why i hate browning butter, and other stories.

Last weekend my partner was out of town with his family, and I found myself with whole evenings that I could devote to doing whatever I wanted. Naturally, I decided to take the first evening to bake stuff. In an effort to break away from my (delicious) fruit cake rut, I purposefully selected more dessert-y items, winding up with this crazy smitten kitchen cake and these cookies from Joy the Baker. Both recipes were labor-intensive and gave me the opportunity to do new things, which I love. They also gave me the opportunity to wreck new things, which I love less.

Which brings me to the fact that I think I have some sort of butter curse. If I’m not ruining it via sun exposure, I’m destroying it via browning. In the process of trying to make Joy’s Brown Butter Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies I managed to unsalvageably destroy an entire pound of unsalted organic $7/pound butter. (Why yes, I do hate myself, thank you for asking.) How did I do that, you may ask? With great skill, I will swiftly answer.

I was browning butter in two-stick increments, as the recipe called for 1/2 pound butter, browned. This was my first time working with brown butter, having spent most of my life thinking that browned butter was wrecked butter. (Remember my mom’s browned garlic aversion? Kids, it does not stop at garlic.) So I put my sticks in the pot, put the heat on medium, and waited. And waited. And waited. Turns out that there’s quite a long distance between a stick of butter and browned butter! Finally the solids began to brown, and I eagerly watched them darken … and darken … and become burned to shit. Turns out there is almost no distance at all between browned butter and burned butter.

So, okay, that’s fine. I didn’t expect this to go swimmingly the first time. I have a tendency to slightly overcook things in pursuit of the burny, crispy texture and flavor I love, and I wasn’t too fazed by this initial disaster. What really got me screaming and slamming shit was my second attempt, wherein I used an older and lower-quality pot because I was too lazy to wash the higher-quality pot I’d started out using, and watched my two sticks of butter go from “melting” to “burned to shit” in less time than it took the previous sticks to even begin to brown. Turns out shitty pots really do disperse heat unevenly, burning some parts of your item while leaving others golden. Third time (I used the good pot) was a charm.

My advice for those of you browning butter for the first time is to watch that shit like a hawk. You have some lag time while it’s melting, but once it’s all melted watch it. The liquid itself won’t brown; what browns are the little “crumbs” at the bottom of the pot. Take it off the heat as soon as a decent number of those are brown and the overall scent of the butter changes, and transfer it to a cool bowl. Seriously, listen to my wisdoms, I am trying to save you from my mistakes!!

The other challenging part of this recipe is toasting coconut. It’s just really difficult to get it to toast evenly, such that after only a very few minutes you’ll find the edges of your coconut pile well-toasted while the interior remains snow-white. (I had yet more trouble with this last night while making a recipe I haven’t posted about yet.) My advice – which I haven’t actually gotten to try yet, so I make no promises as to its efficacy – is as follows:

– Use a large cookie sheet.
– Cover it with a piece of parchment paper. Do not let any coconut touch the cookie sheet itself.
– Spread your coconut out as much as possible. One thin layer is ideal.
– Rotate the sheet and thoroughly rearrange the coconut every two minutes.

This is what I’m going to do next time I toast coconut, and hopefully it’ll improve the results (which haven’t been catastrophically bad so far by any means, they just haven’t been as good as they could be).

The orange chocolate chunk cake, despite having lots of steps, was actually very simple to make. The only really noteworthy thing here is that I got to hack a double boiler using a pot and a metal bowl =D You boil the water in the pot and melt your chocolate in the metal bowl which is resting on top of the pot (obviously it has to be large enough not to fall in). This made me feel like MacGyver. (I’ve never seen MacGyver.)

Notes and Verdicts
Brown Butter Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies
by Joy the Baker
Notes: I stuck to the recipe pretty closely on this one, with one huge exception: I accidentally multiplied the amount of coconut by five. This recipe calls for 1/4 cup toasted coconut, but I had originally intended to make a third cake which called for 1 cup of toasted coconut. I decided to toast all my coconut together to save time, but when it came time to add the coconut to the cookies I forgot about my time-saving measure and added the whole quantity to the batter. I didn’t even notice I’d made the error until later, when I realized I had neither coconut or energy left to make the third mystery item (which I made last night, and will blog about soon enough). I would definitely recommend increasing the coconut to whatever amount you think is tasty. 1 1/4 cups was pretty delicious, but you could probably go as high as 1 3/4 cups without adversely affecting the texture. For the chocolate chunks, I bought a bar of Ghirardelli dark chocolate and chopped it up; I recommend aiming for smaller chunks, as these are easier to incorporate into the batter. When I make these again, I’ll probably reduce the white sugar by 1/2 cup. These are really sweet, and could do with a little less sweetness. I’m also strongly considering doing a batch sprinkled with sea salt, which I think would be off the chain.
Verdict: Delicious. Not at all chewy, which is very important to me. Unlike chocolate chips, the chocolate chunks stay slightly gooey in the finished cookies so you always get that melty chocolate flavor and texture, which is a fantastic juxtaposition to the crunch of the cookie. These can be improved, certainly, but not by much. A

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake by smitten kitchen
Notes: Despite being easy to make, there are lots of things I’d change about this in a second making. First of all, I would increase the amount of orange zest from 1/4 cup to a cup. Second of all, I would do the orange syrup differently – I’d remove the cake from the oven, stab holes in the bottom, and pour the syrup over it while it was still hot and in the pan. I would then let it cool, and remove it after about 10 minutes. As you might have gathered, this cake did not taste like orange, having instead a vague unplaceable citrusy flavor that was not at all what I sought. On matters other than oranginess, I would reduce the quantity of chocolate chunks by half. 2 cups is just unnecessary, especially considering the presence of the ganache, which I’m honestly not sure what to do about. My impression is that you’re supposed to pour it over the cake while it’s still hot, but I had made it in advance and the recipe said the cake had to be cool before ganache-ing, so I wound up letting everything sit overnight and spreading the ganache on the cake like an icing the next morning. I found this to be a good choice, but was left with a ton of extra ganache that went to waste (my family aren’t really extra-frosting people). Make of my struggles what you will.
Verdict: Not worth the effort. On the other hand, my mom loved it and felt it got better with each passing day, so maybe I’m nuts. B

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About Sara

I like to talk about media, food, and gender.
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4 Responses to why i hate browning butter, and other stories.

  1. SWNC says:

    Browning butter is harder than it looks.

    I love your cooking posts–it’s fun to cook and eat vicariously through them! And now, oh kitchen guru, my question for you: I’m hosting a Labor Day potluck–what should I make? (I have thought of the usual tried and true and delicious: grilled meats, deviled eggs, pimento cheese–but I am open to new and exciting suggestions.)

    • Sara says:

      You make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

      My dad has a fantastic grilled marinated veggie recipe that is ace for barbecues. I’ll share it tomorrow and dedicate it to you =D

  2. Pingback: take the lime, add the coconut, make a fucking fantastic cake. | Ends and Leavings

  3. Pingback: thanksgiving dinner post mortem, part iii: in which i make pie crust for the first time. twice. | Ends and Leavings

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