Browned butter is the new black, and it’s here to stay. All of the other food trends? They will fade within a few years, decomposing back into the food blogs and restaurant reviews like they never existed. Guanciale is too close to pancetta for anyone to be willing to pay for it, serving food in one single soup spoon inevitably leaves you hungry, and fermenting everything at home will lead to a number of hospital scares because of a run in with some particularly “organic” sauerkraut.
Browned butter on the other hand, is safe, easy to make, and universally loved. I have yet to find someone who can resist the smell of slowly caramelizing milk solids permeating the air. Beyond the smell, browned butter is the secret trick behind adding rich, chewy flavor to cookies, extra depth to frosting, and a nutty, velvety mouth-feel to pasta dishes.
My favorite application of browned butter is in cookies. My usual default is the Cook’s Illustrated Brown Sugar Cookies (January/February 2010), but this time I decided to make something of my own creation to share at my choir rehearsal a few weeks ago.
My inspiration came from the North End in Boston, in a cramped store full of Italian speciality foods. In the spice area, I found a bag of culinary lavender for $2, something that would never happen in the Bay Area, and I bought it and stuffed it in my suitcase without any idea what to make. When I came back to California and looked at our Meyer Lemon tree, I knew that I had come upon a great idea. And with that, Meyer Lemon Lavender Cookies were born.
First, brown some butter by melting butter over medium heat and then once it’s melted, let it caramelize for about two more minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the center of the pan that keeps foaming starts turning the shade of maple leaves in fall:
Once the butter has browned, pour it into the bowl of a standing mixer and let it cool for a little bit.
While it’s cooling you can zest the lemon, taking off just the peel, not the white pith underneath.
Now that your butter’s cool, add the remaining stick of butter and the 2 cups of sugar to the bowl of the standing mixer.
The butter and sugar cream together for about a minute, then add eggs and milk. Once that’s mixed add in the baking powder, baking soda, flour, and salt. At this point you add in the flavorings, too: 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest (reserve the rest) and 1 teaspoon of culinary lavender. It may seem like a lot, but these are pretty strong. Mix on low until everything is combined.
Now prepare your sugar-coating: put 1/3 cup of granulated sugar in a shallow bowl with the remainder of the lemon zest and rub the zest together with the sugar until all of the sugar is perfumed.
Meyer Lemon Lavender Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen 1 1/2″ cookies
2 sticks of unsalted butter (16 Tablespoons), softened
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup milk
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking power
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of one Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon culinary lavender
1. Preheat the oven to 375F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Melt one stick of butter over medium heat in a non-reactive traditional finish skillet (i.e. not non-stick or cast-iron). Once it’s melted, keep cooking it over medium heat until caramelized and browned, 2-3 minutes longer. Pour into the bowl of a standing mixer and add the remaining stick of butter to the bowl.
3. Add 2 cups granulated sugar to the bowl and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute until well combined.
4. Add the eggs and milk to the bowl and beat on medium until well combined.
5. Add the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, lavender, and 1 teaspoon of the zest. Mix on low until just combined.
6. Set aside the dough and make the lemon sugar-coating: mix the remaining 1/3 cup sugar with the remainder of the lemon zest, rubbing the mixture together with your fingers.
7. Roll tablespoons of the dough until smooth, then roll the dough-balls in the lemon sugar. Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, 1-2 inches apart. (I can normally get 16 on each sheet.) Flatten the cookies very slightly with your hand.
8. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Let them cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. These cookies keep for 3 days in an airtight container or up to two months in the freezer.