Brown Butter “Espresso”

5 Jan

Brilliant or terrible idea?

As I mentioned in the previous post:  Financiers turned me on to almond flour.  They also turned me on to brown butter or beurre noisette.  In fact, Michael Laiskonis,  the pastry chef at Le Bernardin whose recipe I used when making financiers, attests that this cookie is his favorite showcase for what brown butter can be.

This stuff has quite a passionate following, pretty much every food writer I esteem has written about brown butter at least once, and rightfully so.  After tasting it, I have difficulty conceiving of how so much richness can be packed into this stuff.  The scent alone evokes indulgent, desirous flutterings that tingle in parts of my brain that I’m not regularly aware of.  As for the flavor, it is surprisingly nutty for something that was merely a stick of butter just moments before.  In fact, the French call it beurre noisette, with noisette meaning “hazelnut.”  A linguistic testament to the divine nutty essence exuded by this ingredient of humble origins.  Simply simmering butter in a saucepan and whisking while it foams, the foam breaks, and crispy brown solids form in the bottom of the pan will give you the gold.  It’s like making ghee or clarified butter, but take it darker than regular.

The solids are usually an ephemeral little bit of deliciousness.  I never measured the amount of solids I got when making financiers, but I’d say there was maybe 1 tablespoon tops for the whole pound of butter (32 Tbs).  That’s a bit better than 3% yield, so I never had much of a plan for the miniscule amount of solids.  But boy were they good!  Nutty, roasty…how can you go wrong with milk sugar and protein that are caramelized and toasted in butterfat?  Later I saw that Laiskonis had mentioned a trick for getting more solids.  Start with cream instead of butter.  This made sense, since cream has more solids than the butter we typically buy.  I heard a few years ago that most stick butter is a byproduct centrifuged from whey leftover from cheesemaking.  The solids are used in the cheese, so the butter has less of them.  I imagine that traditional butter, being churned directly from cream, would be a different story.

Simmering heavy cream into brown butter solids: 1) cream reduces 2) cream begins to brown 3) solids begin to separate from oils 4) mixture froths and solids continue to brown. This is about where you want to stop

I tried starting with cream, and it turned out splendidly.  About 25-30% of the cream, by weight, becomes toasty solids, a full order of magnitude better than starting with butter.   Other folks have since made large amounts of solids by adding dried milk powder to the butter.  I have yet to try this and compare.  For now I can say that if you’re after clarified butter oil, then start with sticks.  If you want brown solids, go with the cream.

With a large amount of brown butter solids in my fridge, and having pondered pressure extractions starting a few months ago, there was only one rational conclusion.  I need to try making an espresso from brown butter solids.

My solids were quite thoroughly crisped.  They’re a very dark brown verging on black, and as I said they have a roasty, intensely nutty, slightly bitter flavor.  The texture is not far off from finely ground coffee, albeit very oily coffee.  I strained most of the oil from them, but enough remained that they cling together into almost a paste.  I imagined that the resulting infusion would either be fantastic, like everything else with brown butter is, or exceptional in being the first disgusting thing made from the stuff.

I dosed some butter solids into the portafilter, loaded it, pressurized, and voila… brown butter espresso.  It helped to let the solids, which came straight from the fridge, heat up in the filter for a while as the machine heated up.  I tried to pull a shot before it had all melted, and that caused the filter to clog momentarily.  It flowed smoothly once the remaining butter clinging to the solids liquefied.

And it was actually good.  It begins with the aroma, a firm, but not overly pungent, essence of brown butter.  The flavor has the intriguing characteristics of the brown butter solids, but in a mellower, better melded form.  Additionally, there’s a lingering bright note like you might find in a lightly roasted coffee.  That takes a few seconds to register, while the roasty, nutty notes are right up front.  The body of the shot is also very pleasant.  Smooth, velvety, savory, a bit rich, but not rich in the way cream is, more like the way a full-bodied stock can seem to coat your mouth in a very satisfying way.  It even gets a little mock-crema on top, which is a nice touch.

So in short, this style of extraction gives delectable brown butter flavor without the oiliness of the butter, or the grit of the solids.

Next on deck are hot brown buttered rums and beurre noisette + coffee espresso.

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