Browned butter is easy to make and is a great way to infuse flavor into different baked goods. It has a rich, toasty flavor that is just delicious. The primary difference in working with browned butter instead of plain butter is that most cake and cookie recipes call for solid, softened butter. Browned butter can change the texture, as well as the mixing method, for some things because it goes in as a liquid.
I used browned butter in these vanilla cupcakes for a twist on a standard recipe. The toasty flavor was most noticeable in the cake batter. Once the cakes were baked, the flavor was more subdued and the resulting cupcakes simply tasted richer than usual. Both the batter and the cupcakes had small brown flecks in them from the browned butter that hinted at their secret ingredient.
These cupcakes come together very fast, once you have browned the butter. There is no creaming necessary, so it’s really as simple as stirring the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients before baking. The finished cakes have a wonderfully light texure, and a tight crumb. I really like cupcakes that come out this way because they are easy to handle when it comes to frosting and transporting them, and they don’t leave tons of crumbs when you eat (all the lovely crumbs just end up in your mouth with each bite!). The browned butter really turned out to be a mystery ingredient; almost no one could easily identify what the extra flavor was in the cupcakes, but it definitely made these cupcakes a hit.
A simple vanilla frosting would be my first choice for these cupcakes. It will highlight the vanilla in the cake, without really dominating the brown butter notes. Chocolate would still taste great, but it may end up being the standout element of the cupcakes if used.
Vanilla Brown Butter Cupcakes
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk (low fat is ok)
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
Melt butter in a small saucepan and cook over low-medium heat until butter has turned an amber color and smells toasty, but not burnt. Butter will darken quickly once it begins to turn. Pour from saucepan, scraping all the browned bits from the bottom with a spatula, into a small bowl to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
In a medium bowl, whisk together cooled butter, eggs, vanilla and milk. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined.
Distribute batter evenly into prepared muffin cups.
Bake for 16-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
approx 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk
Cream butter with an electric mixer until soft. Add vanilla and gradually add in sugar until most has been incorporated. Mixture will look a bit sandy. Add in milk as necessary (start with 2 tbsp), along with any remaining sugar, until frosting reaches an easy to work with consistency. The amount of sugar necessary will vary according to the weather and season, so you might need a bit extra if it’s humid out!