Beurre noir [bur nwoir], beurre noisette [bur nwoi-ZET] and brown butter:  These are related terms for brown butter and are sometimes used interchangeably.  Beurre noir means black butter and often designates a sauce made with brown butter, lemon juice, capers and parsley (in effect a delicate vinaigrette, often served over lean, white, sautéed fish). Beurre noir should never be cooked until it actually turns black. Beurre noisette, or brown butter,
refers to butter cooked till the butter solids brown, and the butter
develops a nutty aroma and flavor (thus it’s name, hazelnut).  The
trick with making a brown butter sauce is to recognize the right color
and aroma, then to stop the cooking by adding the acid which cools the
hot butter fat. Brown butter is a versatile preparation, whether as a
beurre noir or meuniere sauce, or as a kind of seasoning for vegetables, pasta, potatoes or sweet preparations such as custards and cakes.
                From The Elements of Cooking, my book containing a thousand essential (opinionated) cook’s terms.


                                                                                                Photo by Donna T. Ruhlman
Brown butter is one of the great ingredients quietly hiding in your refrigerator.  With its nutty, caramel flavors, it enriches everything from savory pastas to legumes to soups to sweet cakes and ice cream.  Virtually anything to which you add butter can be made more complex and intriguing by the addition of brown. I’m posting about brown butter here after reading a brown butter post in Alex Talbot’s excellent blog (he makes a brown butter and corn ice cream). Talbot links to this post in a blog by Michael Laiskonis, pastry chef of Le Bernardin, who gives recipes for financiers (cakes flavored with brown butter), a butter cream flavored with only the solids, and a chocolate-brown-butter ganache.  Cory Barrett, pastry chef of Lola here in Cleveland, figured out a way to increase the amount of solids the butter yielded by adding milk powder (the solids are where all the flavors are). Michel Richard in his most recent book uses strained brown butter in his potato puree for decadent delicious mashed potatoes.  Suvir Saran, a chef and owner of the excellent Indian restaurant in Manhattan Devi, told me how his mother used to make a sweet treat of the solids strained from the butter when she prepared ghee (Suvir’s got an excellent new book out, btw, American Masala, Indian cooking in his American kitchen).

There’s no end to the uses of brown butter and it’s available to anyone with a stick of butter and a pan.  Simply cook butter over medium high heat; after the water cooks off, the temperature of the fat can rise high enough to brown the solids; remember that the fat gets hot and stays hot and will keep cooking the solids even after you take it off the heat, so be careful not to take it too far or the solids will burn and become bitter.  Transferring it to a bowl can speed the cooling process.  The main image above shows the golden brown hue of the fat and a very fine sediment of browned butter solids.


41 Wonderful responses to “Elements of Cooking: Brown Butter”

  • Troll

    Good salute to a simple and easy yet seldom-used method to enhance cooking. I have a brown-butter based pasta-dish posted somewhere. Adds flavor and keeps the pasta warm.

  • Connor

    “Virtually anything to which you add butter can be made more complex and intriguing by the addition of brown.”

    Amen to that! Financiers are one of my all-time favorite desserts and the flavor of root vegetables, brussels sprouts, and any type of squash roasted with brown butter is lovely. And I can’t imagine any good reason why that brown butter and corn ice cream wouldn’t be delicious…I’m making a mental note to make it this summer.

    It’s suprising that brown butter is such an underused ingredient in the home kitchen — but then again, there are relatively few recipes that call for it, and those that do often don’t explain its value.

  • lectric lady

    One of my favorite comfort foods is butternut squash ravioli with brown butter/sage sauce.

  • alkali

    Cook 1 lb. egg noodles until tender. Toss with one stick’s worth of brown butter and 1/2 lb. feta. (Source: Diane Kochilas, Gourmet, 6/2006)

  • Casey

    A few years ago I found a sensational recipe for brown-butter cookies in Gourmet magazine. Even better than adding to my cookie recipe repertoire, it included a great technique for browning the butter–a technique I blogged about at under “Beurre Noisette”.

  • Steve

    The trick with the milk powder sounds like a really good idea, I definitely will try that.

  • Robin

    We always brown the butter (and let it cool) when making pecan pie. Gives the filling an extra boost of nutty flavor. Also great in poppy seed muffins.

  • luis

    Butter is butter…..nothing else need be said. I am doing some Jacques Pepin and Julia childs videos and the thing that I see coming up again and again wheter legumes.. meat or poultry is that either Julia or Jacques keeps putting a nice helping o’butter into tha pan.
    Honestly, it is funny. they are doing this or that but if Julia doesn’t then Jacques does put a nice size pat o’butter into it. Butter and wine. I love those two.

  • Soup of The Day

    I’ve really been on a huge brown butter kick lately. I used it for a recipe a few weeks ago and it reminded me of how wonderful it is, and how easy it was to make and I wondered why I didn’t make it more often! So, now I do.

    Has anyone tried the version with the powdered milk? I am wondering if it retains any of that weird powdered milk taste? Maybe there is better quality powdered milk that I’m not aware of. Do you just get the type found at the local grocery?

  • RI Swampyankee

    Plain pasta+brown butter=something special.

    Michael–are you folks in CLE dug out yet?

  • veron

    I love brown butter in financiers. I usually cook the butter to 250F and turn off the heat, residual heat usually browns it to the right color.

  • Doodad

    So why are the cakes called financiers? Sorry, that kind of etymology thing fascinates me.

  • Michael Laiskonis

    I too enjoy the stories behind names. Born in the late 1800s, the financier was the creation of a baker whose shop was situated near the Bourse, or Paris stock exchange. The small golden cakes were baked in rectangular molds that resembled gold bars and thusly named after the bankers and financiers that frequented the shop.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Just general comment on a subject raised by Doodad and addressed specifically by Michael Laisknos.

    There is a longstanding tradition in haute cuisine of naming things, sauces, dishes, garnishes and pastries that are especially rich and fancy “financiers.” But of course, the tradition dates to the time that bankers began to replace nobility as iconic gluttons: post French-Revolutionary War France.

    Chef Laiskonis’ account of the date of the naming of the gold-bar cakes falls neatly into this period.

  • The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet

    Although it’s not the sexiest dish on the planet, my kids love brown buttered corn. It’s one of their default dishes if we have to cobble something together on the fly.

    It is comforting to know that a good sauce is always at hand…

  • Jennie/Tikka

    The first time I made brown butter was by accident while I was taking pastry (before the culinary or management tracks). I was way behind in class one night, had just scalded some milk, poured that out, and threw in some butter to melt. Very quickly it turned to brown butter and my instructor caught it. She thought it was great – but between us…it was an accident! 😀

  • luis

    Has anyone tried to make Hollandaise with brown buttter????? hmm… interesting. Ruhlman is right butter is extremelly versatile and the go to ingredient when you need to add a little fat to the dish. Black butter doesn’t seem right somehow. I don’t think the color black is found in cuisines and when it happens in my kitchen it is usually not a good sign.

  • Kevin

    How do you know if you’ve gone too far in the browning process? Is there a temp range like working with sugar, or is it an eyeball thing?

  • S. Woody

    “An eyeball thing.” Without the intention, you’ve given another reason not to use non-stick cookware, which most of the time is dark in color. How can anyone tell what color anything in a pan is, when the pan itself is already black?

    (Yes, I intend to get new cookware when I can afford a new set. Bad me.)

  • luis

    Well, came home tonite to my crockpot on keep warm. Been there for hours… and my pigs feet and vegetables are now kinda black looking. This is not a good sign. But the flavor is there and the smell is there. But the beautiful pigs feet and veggies I had for lunch are now looking kinda black. Black in my kitchen is never a good thing. But the flavor is there. Easy enough to strain the juices… I am now thinking corn bread. Last time I made it in a cast iron pot… not so good. It picked up an iron layer o’taste.
    Who said cast iron is the be all and end all of perfect cooking pans?.
    Well the good news is that I got rid of my veggies that needed to be used or … and it didn’t take a pizza to do it.
    I am also thinking of baking a nice bread with the crockpot stock. I guess the moral o’ tha story is keep warm is not keep safe. shut it down and freeze it next time.

  • luis

    Oh baby…. Just had another bowl o’that crockpot. Delicious. It’s not black, it is brown. Brown is good. Basically the keep warm caramelized the onions and carrots and celery which made most of tha stock. The pigs feet, bacon and bits of sausage just gave it some body and character. It looks a lot like the color of onion soup without the cheese o’course. Brown is good.

  • Connie

    I will have to try that. Everytime I cook butter it comes out black. I have an electric stove and that thing is impossible to turn down the heat but I will try it.

  • Lynette

    If the liquid is evaporated during the browning process of the butter, do I need to adjust the amount of butter or liquid in my recipe? I want to make a brown butter poundcake, to make decadent even more so, but I’m a bit worried about the liquid content. Also, another question, should I leave out the lemon extract and just stick with almond and vanilla? What do your tastebuds think? Thanks for your help.

  • ruhlman

    ryan, you want both the liquid fat and the browned solids.

    lynette, the recipe should account for the moisture, and there’s not enough to really throw off the recipe, i don’t think. i’d go easy on the lemon or just do it to taste, some lemon will be good–lemon and brown butter is a common pairing.

  • Lynette

    Thanks. I needed a little encouragement, a little nod. I can do this now.

  • Julie

    Pasta + browned butter + good parmigiano reggiano + fresh pepper= dinner for 1 or a dozen, easily.

  • Erika

    You can prevent overbrowned butter by putting a couple of inches of cold water into something large enough to dunk the bottom of your butter browning pan (I use my roaster, as I brown butter in a skillet) before you get started. When the butter gets to the color you want, shock the pan, and the cooking will stop instantly.

  • Erika

    You can prevent overbrowned butter by putting a couple of inches of cold water into something large enough to dunk the bottom of your butter browning pan (I use my roaster, as I brown butter in a skillet) before you get started. When the butter gets to the color you want, shock the pan, and the cooking will stop instantly.

  • Nita Marie

    I just created “brown butter” by accident as I melting butter in a pan in preparation for mac n cheese. After I saw the butter in the pan turning brown, I immediate began stirring it, took it off the burner and then hit the bottom of the pan with some cool water from the sink. To my dismay, it certainly smelled fine. I thought, wow, I certainly don’t want to waste all this good butter. I wonder if I can find a recipe using ‘browned’ butter and save it for later. I had intended on re-melting a new half stick of butter; however, when I googled “brown butter”, I found (to my dismay) that “brown butter” is popular. I’m so excited I discovered it!

  • Michael

    When I tried to make brown butter, i took the butter up to the color I wanted, and tried adding lemon juice as per the instructions. The butter fat popped as if I was adding water to oil. I assume I had the fat too hot? What could I have done differently?

  • ruhlman

    you WERE adding water to hot oil. perhaps you didn’t add enough to cool it down. but some spatter is all right.

  • Michael

    So in other words, don’t be chicken? Go gonzo and add enough lemon juice to cool it down all at once?

    I stopped adding juice when it started to spatter.