One weekend in May, I messed with brown butter for the first time. I made brown butter chocolate chip kitchen sink cookies (recipe coming eventually… I forgot to take photos because om nom nom they were so good and I just ate them and… what was I saying? Oh yes, I froze some of the dough for future cookie cravings, so I’ll take photos of those) and was delighted by my first experience with browning butter. So since I had tackled what I considered a challenge, I tried another recipe with brown butter for a Memorial Day cookout a few weeks ago.
This recipe comes from the ever-reliable Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and after I read through the comments on the page, I decided to tweak the recipe just the slightest bit. Namely, I used salted butter instead of unsalted. Because I gotta say, I love the salty. It worked pretty well, so I’d encourage you to go with salted butter as well.
So let’s talk about brown butter. Wow, it smells good. It’s actually kind of misleading, because you’re all “Mmmm, this smells like butterscotch! I’ll bet it’s delicious!” and then you remember that it’s still just butter, and it’s kind of weird to dip your finger into a pot of melted butter for a taste. So then you start really wanting some damn butterscotch.
If you’ve never browned butter before, be prepared to be patient. It’s very easy, but you don’t want to rush the process. You just slip a stick of butter into a saucepan, turn the heat to medium, and wait, stirring occasionally, until the butter starts to become a rich caramel color. This will take anywhere from 6 – 10 minutes. Start watching around 6, because once the butter changes color, it can quickly get scorched. (Just so you know, the butter will start out very pale yellow, then darken to a slightly disturbing yellow, then turn into its heavenly nutty color.) When it’s ready, there will be a little opaque swirl of browned bits in the middle of the pot. Go ahead and scrape all these out when you remove the butter from the pan; they won’t hurt you.
Also, another note: for stirring, don’t use a plastic spatula that can’t withstand prolonged heat. Yeah.
The rest of the recipe is very straightforward, and the results are fan-freaking-tastic. Kind of a vanilla-cherry-buttery-shortbread flavor, all tinged with cream. These bars actually reminded me a bit of the cherry cheesecake cupcakes my mom used to make for Christmas, which were just cheesecake mixture cooked in muffin cups, chilled, and topped with cherry pie filling. God, they were good.
So, have you deduced that I really love the flavor of cherries and cream? If you do too, you’ll love these brown butter bars.
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup flour
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 cup salted butter, cut into small pieces
1 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved (this will yield 12 ounces of pitted cherries*)
*If you don’t have a cherry pitter (I don’t), just cut the cherry in half with a sharp knife and ply out the pit. This took a while, so I actually did it in front of the tv for entertainment. Perhaps you don’t need such distractions.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9-inch square pan, then make a little parchment hammock — From Smitten Kitchen: “cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet.”
Make the crust:
Melt the butter (you’re not browning this batch) in a large saucepan, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour. Press the crust evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan, then bake until golden, about 18 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make your filling.
Brown the butter — melt it over medium heat and stir frequently until it turns a dark golden-brown color and smells nutty. Remove from heat and pour into glass measuring cup to cool slightly. In a separate bowl, beat eggs with salt, sugar and vanilla. Add flour and mix until smooth. Gradually pour browned butter into egg mixture and whisk until smooth.
Scatter halved cherries over cooled crust and arrange however you wish. Pour brown butter batter over cherries. Bake bars for 40 minutes, or until puffed and golden on top and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Move to cooling rack and cool bars in pan.
Once cool, use parchment overhang to pull the whole square of bars out of the pan, then slice into squares. Use a sharp knife to get through those cherries, and you’ll want to wipe off the knife after each cut to keep it neat.