Why clarify butter? The answer begins with another question: What is butter?
Butter (Grade A butter called for in most baking recipes other than laminated doughs such as puff pastry) contains 81% fat, 6% milk solids, and 15.5% water.
When butter is heated, the water evaporates, the milk solids drop to the bottom and begin to brown. When they are a pale golden brown, the butter is clarified. When they turn a deep brown the French call it beurre noisette because noisette is the word for filbert or hazelnut and that perfectly describes the color.
Brown butter, together with the browned milk solids, adds a delicious nutty flavor to sweets such as cookies as well as savory food. Clarified butter, with the milk solids removed, is wonderful for sautéing, offering flavor without the propensity to burn, and also adds delicious flavor to baked goods such as génoise, and financiers.
By removing the milk solids the clarified or brown butter can keep for months in the refrigerator and even longer frozen.
The problem one encounters when making clarified or brown butter is that when the butter is heated and bubbling the foam makes it difficult to assess the color of the milk solids thereby risking burning them and ruining the butter. My past advice was to use a light colored silicone spatula to gauge the color of the milk solids, but recently it occurred to me to use temperature as a more exacting guide. The first thing to establish was the ideal temperature for different uses.
I used my super accurate instant read thermometer, the thermapen, stirring constantly with the silicone spatula, and arrived at the following temperatures:
For clarified butter with pale gold milk solids: 278˚to 284˚F/ 137˚C-140˚C
For brown butter/beurre noisette with dark brown milk solids: 285˚ to 290˚/140˚C-143˚C
And then I discovered the dream machine that gave me the ultimate even and precise temperature control— the Breville |PolyScience Control Freak.
When it reaches the desired temperature, an alarm goes off and the heating stops. Turning the burner on is literally music to my ears. The enchanting 5 note welcome melody it plays (called the ‘sting’) is one of the loveliest sounds I’ve ever heard.
I first met the Control Freak induction burner at my favorite bakery in NYC—Mah-Ze-Dahr. Chef owner Umber Ahmad brought it up from the kitchen to show me and I was irrevocably smitten by its incredible precision (my middle name). I tried to stop thinking about it for a few months but I knew in my heart I was going to have to try it out. And it was love at first try. Brown butter was the first thing I tested. And I was hooked. I went on to using it for everything I could think of: the custard for my ice cream base, lemon curd, deep fat frying. Induction burners are not supposed to be set on stove tops because of potential problems with magnetism and metal not to mention the possibility of accidentally turning on the cooktop, but we set a thick marble slab on top of the cooktop and set the induction burner on top of the marble so that the deep frying could take place under the stove’s hood.
Method for Making Clarified or Brown Butter:
Set a heatproof container next to the Control Freak and set a fine strainer on top, lined with cheesecloth (if you are not planning to add the milk solids along with the brown butter).
Choose a pan small enough for the amount of butter to create adequate depth for an accurate reading. The probe needs to be immersed a minimum of 1/2”/10mm into the melted butter and not touching the bottom of pan (for example, a 5 cup/1,800 ml pan works well with a minimum of 227 grams/8 ounces of butter).
First melt the butter on pan control and then insert the probe into the Control Freak base.
Insert the probe, making sure that the probe is a minimum of 1/2”/10mm into the melted butter.
Select probe control oil from the options.
Set the temperature speed to low or medium.
Select the desired temperature and alarm option if desired.
Stir constantly until the butter reaches temperature.
Immediately pour the butter into the strainer to prevent the pan’s residual heat from raising the temperature and darkening the milk solids.
Note: If you are making a sauce that you want to keep warm, after it reaches temperature, you can simply lower the heat to the holding temperature. There is no limit as to how long this induction burner can hold a temperature.
If you are the fortunate owner of a Breville Control Freak induction burner, be sure to check the online manual, especially starting on page 24 on probe control.
If you are considering purchasing a Control Freak, the manual will be a great resource for learning about its many features and help you to make your decision if this amazing induction burner is for you!