Growing up, we were a Parkay family. Anything that called for butter — mashed potatoes, toast, vegetables, pan-frying — it was all conducted with a tub of margarine. (Who knows how many pounds of trans fats our family’s ingested over the years?)
I just called my mom and asked why. She says she likes the flavor better (?) and likes how it’s always spreadable, unlike cold butter.
We only ate butter when visiting family up north, on the homemade bread that my dad’s his mom made and served.
And in New Jersey, my mom’s home state, we breakfasted on “hard rolls,” fresh rolls with a crackly, crispy crust. They’re broken open and slathered with butter, jam, or both.
Both of these are revered, much like homemade biscuits are here in the South. To put something out of a tub on any of these delicious carbs would be a desecration, an obscenity, and an insult to the love and skill of the baker.
When I set up my own kitchen, I vowed I would only buy butter, not margarine.
Years ago, I was melting butter to pour over cauliflower. I got busy and it started to brown. It didn’t burn so I decided to use it.
It was a revelation. It turned the flavor of the plain, melted variety up to eleventy-eleven. Nutty and rich, it brought a whole new dimension to boring old cauliflower. I began using it all the time. If you’ve never tried it as sauce on fresh pasta or ravioli, do it. It’s like perfectly applied makeup. It doesn’t really change the features; it just enhances the heck out of them.
The good news about brown butter: the cheaper the butter, the better the brown. Expensive butter has more butterfat and less water and solids. The solids are the part that brown. Some chefs even brown very large batches, then pour over a filter, resulting in both clarified butter (butter in which all solids have been removed) and browned solids that then can be sprinkled directly over food.
To brown butter, just melt it slowly in a pan and continue to cook. It will foam up after a few minutes, then you will see the foam begin to brown. When that browning has reached the russet brown of a well-loved leather jacket, take it off the heat to stop the cooking.
Let’s see a tub of Parkay do that!
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Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean Chewies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
12-15 gratings of fresh nutmeg (if you don’t have fresh, leave it out)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted, browned, and slightly cooled*
1 1/4 cups packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split, with contents scraped out. Place scraped pod into pot with sticks of butter and let it steep while butter melts, browns, and cools. Remove before mixing.
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar, for rolling
Toss together flour, baking soda, cornstarch, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Set aside.
In a medium-size bowl, whisk the melted butter, vanilla bean innards, and brown sugar together until no brown sugar lumps remain. Whisk in the egg. Finally, whisk in the vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a large spoon or rubber spatula. The dough will be very soft, yet thick.
Cover the dough and chill for 2 hours, or up to 3 days. Chilling is mandatory.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and allow to slightly soften at room temperature for 10 minutes if you had it chilling for more than 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.
Pour the granulated sugar into a bowl. Take 2 scant tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball, then roll into the sugar. Place 3 inches apart on the baking sheets.
Bake for 8-9 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently press the top of the cookie down with the back of a utensil. You’re trying to obtain a crinkly top. Sprinkle a bit of salt on now-flattened top.
Place back into the oven for 2-4 more minutes. The total time these cookies are in the oven is 10-13 minutes. The cookies will be puffy and still appear very soft in the middle. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for ten minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. They will continue to cook in the center on the baking sheet after being removed from the oven.
Cookies will stay fresh covered at room temperature for 1 week.
To freeze: portion dough and roll into balls. Lay, not touching on cookie sheet and place in freezer for 1-2 hours. When completely frozen, place into zip-top bag and freeze up to 2 months. To bake, let sit on counter to thaw for 30 minutes or fridge overnight before rolling in sugar. Bake as directed.
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