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Vanilla Brown Butter Cupcakes

Vanilla Brown Butter Cupcakes

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.

Makes 12-cupcakes.

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!

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  • jennywenny
    September 8, 2008

    I recently tried eggbeater’s caramel cake, which had a brown butter frosting. I’m intrigued to combine that with this, to get brown butter into the cake as well as the frosting…

  • Rachel
    September 8, 2008

    This sounds super good! I’m bookmarking this one!

  • Mari
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve never tried brown butter in baked goods, but the flavor sounds very intriguing. It’s going on my “to bake” list!

  • Bri
    September 11, 2008

    I tried these last night. You’re right, the brown butter flavor is much more pronounced at the batter stage than in the finished cupcake. The cupcakes seemed to take forever to bake- more along the lines of 20-21 minutes in my oven. Or maybe I was being hypersensitive to the “clean toothpick” test for some reason. The taste and texture of the cupcake were great, but I think next time I’ll use a lighter hand with the frosting. That much sugar at 11pm had me bouncing off the walls. 🙂 Thanks Nicole!

  • Ingrid
    September 11, 2008

    Several days ago I when I saw this post I excitedly tried the recipe. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked. The cupcakes were extremely sugary tasting and kinda spongy. Becuase I only had extra large eggs (it called for large) and I only had skim milk so that is what I used. In order to stay true to the recipe how should have adapted it? Or should my changes not made much difference? I’m going to try again but would like to know for future reference.
    Thank you!

  • Nicole
    September 11, 2008

    Ingrid – I’m glad you commented. The fact that you mention a spongy texture indicates to me that the changes did make quite a bit of difference. Using extra large eggs would have definitely had an impact on the texture, as they would have added about 2 tbsp more egg than my large eggs provided (it might also cause the cakes to be a bit dry). Nonfat milk doesn’t usually make a huge difference, but it can also cause a bit of drying because it doesn’t provide any extra fat to help keep the cupcakes moist.
    As for sugary, that might be just personal preference; this recipe has less sugar than many cupcake recipes out there.
    I hope this helps!

  • angel
    September 11, 2008

    These look soo amazing! I love your recipes so much!

  • Ingrid
    September 12, 2008

    Thank you for responding! I should have mentioned that my children and the sitter ate ’em up no problems AND with no icing!

  • ekac
    September 30, 2008

    Like the rest, I just made a batch of these cupcakes. I was a bit disappointed with the result, mine tasted a bit like asian steam cake. I took longer than normal baking to bake these cupcakes too. I agree that it has a distintive smell though. But it is definitely not the usual ‘cupcake’ texture. I don’t think I will try again as the ingredients were quite a lot for about 10 cupcakes.( I didn’t get a dozen). I will experiment with your other recipes. Hope u don’t mind my comments. Good day.

  • Natasha
    October 24, 2008

    I’m glad I didn’t read the comments before making these, or I would have been worried. I made a batch of these last night, and I think they’re awesome. The kitchen smelled great, too! I was looking for a new recipe to try out, and use up some leftover buttercream frosting. I’m so glad I chose these. They’re different from a typical cupcake, but oh so good. I like the tight knit crumb and that they’re not super sweet. I might not be able to pick out the brown butter once baked, but it does add a delicious richness.

  • Nicole
    October 24, 2008

    ekac – I’m a bit confused by your results, since the ingredient amounts are pretty much the same amounts as for most cupcake recipes. It sounds like you overfilled your cupcake pan, which would account for the longer baking time. The texture of the finished cakes should not be spongy – the crumb should be tight and tender – so it’s possible that they were overbaked a bit.

    Natasha – I’m glad you had such good results and enjoyed the cupcakes!

  • devi srinivasan
    December 10, 2008

    hi nicole,

    a hundred million thanks to you…

    one for publishing a superb cupcake recipe( brown butter)
    two.. even giving vegetarians a choice to cook a dessert without eggs.

    we being from india, we missed these cupcakes. these were made especially in our town bakery back home. my husband loves them. i was searching for an egg free recipe for 2 years … can you believe it? and i finally found it yesterday at bakingbites.com . i made for him yesterday and it was a work of art!!

    he just took a bite into it and a hug followed by… it was the answer for the cupcake… i guess you know what that means.. thankyou so much nicole….it was a “sweet” evening ” for me!

    keep posting ….wish to see more delicious recipes

    it is a beautiful site…

    good luck

  • Micha
    November 17, 2009

    This recipe looks fantastic! What sort of measurements would I need if I wanted to make a 2 or 3 layer 9″ cake?

  • Esther
    June 4, 2010

    The reason why the cupcake would taste like Asian cake would be that you over mixed it. This was what happened to me. It still tastes awesome, but if you want it to be cupcake like, don’t over mix it like I did. I have to admit though, the cupcakes smelled delish. It tasted good too, just wrong texture. I plan to make it again and hopefully it will be successful. I reduced the sugar to around 3/4 cup and nothing adverse happened. Thank you for the recipe.

  • Amanda B
    April 13, 2011

    I made these for a company cupcake contest today and WON! Thank you!!! I made a few additions… I used a wooden spoon to create a well in the center and added caramel, frost using your recipe for butter cream and added toasted coconut and drizzle of caramel on top. Huge success! Thanks so much for the recipe!

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