases, the temperature of the butter solids (which consist of lactose and milk proteins) begin to caramelize (the sugars) and undergo a maillard reaction (the protein). Both of these reactions will impart unique flavors to the butter, yielding the distinctive brown butter taste.

As the butter heats, the integrity of the fat is damaged. This occurs to all fats, which is why you can only use a batch of fat for deep frying a few times before it needs to be discarded.

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Wait, wait, the sidenotes in an America's Test Kitchen recipe are suspect? I'm suspecting they just meant that melted butter didn't have the right temperature to hold the bubbles, but I'm not positive. If that's the case, my world will be rocked. –  justkt Aug 12 '10 at 13:04
    
Yeah, I suppose it is a trustworthy source:) Taken out of context, I'm not sure what they meant. –  Adam Shiemke Aug 12 '10 at 13:16
    
given what you say about how the egg yolks compensate, this seems to fit the sidenote. It's probably the person quoting the sidenote (me) who is suspect. –  justkt Aug 12 '10 at 13:23
    
Excellent answer, Adam - you covered all of the bases. By the way, brown butter is excellent in cornbread. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Aug 12 '10 at 15:27
    
@Michael - why didn't I see that comment before making a batch of cornbread the other day? –  justkt Aug 16 '10 at 16:48
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On Chef Darin's blog, I found the answer to my question about creaming browned butter with sugar. It can be done by chilling the butter to the proper temperature.

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Browning butter is a little bit further down the track than making Ghee (clarified butter). It has some interesting chemical properties and has been proven to reduce cholesterol. As well as being delicious - I even eat it on plain boiled rice, there is nothing like it ;-)

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