I'm sure everyone here has tried making chocolate chip cookies with brown butter, and if you haven't, you've thought about it, right? It's an old trick these days. By using brown butter instead of the usual yellow stuff you can easily transform an ordinary chocolate chip cookie—delicious to begin with—into something that makes you want to lick the cookie sheet before making a second, third, and fourth batch.
I love it when something as simple as slightly changing one ingredient has such a dramatically delicious effect on baked goods. Because yes, that brown butter trick also works for other dishes, adding toasted, nutty flavors to things like blondies, cornbread, or even pasta. And cake, of course, because although this gorgeous cake may seem like an ordinary pound cake, it has way more going on.
Like all good cakes, it has a moist, buttery crumb, but it also packs a toasty, nutty punch. You know how a cake's edges develop an extra rich and buttery caramel flavor? Well, this whole cake tastes that way. And to top if off, there's a brown butter frosting on top.
To be honest, the cake itself is nothing particularly novel—it's just a regular old cake made by creaming butter and sugar, adding flour, baking powder, milk, eggs, and a few other flavorings, then baking it. Brown butter is the shortcut to making it taste fantastic. If you've never made it, check out my how-to, but in brief all you need is butter, a light-colored pot (to see the color change as the butter browns), and a spatula to stir.
The only hard part of this cake is the waiting: The browned butter has to be chilled thoroughly in the fridge until cold and firm before you can use it. After that, it then needs to be resoftened at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes before you use it to make the cake.
Chilling the butter and then resoftening it may seem like unnecessery, time-consuming steps, but keep in mind that the temperature of the softened butter directly affects the structure of the cake. As you cream butter with sugar in a mixer, the butter traps air bubbles that will form the basis of the cake's crumb. If the butter's too hard it won't cream right; if it's too soft and greasy, it won't form those bubbles. In fact, the butter should still be a bit firm, with a temperature of 65 to 68°F, to get the best rise.
After the brown butter has softened to room temperature, getting this cake into the oven is peanuts. Beat the butter in an electric mixer until creamy, mix in sugar, add eggs, a little milk and vanilla, then fold in flour, baking powder, and salt. After that, you bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Brown butter can kickstart the browning process of a cake in the oven, so I suggest covering the cake loosely with aluminum foil after the first 30 minutes of baking. At that point it should be a dark golden brown; beyond that it'll start to taste burnt.
The frosting is even simpler than the cake: more brown butter, powdered sugar, a splash of water, and vanilla. I only use a few drops of vanilla in the frosting, but even this small amount of vanilla dramatically deepens the warm brown butter notes of the frosting.
Sweet, nutty frosting and moist, buttery cake, all with one easy-to-make ingredient. I'll call that a win-win.