Browned Butter Cookies

June 05, 2012
By Holly Jennings

These are my favorite sort of cookie: buttery and sturdy enough to dip in tea. To provide a subtle nutty flavor, the butter is browned, a step that is not difficult but requires the attention of an undistracted cook. Finely grated lemon zest is added to balance the richness of the butter, and sea salt to balance the sweet.

This recipe hails from Australia, where cookbook author Jennifer McLagan grew up. Quick and easy to make, these “biscuits,” as McLagan calls them, were popular in her childhood home. McLagan’s mother always placed a blanched almond in the center of each cookie, but McLagan prefers them plain with just a fork imprint.

When I made these cookies the first time, I added a few drops of water to encourage the dough to come together. Querying McLagan about this, she said a few drops of water shouldn’t hurt, if it’s needed—but it shouldn’t be. Was I using a large egg? Did I scrape all the butter from the pan—an important step to get all of the nicely browned milk solids from the bottom. And, quoting Jacques Pepin, she asked if I ran my finger around the inside of the egg shell to extract any remaining egg white. A good reminder of a good practice; as Pepin once said, it’s “how my mother got 13 eggs out of a dozen!”

Our already small flock of chickens has been reduced to Bob the rooster and just one hen, a Delaware (named Della) whose eggs are always just under 2 ounces. I suspect the slight dryness I encountered in the dough was a result of using Della’s not quite large eggs, the standard size used in recipes unless otherwise specified. If I’d used a 2-ounce or slightly larger egg, I’m sure the ratio of wet to dry would have been perfect. More hens are on the way tomorrow, though, and they will provide me with a variety of eggs sizes for all kinds of cookie recipes.

From FAT: AN APPRECIATION OF A MISUNDERSTOOD INGREDIENT, WITH RECIPES by Jennifer McLagan, copyright © 2008 by Jennifer McLagan Photography copyright (c) 2008 by Leigh Beisch. Used by permission of Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

Makes about 20 cookies

½ cup / 4 ounces / 115 g unsalted butter, diced
1½ cups / 6½ ounces / 185 g flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 lemon
½ cup / 3½ ounces / 100 g sugar
1 egg
20 whole blanched almonds (optional)

  1. Place the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. When the butter is melted, increase the heat to medium. Watch the butter carefully, using a spoon to push aside any foam to check the color the milk solids. When they turn brown and you smell a sweet, nutty aroma, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the butter to a bowl to cool until it is no longer hot to the touch.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Finely grate the zest of the lemon and stir it into the flour mixture. Whisk the sugar into the cooled butter, then whisk in the egg. Slowly stir the butter mixture into the sifted flour to make a shiny, firm, oatmeal-colored dough.
  4. Take a level tablespoon of the dough and roll it into a ball. Continue forming balls with the rest of the dough, placing the balls on the prepared baking sheet about 1½ inches / 4 cm apart. Using the back of a fork, flatten the cookies, and then top with an almond, if using.
  5. Bake the cookies until golden and firm, about 15 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack and, once cool, store in an airtight container.

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