I chuckle when I think back to the first time that I made brown butter, and I noticed little dark bits in my pool of melted butter. At first I thought something had fallen into my pan, so I tried to pick it out with a spatula. But more and more bits formed, and I frantically tried to pick them out, but they wouldn’t stop! Where were they coming from?! Without knowing much of anything about butter chemistry, I assumed that the liquid butter simply turns brown… *Eventually* I realized that these were, you know… browned butter bits. ::smack forehead::
Given my raging crush on brown butter, imagine my delight when these Brown Butter Snickerdoodles came up on the Baked Sunday Mornings schedule for this week! From the Cinnamon chapter of Baked Elements, I have been awaiting these cookies with bated breath. Before I go any further, I should just come out and say it: I will probably never use a traditional snickerdoodle recipe ever again. I adore snickerdoodles– their dense chewiness, sweet n’ spicy cinnamon-sugar coating, and pretty crackles place them among my favorite cookies. However… this version with brown butter just turned my snickerdoodle universe upside-down. In addition to the heavenly brown butter flavor itself, the warmth and nuttiness enhance all the best qualities of a snickerdoodle tenfold. I haven’t conducted a scientific side-by-side comparison, but I am fairly certain that any ol’ snickerdoodle will henceforth be pretty yawn-inducing…. *yawn*
Now that I’m more familiar with brown butter, I relish those burned bits in the pan, and the utterly heavenly aroma that permeates my house as a result. The recipe says to strain the browned bits before using the butter, though there’s a note in the book saying that this is optional; I am deeply entrenched in the hell-yes-I’m-keeping-the-burned-stuff camp. The bits impart a magnificent nutty depth, a pretty speckled appearance (much like vanilla beans), and a subtle smoky quality.
In light of the tastiness that I just described, I assure you that it’s worth taking the time to brown and cool the butter. In any recipe where butter figures prominently, it is very important to use good-quality butter. I used Kerrygold Irish butter, which is made in the European style containing higher butterfat content. It is a beautiful golden yellow color, compared to the pale run-of-the-mill stuff in the supermarket made from sad cows. It even feels more luxurious to cut through!
I recommend using a stainless steel pan to melt your butter, rather than nonstick, as the darkness of the latter would make it very difficult to monitor the swiftly changing color. As your butter melts, it will go through various stages of foaming: small and large bubbles, slow and rapid bubbling, cloudy and transparent clarity. What exactly is happening here? I’m so glad you asked. As the butter cooks, it separates into milk solids and butterfat; the former sink to the bottom of the pan and become those toasty, dark bits, while the latter stays in its liquid form and turns a handsome shade of hazelnut brown. Keep a close eye on the pan, as it will go from brown-tastic to burnt-black in the blink of an eye. It’s sometimes hard to tell what’s going on under the foam– even though I’ve browned butter several times before, I managed to just pull it off the stove in the nick of time before it “turned”.
As I mentioned, I prefer to include the browned bits in my cookie dough, so I did not strain my butter. Either way, pour it into your stand mixer bowl and beat until cooled. Mine took way longer than the prescribed 10 minutes to cool, so I ended up putting a bag of frozen peas up against the bottom of the bowl to speed things along.
Once cooled, add the sugar to the butter and continue mixing. I had no idea what to expect from this unorthodox mixture, as there is no description in the book, only mixing times. The butter-sugar blend looks like wet, oily sand– that’s the best approximation that I can come up with. You then add a mixture of beaten eggs and milk, followed by the dry ingredients (cinnamon = YUM), which yields a soft dough about the color of graham crackers. (Incidentally, it was immediately apparent that these cookies would be amazing upon sampling the dough!)
The dough seemed very soft, so I was a little worried at first, but after 90 minutes in the fridge, it was perfect for scooping and rolling. It does soften quickly in warm hands however, so it’s best not to dawdle on this step. Finally, roll each ball in a cinnamon-sugar mixture and place them a few inches apart on your cookie sheets. Since the dough was on the soft side at this point, I popped the pans in the freezer for 5 minutes before baking to prevent unsightly spreading in the oven.
Most cookies bake at about 350°F, but the temperature for these is 400°F; I thought this was alarmingly high at first, so I watched the cookies like a hawk! They started to spread quickly on the bottoms, but after 5 minutes, it was apparent that they would spread out evenly. I needn’t have worried at all– the cookies puffed and crackled on the surface, as though on cue. I took the sheet pans out at about 9½ minutes to prevent over-crisping.
My initial visual inspection afforded the following anticipated observations: classic snickerdoodle crinkles, hearty thickness/height, and a slightly sparkly exterior due to the cinnamon-sugar coating. Unique to these particular snickerdoodles, however, is a deeper light brown color and an extra-speckled appearance due to the brown butter bits. I found them to be rather good-lookin’ little nuggets! As for taste and texture… Oh. My. The cookies are super chewy, soft, and nutty. Brown butter makes a HUGE difference– complex depth of flavor that perfectly accents the pleasant spiciness of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the sugar. I have never tasted cookies like these, and as I said, it’s likely that I will never make snickerdoodles again without brown butter. (Could.Not.Stop.Eating.Them.)
I can’t prove it, but… I have a strong suspicion that Brown Butter Snickerdoodles contain actual magical properties. (For example, you will magically have new friends if you make them.) They really are that delicious; the flavors are so simple, yet when brought together, they transcend that simplicity to form something truly special. These cookies are one of my all-time favorite examples of how BAKED reinvents classic American treats– I mean, I enjoy regular snickerdoodles thoroughly, but they’ll never be the same now! Visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the Brown Butter Snickerdoodles recipe, and see how my fellow bakers liked them too!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.