Brown butter and I...we love each other. Essentially you are burning your butter (oh, just a bit), but it's so much easier and more forgiving than burning, say, sugar (think caramel). All it asks is that it not be blackened. I can (usually) manage that. And it adds a depth to your foods made with butter--it has more flavors than just creamy and rich. It has nutty and caramel-y and roast-y (and creamy and extra rich).
First off, you can brown your butter slow on low heat, or quick on high heat. Slow takes just forever and I don't usually do it. High inevitably leads to me getting distracted and burning the stuff. So I do it on medium. It takes 10-20 minutes.
Here's how you do it:
1. Melt butter in a pan on medium heat. It will look like, ahem, melted butter--a light yellow color, creamy and fairly consistent throughout.
2. As it cooks, it will begin to separate. You'll have the oily part on the bottom and the lighter foamy looking part on the top (the solids).
(Different pan, I know, but this picture shows it a little better.)
3. Tilt the pan every few minutes. You don't have to hover over it, but do keep your eye on it.
4. Eventually it will start to darken a bit and you'll notice that it's smell is changing to a nuttier smell (whereas before it just smelled like melted butter).
5. It will start to bubble--just a gentle boil. Keep it gentle or you're likely to burn the stuff. Take it off the heat if it's starting to boil too much and wait for your burner to cool off a bit. Tilt your pan frequently or stir it gently with a wooden or metal spoon (plastic will melt unless it's made to be heated high like most silicone).
6. It will continue to darken. Some of the solids may sink to the bottom and get a little darker than the oily part. That's okay. Just don't let them get black.
7. When you're done, it will be...wait for it... brown. Wow. What a revelation. It can range from a caramel-colored brown to a more copper or even chestnut brown. Imagine that it's toast. Your toast can be a light color or a dark color. But most of us don't like it black or that really really dark brown that looks almost like black until it catches the light. (Should I be embarrassed that I'm giving this much thought to butter?) The darker it is, the more flavorful it will be, but there's always a small risk when you push the envelope. There's less risk with butter than with sugar, but you still don't want it burned. Here's a lighter and darker version:
8. Once it's ready, pour it into a dish (one that can withstand really hot things because this is really hot). This will keep it from continuing to cook in the pan.
Now it's ready for cookies or icing or fish or puddings or any other delights you can dream up.