Burnt Brown Butter – Can You Save It?

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If you do very much cooking at all, then you probably already know that brown butter can bring a whole new flavor to the food you might be making.

It’s really popular with baked goods but it’s also highly popular with breakfast foods like eggs, sausage, or even pancakes. 

You can’t just go to the grocery store and pick up a tub of brown butter, though. You have to make brown butter on your own and there is a fine line between brown butter and burnt butter.

While making brown butter is fairly easy if you know what you are doing, you’ve got to be very careful not to burn it. 

Can you save burnt brown butter? Unfortunately, once you’ve burned brown butter, it’s very hard to work with to create the delicious recipe you were after. You might be able to still use the butter for some things but you should be aware it may not have the results that you want it to have in the end. 

In this guide, we will talk about recognizing when brown butter is actually burnt butter and what you may or may not be able to do to salvage the butter as well.

We’ve got tips to try to prevent burning your brown butter and a few options if you decide to go ahead and use your burnt brown butter as well. 

Keep reading to learn more about saving burnt brown butter. 

What Is Brown Butter? 

Brown butter is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. However, you don’t buy brown butter. You make brown butter using your regular golden butter.

Take that butter out of the fridge, grab a saucepan that is a light color, and create this sweet, brown deliciousness

Brown butter is butter that has been slightly cooked on the stovetop to melt and slightly caramelize in a pan.

What happens is the water in the butter evaporates away and then the milk solids start to toast. This is when the butter begins turning brown and caramelizes in the process. 

Brown butter changes the overall flavor of butter by making it just slightly sweet and slightly nutty in flavor.

It also gives you just a hint of a toffee or caramel flavor in the sweet notes. Brown butter is used often for baking but it is also popular for making sauces and some savory types of meals as well. 

It can be used in a variety of ways but baking is perhaps a top choice for brown butter. 

How To Tell If Brown Butter Is Burnt

While making brown butter is a bit of a special art, you will be able to tell pretty easily when it becomes burnt butter instead of brown butter.

The good news is that if you have the right tools handy, you should be able to make brown butter pretty easily. 

You just need to know and understand the differences in the shades of the butter as it browns and when to stop. If you accidentally burn the butter you might actually be better off just tossing it out and starting over.  

Once your butter hits that dark brown color, you need to remove it from the heat immediately.

In fact, you rarely need it to actually turn dark brown. In most cases, you can use a light brown or a golden brown and not even risk the chance of burning it. 

Butter can get fairly dark without actually burning so don’t just assume that because it’s a very dark brown it truly is burnt.

You need to find out for sure. Sometimes, it might have some burnt particles in it and this is what is really a sign that you’ve possibly burnt the butter. 

There’s a fine line here because it goes from dark brown to burnt in no time at all. However, the indicator that the butter is burnt will be the burnt crumbs in the bottom.

These burnt crumbs are actually remnants of the milk solids. If you have those, the concoction is probably burnt. 

However, don’t give up just yet! You might try giving it just a quick sniff or a little taste. If it doesn’t have a burnt flavor, you can save it. 

Salvaging Burnt Brown Butter

If the butter itself doesn’t take burnt or bitter, you can totally still use it! You just need to strain the burnt milk solids out of the butter to be able to use it.

There are several different ways to strain but ultimately, you need something like a cheesecloth or even a coffee filter to catch the small particles and let the liquid butter strain through for use. 

If you have a mesh strainer or sieve, this is ideal. Here are some steps to salvage burnt brown butter: 

  1. Line a strainer or sieve (preferably fine mesh if available) with a material like a coffee filter or a cheesecloth piece. You need something in between to catch the find pieces of burnt milk solid. 
  2. Pour the entire concoction through the straining setup. The brown butter will pass right through and your straining pieces will stop the chunks of burnt milk solid so that it doesn’t pass back through to the butter. 
  3. Toss out the burnt milk solid pieces. 
  4. Use the brown butter as previously planned. 

Seems pretty simple right? That’s because it is! You can now use the brown butter and not worry about burnt side effects. 

We do want to mention that it is possible the butter may be burnt beyond salvaging. If it smells burnt or tastes slightly bitter like it is burnt, then it most likely is. In this case, we wouldn’t even mess with trying to strain it. 

If that is the case, you are better off simply throwing it out and starting over. If you do have to start over, butter is inexpensive and this process only takes a few minutes so it shouldn’t set you back too dramatically. 

Making The Best Brown Butter

Finally, let’s take a moment to look at a quick method for making brown butter. The key to not burning the butter is to use a pan that is light in color.

A stainless steel pan or silver pan is really best because you can clearly monitor the changing colors of the butter. 

You also need to have a whisk handy and be ready to stand there and whisk the butter. When it gets close or reaches the brown you’re looking for, you need to get it off of the heat and you can’t quit whisking it yet. 

Here are some step-by-step instructions to guarantee perfect brown butter: 

  1. Grab your light-colored sauce pan, whisk, and some unsalted butter. We recommend cutting the butter into smaller pieces if you use sticks. It just helps with the melting process. 
  2. Turn the stovetop on to medium heat with the pan on it. Monitor the butter closely. You will see it start to melt. After it melts, it will start to foam. When the foam starts to subside, this is where the magic happens. 
  3. As soon as the foam starts to subside and you see clear bubbles, get the whisk in there and whisk continuously. Don’t stop whisking. Say it with us now. This keeps those milk solids from getting in the way, basically. 
  4. As you are whisking, your butter will slowly change to a very light brown. The next color is golden brown, which is usually what you are going for. Then comes dark brown. It will just keep getting darker. 
  5. A good sign that the butter is perfectly browned is when it reaches that golden tone. You will also smell the nuttiness of the butter here. 
  6. Remove from the heat as soon as it hits the tone you are looking for. Keep whisking for a couple more minutes to prevent burning. 

That’s it! This process will take probably somewhere around 8-9 minutes from start to finish. Most recipes tell you to use chilled brown butter so you may need to let it cool or even chill it before using. 

You can save brown butter in the fridge so if you use it often, feel free to store a large portion of it sealed in the fridge for a little while. 

You can also use the brown butter warm. It just depends on what you are making. Check the recipe to see if it tells you whether you need to chill it or use it warm as this might make a difference. 

One last thing here! When you brown butter, it reduces the amount of butter slightly. A full stick of butter will lose about 1 ounce of butter in the browning process.

You may need to consider this if you are trying to make the exact amount of brown butter that you need for your recipe. 

Good luck! 

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