Thursday, July 5, 2007

Toasting Butter

What a marvelous perfume for everything (cake, vegetables, pasta): the luscious, deeply satisfying scent of buttered toast. Known as beurre noisette by the French because of its nutty flavor.

Melt 3 pounds of unsalted butter over low heat in a 12-inch, light-colored saucepan.

--Multiple pounds of butter because it's cheaper to buy that way and it's good enough to save
--Unsalted because you want to control the quantity of salt that goes in whatever you're making
--Low heat keeps the milk solids from scorching
--12-inch pan because the greater the surface area, the more milk solids can toast
--light-colored saucepan because the coloring of the toasting milk solids is easier to monitor

Watching carefully, notice when the milk solids begin to rise and create foam.

Boiling begins. Notice where the foam in the pan is and isn't? It's related to where the heat in the pan is. Remember this when you're cooking other things later.

The mixture is boiling and sputtering. Keep heat low to prevent eruptions. The foam is fine-grained and persistent in trying to cover the surface of the pan.

Keep watching carefully. The water has evaporated. The milk solids have settled to the pan bottom. The foam is loose and open. Carefully skim the white foam off the surface, leaving as much yellow butterfat as possible.

When the sound of boiling stops, the butter will have the smell of hot, buttered toast. Carefully and gently, pour the boiling butter through a sieve lined with immaculately clean, lint-free, bone-dry cheesecloth. Don't let the toasted milk solids on the bottom into the strained butter. Notice the toasted solids are nut-brown, neither tan nor burned.

The strained butter at right, 5 cups of pure, toast-scented, clarified butter from 6 cups of fresh butter (This is Cabot brand. Percentage of butterfat varies by season, types of cows, location, and brand). The skimmed foam is at left.

Refrigerate covered and use within 4 weeks. To store, cut slices or bricks in frequently-used sizes. Cover with foil and smooth out air bubbles. Wrap tightly and store away from strongly fragrant foods in coldest part of separate refrigerator spaces (covered dairy sections on door, perhaps). Or, freeze and use within one year.

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