Butter: Better Brown (Plus An Oreo Brookie Bonus)

“Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier. Ooh-oo child, things’ll get brighter. “

                                                                                                                                                                                           ~ The Five Stairsteps

When a foster child first comes to our home, things tend to be nuts. There’s visits from the child’s social worker, our family support worker and the attorney or Guardian ad litem (GAL). If the child is an infant, there’s also often a nurse care manager, and, as with our current placement, a home health nurse and a few others in the cast of characters that compromise the team responsible for the child’s well being.

As children often arrive in the middle of the night or the wee hours of morning, we hit the ground running as soon as we wake up. There’s calls from the agency to make sure the child did indeed arrive. Calls from us to doctors to make appointments, as kids in care—especially infants—need to get caught up on well baby/child appointments and immunizations. That’s a huge step toward our second imperative: securing daycare. Ever try getting a baby into daycare at the last minute? Yeah, well, the waiting lists in DC for good daycare is typically eight months long. Or longer.

Then there’s the “little” things, like making sure we have plenty of seasonally appropriate clothing for said precious one. My husband and I are licensed for three children from zero to eight years old. With roughly three-ish seasons here in the District, that’s a whole lot of storage that we simply don’t have. I am stocked with basics as a result, so we are always in need of adding items once kids arrive. The agency helps with this a little bit, but the process often takes several weeks. Not ideal. Then there are diapers, wipes, formula, bottles, bibs and all of the many, many things you need when a child comes to stay with you for a period of time that is nearly always unknown.

All this to say that our first few weeks are rough. It is a lot of work logistically, as well as emotionally. We have this stranger placed in a house with strangers caring for them. Nothing is familiar. Different sounds, different smells, different schedules and patterns. Different expectations. We need to quickly acclimate to a new presence who is traumatized in a way very few people will ever understand.

We gently dry tears, and attempt to overcome what these tiny humans have experienced by replacing those tangible drops of sadness with big smiles and belly laughs. With older kids, we make pancakes and pillow forts. With the littlest, we focus on read stories and fun tickles. We offer both an endless supply of snuggles. My prescription for each of these beautiful babies is a thousand kisses a day. Lots of attention, plus lots and lots of unconditional love. And cookies.

All the cookies.

As you might have read previously, my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe from Serious Eats is made with brown butter, hence its inclusion among this month’s posts.

There’s about a trillion uses for brown butter, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Then there’s my favorite: dessert. Hence the theme of this post, which takes those amazing cookies to new heights in a dirty-but-delicious marriage brownies and cookies, two of our favorite sweet treats. (Just a side note that the additional of Oreos here actually make these what are known as “Slutty Brownies,” but this is a post about kids, so I’m trying to keep in PG-13 here. And “slutty”… well, that’s not a very nice thing to say, anyway.)

Check out this video for an awesome how-to on making brown butter, then join me below to whip up these soon-to-be party favorites. I made them to send along with our current foster daughter as she visits her parents tomorrow. We do this to begin building a bridge (as only food can!) before we are able to meet and connect with them about their beautiful babies. Yummy goes a long way toward cementing a fast friendship.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Oreo Brookie Brownies (And Then Some)
In addition to the Serious Eats article linked above, this dish was inspired by What’s Gabby Cooking. Don’t feel up to making this from scratch? I give you permission to use a box mix for both the cookies and the brownies. While we always prefer making stuff from scratch, sometimes you just have 20 minutes. And it isn’t like you are eating them every day. Are you? Please don’t… we have no desire to contribute to your delinquency!

For the cookie layer:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cups cane sugar (granulated sugar is also fine)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
8 ounces dark chocolate chips (or chopped bar chocolate)

For the brownie layer:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup cane sugar (again, granulated is fine)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
8 ounces dark chocolate chips (or chopped bar chocolate, optional)


Additional ingredients:
About 1 package of Oreos, regular… or double stuff (I mean, if you are going to be bad… why not be really bad?)

Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×12 inch aluminum or metal pan with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

For the cookies, brown butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. (Check out the video linked above for a tutorial.) Transfer to a glass bowl and whisk in an ice cube to begin the chilling process. Transfer to refrigerator to cool completely. This usually takes about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep well mixed while chilling.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

Add sugar, eggs and vanilla extract to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium-high speed until pale brownish-yellow. After about 5 minutes, this should fall off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted. You can also do this step by hand… it just takes  a bit of elbow grease and a little more time.

When brown butter mixture has cooled (begins to turn opaque and firms up around the edges), add brown sugar and brown butter to eggs. Switch to the paddle attachment or grab your spatula and mix to combine. Add dry ingredients on low speed until just combined. Add chocolate and again stir gingerly until dough comes together.  Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Line top of cookie dough with Oreos. No need to overlap, but you’ll notice from the pic that I cut some to make sure every bite had Oreos in it. That;s dedication, friend. Or obsession… whatever.

Next, prepare the brownies by whisking all the dry ingredients together. Add wet ingredients and chocolate chips, if using, and mix thoroughly. Pour over the Oreos and spread out if necessary.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the center to ensure they are done. If not, return to oven for an additional five minutes and test again. If the knife comes out clean, removed from oven and allow to cool for at least 2 hours before serving. Enjoy!

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I Can’t Believe It’s Not [Flavored] Butter

You say flavored, I say compound. To-may-to, to-mah-to. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to.

Do yourself a favor: Don’t call this one off.

There’s something completely magical about flavored butter that can elevate a dish in a subtle but magnificent way. Take a hot-out-of-the-oven dinner roll. So delicious! Now add honey butter. Grill the best steak money can buy. Add garlic butter. Top your fluffy Sunday morning pancakes with cinnamon-maple butter.

<Writer sighs hungrily.>

It perfects perfection.

So now that you know how to make your own butter after reading last week’s post, why on earth would you stop there?

The answer is you don’t. And the best part about it? With all the amazing flavor combinations, it’s really just another excuse to play with your food. But don’t be daunted if you are not the creative type. There’s just as many articles out there with all kinds of suggestions across the sweet and savory spectrum.

Try She Knows, for example. I’m dying to try the Citrus Tarragon butter on a light, flaky fish en papillote. I’m completely obsessed with Food52, who has a feature on spring compound butter flavors that inspired my recipe below. And I dare you to try not to fall too deeply into the Pinterest hole. Plus, you’ve got The Pioneer Woman, who starts off strong with a Smoked Paprika & Rosemary Butter to saute shrimp in, but also offers tips on swapping butter for flavored coconut oil for the dairy adverse and lactose-intolerant.

In fact, like the coconut oil tip, you can learn a lot and pick up great techniques from reviewing different blogs or recipes. Take Alton Brown’s recipe for herb compound butter on the Food Network‘s website suggests flavoring oil and then adding it to the butter. One of my favorite bloggers, Katie from Wellness Mama, suggests olive oil, too — but for a different reason. She says it makes the butter more spreadable.

It is creative. There are endless flavor combinations. You can have it for breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. It can make the dish (I refer you back to my aforementioned steak comment above), or quite literally BE the dish (think al dente pasta, naked save for an intensely flavored compound.) Plus, it makes a great gift for any occasion. Which is super easy to make. Did I mention it makes your food delicious?

Really…

What are you waiting for?

Fresh Sage & Garlic Butter

This is great with chicken or vegetable dishes, or for pasta with a little Parmesan cheese. Or try cooking eggs with it for breakfast. I kept it super simple here so you could swap in your own herbs, or try adding lemon zest and a little juice in place of the other liquid ingredients in the recipe. Have fun experimenting!

1 pound unsalted butter (homemade is always preferred, but not necessary if you are in a jam)
2 tablespoons heavy cream or light olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pinch sea salt

Allow butter to come to room temperature.

Place butter in a food processor or the bowl of your stand mixer using the spatula attachment and whip until fluffy, about five to seven minutes. Add the oil or cream, whipping a few minutes more. If using a food processor, transfer to a bowl, or remove the bowl from the mixer.

Scrape the garlic clove against your cutting board to release oils and form a paste. Use more or less depending on your preference (we love garlic!) Add that along with the sage to the bowl and fold in gently with a spatula.

Spoon gently onto parchment paper and roll into a log using the edge of your cutting board or a baking sheet until tight.

Chill for two hours prior to serving.

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Is Butter Back? Was It Ever Gone?

Did you hear? Butter is the new health craze. Butter is back, baby. Fats and oils are no longer at the tippy top of the food pyramid. Throw away that tub of gross imitation butter. Bring on the real stuff.

This is great news for me: I reserve a whole separate food group just for butter. Whether it’s peanut butter, almond butter or real actual no kidding fatty dairy butter … I love it all. And I just found out that coffee and chocolate butters exist out in the world. The future is today my fellow eaters.

But let’s forget about the future of butter for now and focus on the basics. I decided to try my hand at making my own. It sounded pretty daunting and tiring. All I knew of butter making are the antique butter churns (or check out this modern hipster version). The upside to this method would be some really buff arms. Get ready for the next fitness craze …

Or not. With modern tools in our kitchens this is not going to happen, because it turns out making your own is extremely easy. I found several methods to make it using everything from a simple mason jar to a blender. After reading through several articles and blogs, I decided to use my food processor. Not only is it the fastest, but it’s a good excuse to use it. The poor guy sits all the way up high in my cabinet where even my 6′ 2″ tall husband can’t reach it. I like to throw it some love every now and then.

The hardest and most import step may be finding a good quality cream to start with. Most grocery stores sell an organic heavy cream. But if you’re looking for no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed or raw you may have to dig a bit deeper. You can, of course, use any heavy cream to make butter. But you’ll get a better taste from grass-fed or raw milk. If you have a local dairy or a farmer’s market with a dairy seller, chances are you’ll get a great tasting, sweeter, richer cream. The taste of grass-fed milk even changes with the season since the cows eat more hay in winter and, as spring approaches, the greens they eat alter their milk’s chemistry. It makes sense and is one of those facts that makes my nerdy food side really geek out.

If you can go the raw route, which is harder for some due to state level regulations on selling unpasteurized milk, you’ll get something really special. Living in Virginia I can only get raw milk if I own the cow. Ain’t no way, no how is my little townhouse community going to let that happen (along with city ordinances, my tiny backyard, the HOA, etc), so farmers have devised a clever way to get around the law: cow shares. You can buy into a portion of a cow, which entitles you to a share of the raw milk they produce. The cool thing about raw milk is the cream that settles at the top. Normally you would shake your milk to mix that in before pouring. When making butter, this is the cream you skim off to start with.

OK, so we’ve established the ingredients (make that ingredient) is really simple. So what’s the process?

Whether or not you are using a food processor, the steps are pretty much the same, it just may take longer with other methods. First, you want to start with room temperature heavy cream. Take it out of the fridge and let it warm up a bit, for about an hour. This will help the fluffy curds form better and faster.

When ready, pour the cream into the food processor making sure not to overfill. I used two pints, or 1 quart, of heavy cream. Attach the lid firmly and let ‘er rip. It only takes about 5 minutes or less to change it into butter.

As the processor runs and agitates the cream, you will notice some changes. It will slowly thicken up, essentially turning into whipped cream. As it continues to process, it will break and milk solids which look like fluffy, pail yellow clouds will begin to emerge in the liquid.

Put a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the contents of the processor over it. The liquid left after the milk breaks is buttermilk. Save this off for other uses! The butter is what stays in the sieve.

The step I was most confused about was the “washing” stage. Why on earth do I have to rinse my butter, I thought. Well, you don’t have to, but if you want it to last a little longer it’s suggested that you either soak it in a little water or run the butter right under a sink. This was relatively easy and painless, I just didn’t understand why.

After rinsing, using either your hands, spoon or spatula, kneed or squeeze the butter to remove any excess liquid left behind. This part can take a little time. You want to make sure you get most of what you can out. Setting it in a sieve to drain works too.

Congratulations eater! You just made butter! At this point you can salt it if you’d like and place into a container of your choice. Later this month we talk about what you can do with this butter – besides the obvious bread, baking, potatoes – like making seasoned compound butter for cooking or browning it for a sauce.

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photo credit to Aaron Otis Photography 2014


March
This month we're teaching you (and, in the process, learning ourselves) how to make our own butter. We start with the basics then talk browned, clarified and flavored. No matter how you roll it, butter just might be our favorite food group.

 
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