Butter: On Browning

For the second installment of “Butter”, we’re going to chat about brown butter. I’m obsessed with the stuff, and usually try to sneak it into any recipe that requires butter. But what’s the hype? Why does it smell so good? Why is it so hard to do? Read on to demystify the secrets of this mystifying ingredient.

The Science
So what does “brown butter” mean? The part of the butter that’s browning is the milk solids, once they’ve separated from the butterfat in the beginning of heating process. You know when you melt butter in the microwave and white seafoam-type stuff floats around the bowl? That’s the milk solids. When you heat butter past this point on the stove, the milk solids sink to the bottom and start to toast up and brown. This is the milk solids caramelizing, creating an amazing smell in your kitchen that most describe as “nutty”, while I personally prefer butterscotchy. It’s just so warm and enveloping, sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t go any further with the recipe; I can stop right there. During this process of browning, the water in the butter also evaporates, creating the bubbling and spitting that you’ll experience. Once the milk bits have browned, you have brown butter.

rubber-scraper-mvt_brown-butter_carmen-ladipo1Hot off the stove, the perfect amber color.

The Trick
Browning butter is not that hard. I repeat: browning butter is not that hard! And I’ll tell you why. There are different degrees of brown butter. You’ll notice when the milk solids start to get darker, and you’ll wonder “Is this it? Do I have brown butter?” Well, you sure could have it. Brown butter does not discriminate. You can have light brown butter, you can have dark brown butter, and anything in between. I think scientifically speaking we can say that if you’re smelling good things, you have brown butter. But 7 seconds later, the solids will be even browner. Are you getting nervous? “Oh no, is this what the internet warned me about? Will I have burnt butter in a matter of moments?” If your solids are not black, you’re safe. My point here is that there is a reasonably sized window for removing the butter from the heat that will give you brown butter before it burns. It all depends on how brown and aromatic you want to get. As long as you’re paying attention, you’re in good shape. After some practice, you will feel more comfortable leaving the butter on the heat for longer until it’s just about to burn. That’s my personal b.b. preference, but it will also depend on why you’re browning the butter in the first place.

rubber-scraper-mvt_brown-butter_carmen-ladipo2
2 hours later….back to room temperature and golden yellow.

The Usage
You can use brown butter in any place that you would use normal butter. For me this means browning butter for my baked goods. For others, it may mean as a sauce for fish or pasta, or simply on toast. I prefer the brownest of butters for baking because that butterscotchy flavor will come out the best. When cooking anything with brown butter, be sure to get all of the bits in play with a rubber scraper (obv.) so the flavor is at its maximum. If you answer “yes” to wanting a warm, umami-enhancing flavor added to your dish, using brown butter is a good choice.

rubber-scraper-mvt_brown-butter_carmen-ladipo3
See that’s it’s not completely solid.

The Recipe
The following procedure is how I brown butter, and it works like a charm every time.

Prepare a heat-resistant bowl near your stove or in the sink to pour the butter into once it has browned. Put your butter in a large skillet and place on medium heat. When the butter has melted, turn the heat down and stir constantly with a spatula (this keeps the milk solids from sticking to the skillet and makes for easy cleanup later). After the butter has finished spitting, pay close attention to the milk solids at the bottom of the skillet. Use the spatula to help clear the bubbles from the surface to see better. Once the solids have browned to your liking, take the skillet off the heat and carefully pour the butter into the prepared bowl. If you have a heat resistant rubber scraper, use it to scrape the sides and bottom of the skillet to catch all the butter. Use immediately for hot dishes or let cool for baking.

rubber-scraper-mvt_brown-butter_carmen-ladipo4
The dark and browned milk fats at the bottom are the most important part!

Sometimes I have enough time to wait for the brown butter to solidify to room temperature before I start to make a dough, and other times I’ll throw it in the fridge for a few minutes to cool it off enough to keep the eggs in the dough from cooking. It’s usually a little easier to work the dough when the butter has cooled, but either option will give you delicious results.

rubber-scraper-mvt_brown-butter_carmen-ladipo5
Dumped into a large mixing bowl. If you could smell this lump of fat…

Go forth and brown! What other butter questions are you dying to have answered? Leave them in the comments below ⬇

Wing it: Chocolate Speculoos Popcorn

I’ve been playing around a lot with Speculoos spread recently and thought I’d throw it in some popcorn and see what happened. Naturally, great things happened. If you’re unfamiliar with Speculoos, it’s a tea biscuit from Belgium that I think of as a cross between a graham cracker and a gingersnap. You can find them at Wegmans, Fairway and many other large supermarkets. The spread is what you get when you crush up the biscuits and add some other emulsifying stuff. It’s also known as cookie butter, easily found at Trader Joe’s, and is better than Nutella. It has a somewhat spicy flavor and fun texture that is fun to bake with.

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-speculoos-popcorn_carmen-ladipo-january-2017_0002

I hoped that melting the spread with chocolate chips would make for a good popcorn topping, and I was right. I didn’t bother measuring anything; the amounts are mostly based on personal preference anyway. Here’s what you need to do:

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-speculoos-popcorn_carmen-ladipo-january-2017_0001

Step 1: Make some popcorn from scratch. You can buy popcorn kernels at the grocery store, and either pop them on the stove (instructions here), or in a large microwaveable bowl. Cover the bottom of the bowl with one layer of kernels, and cover with a plate that fits over the bowl. Microwave the popcorn until there are 3 seconds between the pops. Sprinkle salt to taste.

 

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-speculoos-popcorn_carmen-ladipo-january-2017_0013

Step 2: Microwave some chocolate chips and Speculoos spread on high in 15 second intervals. If you’re not sure you’ve microwaved enough, it’s easy to add more later.

 

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-speculoos-popcorn_carmen-ladipo-january-2017_0015

Step 3: Pour the meltedness on the popcorn and coat evenly with a spoon, rubber scraper, or both.

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-speculoos-popcorn_carmen-ladipo-january-2017_0022

Step 4: Spread the popcorn onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and stick in the fridge for at least 20 minutes so the chocolate can solidify.

 

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-speculoos-popcorn_carmen-ladipo-january-2017_0027

Step 5: Take out and enjoy! Great as is for a party dessert, or on top of ice cream!

Top 5 of 2016

Poor 2016…it’s going in the history books with a hashtag next to it. Lost your job this year? #2016. Lost a beloved celebrity role model? #2016. Despite the slew of unfortunate events in the last 365 days, it’s still important to look back to remember the progress we made and good things that happened. Here are 5 of your and my favorite posts from 2016, and here’s to a new year that we’ll be proud of 365 days from now.

chocolategif
1. Mast Brothers: Genius or Nah?
What’s all the hype about? Is their chocolate chip cookie recipe really all that?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
2. Don’t Get Pancakes at a Place Called “egg”
Lessons learned: 1. It’s best to order something that a restaurant is named after, and 2. Not all brunch is created equal.

skilletsmoresgif
3. Skillet S’mores
The most impressive party dessert to whip out in your times of need.

DSC_3693
4. The 3 Why’s of Chocolate Chip Cookies
So many questions…here are 3 answers.

mlkgssmktPan2
5. The Art of Dining Solo
The ultimate treat-yourself with its own perks.

Don’t see your favorite? Leave it in the comments below!
Happy New Year!

Butter: What and When?

Since the beginning of my cookie baking career in 5th grade, I’ve always had questions about butter. What happens to my cookies if I melt the butter? What is brown butter and why is it awesome? Why are there so many types of butter, and what’s the big deal about this fancy European brick butter? The list goes on, and I’m still working on getting to the bottom of many questions. As the holidays draw nearer, I thought I’d help demystify the enigmatic fat that is ~butter~. I talked (virtually) with some of the butter and baking experts of the what’s what of butter. Read on to the one of several posts that will help you make better choices in butter.

First: what is butter?
Butter is churned milk or cream, usually from a cow. The first part of churning separates the skim milk from the buttercream. In the churning process of the buttercream, the butter fat and buttermilk are separated. Have you ever shaken a jar of heavy cream until it gets chunky, with thinner liquid running through the lumps? That’s exactly that – the butterfat, sometimes called popcorn butter, and the buttermilk (sold in cartons just like milk). The buttermilk is separated from the butterfat, and more churning yields regular velvety-textured butter.

How is European butter different from American butter?
Regulations in America require butter to have a butterfat percentage of 80% or more. Land o’ Lakes butter is almost 81% butterfat. European butter tends to have closer to 85% butterfat. This means less water in your butter. A good way to see this is when you brown half a cup of American butter, and half a cup of European butter, you’ll come out with a higher volume of butter with the European butter, because the water in the butter evaporates in the browning process. European cows also tend to eat better than American cows, and are often fed grass instead of mysterious corn feed.

rubber-scraper_ovaltine-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0030
This is a 1 lb block of butter from Plugra

What is cultured butter?
Cultured butter is not fully synonymous with European butter. European butter is usually cultured, but cultured butter is not always European. Culturing the butter doesn’t make for a higher fat content. For example, Organic Valley sells a cultured butter, and a  European-style cultured butter. The cultured butter has a butterfat content of 80% (thank you, Twitter) and their European-style cultured butter has a butterfat content of 84%. According to Cook’s Illustrated, cultured butter is “made more slowly, with cream that’s allowed to ripen for a few days to develop flavor and then inoculated with bacterial cultures before churning.” The bacteria release lactic acid, giving this butter a deeper flavor that some describe as tangy.

Okay, so that’s all great…but which butter does one choose when baking? And is that butter different if baking cookies or pie crust or croissants or ???

Salted vs. Unsalted
First of all, I’ll start by saying that unless I’m in a pickle, I use unsalted butter for baking. Not that I measure every ingredient to the last granule, but it helps keep your salt amounts accurate. Not all salted butter is treated equally; brands don’t have the same salt-to-butter proportions.

85a52-dsc_2505

USA vs. Europe
Who’s butter’s better? Consider King Arthur Flour’s shortbread experiment described in their article “Butter for Baking: Which Kind Should You Use?” where they use European butter and American butter for the same recipe. The shortbread with the European butter came out both drier and greasier than the American butter shortbread. Not ideal for cookies. However, these attributes may be just what you need for your buttery, flaky pie crusts and croissants. That being said, with the extra butterfat goes the extra water, which would help pastries rise in the oven during evaporation. The choice ultimately comes down to several factors, and your personal choice. Maybe you’d rather sacrifice some (potentially minor) height for a flakier pain au chocolat.

Cultured vs. Uncultured
My answer to this is simple: since cultured butter costs more, use regular, uncultured butter. The extra money is not worth the extra flavor you probably won’t enjoy anyway. I asked Kye Ameden, author of the King Arthur Flour article from above, why in the article she said cultured butter isn’t the best for baking:

“[W]hile cultured butter is delicious, it tends to have a unique flavor that’s not always welcome in all recipes. Consider your favorite pumpkin bread or chocolate chip cookies; the zippy tangy might seem out of place. It also tends to be more expensive than Grade AA butter, so we like to save it for putting on top of baked goods when we’ll be sure to enjoy the flavor to the fullest.”

rubber-scraper_ovaltine-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0035

I did a quick cookie test with a simple recipe (no chocolate chips/solid objects) to see if these claims could be proven. In one batch, I used Cabot AA unsalted butter, and in a second batch I used Plugra unsalted butter. My hypothesis going in was that the first batch would come out higher due to the higher water content of the American butter, and the Plugra flatter, and greasier. However, just the opposite happened.

rubber-scraper_ovaltine-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0036

I wasn’t all too scientific with this experiment. There are many variables that could have been altered unintentionally. For example, the butter may have been beaten more the second time around. This is a good example of all the little things that can make a difference in your cookies. When seeking consistent results, be vigilant and have patience.

Take these truths bestowed upon you to forge head in this holiday season, and bake your friends’ sorrows away. And stay tuned for the next installments of Butter!

Brown Butter Soft Apple Cookies

It might not be apple season anymore, but if you like apples and cakey-soft cookies, you should take on this recipe – especially if you have a number of holiday parties to show up to with treats in tow (cookies are my “byob”). There are a few different components to this, but it’s worth it in the end for the fun flaavors!

soft-apple-cookies_carmen-ladipo_rubber-scraper-mvt4

Brown Butter Soft Apple Cookies
Yields ~35 cookies

3 cups chopped tart apples (around 2 medium sized apples)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 egg
1/3 cup raisins

Brown the butter on medium heat, stirring just until the milk solids turn brown, and pour in a bowl to let cool. Cook the apples with 1 tablespoon of sugar on medium heat until soft, and let cool. In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar until smooth, then add the egg and mix together. Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the cooked apples. Lastly, add the raisins.

Drop the dough onto cookie sheets and bake at 400° for 10 minutes, or until the cookie edges start to brown.

soft-apple-cookies_carmen-ladipo_rubber-scraper-mvt5

 

Have one or five, bring them to your next holiday gathering. People will thank you.

Halloween Chocolate Fire Cookies

Happy Halloween! This was the first year since 2011, when I created a deadmau5 head, that I decided to get into the holiday. This was largely in part because I had an event to go to in costume with enough advanced notice to prepare. Naturally, this event was at the rock climbing gym. Being known there for my cookie sharing, I thought it would be clever to somehow incorporate cookies into my costume, which was none other than Carmen Sandiego. If you’re not familiar, she is a video game villain of the 90’s who stole world treasures and monuments. The player’s goal was to catch her with impossible-for-10-year-old-me clues about the country she was hiding in. Her popular tagline is “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?”

It was a simple costume to put together with a bit of  Amazon searching, and it had the added bonus that I shared the character’s name. But how to make it interesting? Since Carmen’s game was world travel, why not get a world map tote and fill it with country facts? Because that’s lame…so were born cookie countries! Each cookie was individually wrapped and labeled with a country, its location, population, and a fun fact. Hello, best interactive costume award…free cookies usually are a hit around there. But as it was Halloween, I thought I would switch it up to go with the trick or treatedness of the holiday. I decided to add some *cayenne pepper* to the chocolate cookies I made for the occasion. I wasn’t expecting the pepper to go over as well as it did (this is not to say I wanted people to dislike them!). It takes at least 7 seconds for the heat to kick in, so first impressions would likely be positive and without heat detection. However, to my amazement, friends and strangers were pleasantly surprised by the late kick, and I was impressed. Growing up in a West African household, I was subjected to dishes engulfed in the flames of Scotch bonnets and other healthily fiery spices, so I would say that my tolerance for heat is higher than that of the average American. After sampling the cookies, I became concerned for my climbing comrades and their palates. Turns out there was nothing to be afraid of. On top of that, the cookies passed the melt-in-your-mouth test, and people learned stuff! Just trying to keep the people fed and woke, you know?

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-chili-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0028
Committed to the craft. Countries included: Suriname, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste
rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-chili-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0032
I ended up painting a tote bag since I have so many that I don’t use anyway

 

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-chili-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0039
I firmly believe that it was thanks to cinnamon that the enjoyable flavor of the cookie was not compromised
rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-chili-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0057
Velvety smooth before dry ingredients (above) get added

Chocolate Fire Cookies
yields around 45 cookies

Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup Nutella
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Directions
Sift or whisk the dry ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Add the Nutella, vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Gradually at the dry ingredients until just barely incorporated, then add the chocolate chips. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Drop scant tablespoons of dough (they will spread) onto baking sheets and bake at 350° for 8-9 minutes, or until the cookies edges bounce back when you poke.

rubber-scraper-mvt_chocolate-chili-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0015

Whether you decide to warn your subjects about your cookies packing heat or let them discover on their own, this easy dessert is a fun party trick and party treat. Enjoy the reactions and have safe festivities!

Pumpkin (Spice) Sugar Cookies

What is it about the word “spice” following the word “pumpkin” that automatically makes a recipe sound cliché? Is that just me? Thanks to Starbucks and the seasonal pumpkin spice latte craze, every fall everyone and their recipe developers try to come up with the best pumpkin spice whatever. A quick perusal through Pinterest will offer you recipes for PS cream cheese, PS muddy buddies, PS chex mix, PS French toast, PS “bedtime drink” (curious?). Wasn’t there a time that pumpkin flavored sweets kinda just implied “plus spices”? Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice, in some combination or other? When I think of pumpkin muffins, I don’t exactly picture chunks of squash peeking out of the tops like apples. Whatever we have ultimately decided to name these seasonal orange treats, some are worth further investigation and appreciation.

rubber-scraper-mvt_pumpkin-spice-sugar-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0069

I recently tried a riff on this annual phenomenon with my favorite baking vehicle (cookies): soft and chewy with just enough pumpkin flavor to remind you of your mom’s pumpkin pie, without having to dust off the pie dish.

rubber-scraper-mvt_pumpkin-spice-sugar-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0049

Pumpkin (Spice) Sugar Cookies
yields around 40 cookies

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract1 egg
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour (all-purpose flour will also do)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 cup sugar for rolling cookie dough
Instructions
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and pumpkin purée. Gradually add the dry ingredients. Chill the dough in the fridge for 2-4 hours.

Roll the dough into one inch balls and coat evenly with sugar. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops start to crack.

rubber-scraper-mvt_pumpkin-spice-sugar-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0018
Neat trick: if you don’t have an electric mixer, use a fork to aerate the butter and sugar after you’ve combined them with a spoon.

rubber-scraper-mvt_pumpkin-spice-sugar-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0020rubber-scraper-mvt_pumpkin-spice-sugar-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0032rubber-scraper-mvt_pumpkin-spice-sugar-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0040

rubber-scraper-mvt_pumpkin-spice-sugar-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0047
Don’t forget your rubber scraper!
rubber-scraper-mvt_pumpkin-spice-sugar-cookies_carmen-ladipo_0075
Great with milk

Have you ever had a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks? Please tell me what it’s like!