Your latest weapon is brown butter

To achieve brown butter, you’ll need a heavy-based pan and some good-quality butter cut into...
To achieve brown butter, you’ll need a heavy-based pan and some good-quality butter cut into pieces. Photos: Getty Images
What is brown butter, and how to use it? Add its subtle, nutty flavour where plain butter might be used, but go easy on the heat, finds Anna Berrill.

Achieved by heating butter until the water evaporates and the milk solids caramelise, brown butter (or beurre noisette) can enhance the flavour of all the good things – cookies, cakes, pasta, pork chops.

"It can be a beautiful thing," agrees baker Lily Jones, of Lily Vanilli in east London, who recently launched an initiative across the capital to get birthday cakes to those who would otherwise go without.

"It has a subtle, nutty, toffee caramel flavour that brings extra sweetness and richness."

You’ll need a heavy-based pan and some good-quality butter cut into pieces. ("Better-quality butter equals better-tasting brown butter," Jones insists.)

As the butter melts, swirl the pan to prevent the milk solids from caramelising too quickly – "It’s ready when clear [separated] and with a nutty aroma."

Easy enough, but you’ll need to exercise patience (and not to use too high a heat), because butter can burn in the blink of an eye, says Mike Davies, chef/director of the Camberwell Arms in south London.

"Over a medium heat, it will take five to 10 minutes, but just keep an eye on it," he advises.

"And remember, being a fat, butter retains heat, so it will continue cooking [once off the heat] for some time."

You’re looking for a deep golden colour before pulling the pan off the stove – "Go past that point," Davies says, "and we’re getting into more considered territory where, for example, you might want a deeper brown butter and so would be after a more chestnut colour." (You could, he adds, go even further with, for example, Rick Stein’s skate and black butter, but "you’re then getting slightly different flavour notes and more complex, bitter element".)

Brown butter makes all manner of bakes better.
Brown butter makes all manner of bakes better.
You can use brown butter in myriad ways, both sweet and savoury.

At the Camberwell Arms, it’s something of a staple seasoning, adding depth and complexity to cabbage, for instance.

Sure, greens and butter are always going to be delicious, but browning the butter and caramelising the sugar, Davies says, "gives you this toasted, deep, sweet, nutty flavour that you can’t match".

It’s equally good when used to make scrambled eggs, poured over pasta or gnocchi, stirred into soup, or to dress grains or meaty white fish (it’s especially good in a crab roll, Jones says). Brown butter is also valuable in the likes of hollandaise, Davies adds, to serve with eggs benedict or asparagus ("they’re completely delicious together"), although admittedly we’re a little way off asparagus season.

Of course, brown butter makes all manner of bakes better, the classic financier being a prime example.

"It’s a rich, almondy cake/sponge hybrid made with quite a lot of brown butter," Davies says.

Alternatively, Jones would put brown butter to work in brownies "with lots of sea salt", or a chocolate ganache for filling or icing cakes.

Brown butter in biscuits is just plain good sense, and particularly in Davies’ kryptonite, Hobnobs – "I just love them."

Simply make the brown butter, leave it to cool and solidify, then rub into flour, sugar and oats.

"Brown butter Hobnobs are a secret weapon level of brilliance." — The Guardian