Sunday, March 23, 2014

Salted Brown Butter Pecan Cookies


When it comes to baking, there's one thing you absolutely need to appreciate:

Butter is Better.

Always.

Period.

Shortenings, especially highly emulsified ones, can create very uniform cake crumb structure. This is true.

Lard makes the flakiest pie crust.
I completely agree.

BUT, butter makes everything taste better.
Heck yes!

Although shortening and lard have great functional properties, when they are required (like for pie dough or fine textured cakes), I will always cut them with butter for that rich, full-bodied, rounded dairy flavour. Nothing compares.

Butter is a natural flavour enhancer. Thank you cow - you are udderly incredible (ha...).


Brown butter is exactly what it sounds like... "browned butter". 
It is the nutty, caramelized, toasty friend of fresh butter. 

As butter melts and then heats to a boiling point, the water in it evaporates. Remember, butter is a water-in-oil emulsion. It contains 15-18% water. Once this water evaporates, the milk solids, including milk proteins and some sugar (lactose), undergo delicious browning reactions that cascade into incredibly flavourful compounds.



The compromise is that the browned butter with all of its water removed is essentially pure milk fat now, and no longer an emulsion. As a result, it can lend a greasy feel to cookie dough and isn't as easily creamed to that "light and fluffy" stage for soft-textured cakes. 

It's a small price to pay for some BIG flavour.

These cookies are wonderfully chewy, boldly tasteful and keep for days in an airtight container. Extra flaked sea salt on top ensures they are mucho addictive. We have a straight-up balance between sweet, salty and deep rich caramelization. They can be likened to potato chips - betcha can't eat just one.

TIP: Brown butter also adds excellent complexity to brownies, banana bread, muffins and frostings. If using it as a base for butter cakes, mix it with an equal amount of fresh butter so that you get better aeration during creaming.


An important comparison to consider: there is a difference between brown butter and black butter.

If you happen to cook it too far and the brown bits are now (burnt) black bits, you can strain the hot butter through a fine mesh sieve or a cheese cloth to remove them. The brown bits carry loads of flavour, but if burnt they can impart a bitter taste to your dessert. No need to fret - the translucent liquid gold left behind is still infused with great flavour.

Be friends with butter and life will be better.
Word!


Salted Brown Butter Pecan Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies

¾ cup (175 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (220 g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ¾ cup (250 g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ cup chopped pecans
flaked see salt for topping (I use Maldon)

To brown the butter, place it in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until completely melted. Allow butter to come to a boil, stirring constantly. It will bubble and crackle as its water content evaporates. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the crackling noises begin to fade and the bubbles subside. A dense foam will form at the surface as the last bit of water squeezes out, and the colour will progress from golden yellow to tan and finally, brown. This takes around 8-10 minutes. Keep a close eye on it as butter can turn from brown to burnt within a matter of seconds.

Once you smell that nutty aroma and begin to see little brown bits as you stir, take the pan off the heat and immediately pour the brown butter into a medium heatproof bowl. Refrigerate for 15 minutes

Add brown sugar, egg and vanilla to the bowl with the brown butter and beat well. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt and stir it into the butter mixture. Fold in chopped pecans. At this point the dough may feel a bit greasy. Place dough onto a large piece of parchment paper and roll it into a 12-inch long log. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Use a sharp knife to slice 5mm rounds and place on prepared baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart. Sprinkle flaked sea salt on top. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden and browned around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies will feel slightly greasy when warm but will handle just fine once cooled.


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3 comments:

  1. Just reading this has made my mouth water and even taste the brown buttery goodness!! I have to stop reading your posts so close to bedtime - now I'm hungry and too tired to whip these up :)

    ReplyDelete

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