Brown Butter Icing is made with nutty, caramel-like, fragrant, toasty, rich brown butter. This Brown Butter Icing is practically a perfect substance. Smooth, rich, sweet, and beaming with all the flavor and benefits of brown butter. And it goes with everything!
Trying to decide what to say… things have taken a very strange turn in just a matter of days. I plan to continue baking and blogging as best I can, and that is not to capitalize on this time in some way, but to hopefully provide a welcome distraction and some levity.
I know that it helps me right now, so I hope that it helps you. This blog is my happy place, and it is a comfort. I’m not ignoring our surroundings and moving past them like “business as usual.” I don’t want to be insensitive to what is happening around us. I want this to be a pleasant distraction. I know that it is for me, I hope it is for you too.
Today I’m posting an icing recipe alone, this Brown Butter Icing. I know this seems random, and it honestly IS a bit random. Life has been hectic (even aside from the latest current events), and I haven’t been able to do any mass-baking sessions in a while.
What I will say though — for years, I thought it was a cop-out to post icings, frostings, and such as separate blog posts, but then my best friend Leslie made such an excellent point.
She’s more of a cook than a baker, and when she wants to bake, sometimes she wants to buy a box cake mix or roll of refrigerated cookie dough, and only spend time on the frosting. Or vice-versa… homemade brownies, but with a tub of prepared frosting. I totally get this. This made complete sense to me.
I myself was recently searching for frosting ideas alone, and so now I’m on board with individual posts for icings, etc. This Brown Butter Icing is one of the oldest in my icing/frosting repertoire, so it’s a fine one for having its own blog post. It really deserves it.
The way everything is going, I think it’s not a bad idea to have a tub of frosting handy to grab a spoonful when the mood strikes. I took a big container of Nutella Buttercream out of the freezer a few days ago for this exact reason — frosting by the spoonful, I care not if I actually put it on anything at the moment.
That said, I’m getting ready to make a batch of Amish Sugar Cookies, and that’s where I’ll start. Those cookies go with everything.
This Brown Butter Icing was first posted on the blog with these Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing. Those cookies are one of my most popular recipes of all time. They’re tender, cake-like, heavily-spiced pumpkin cookies, with a thick layer of perfectly caramelized butter icing.
The cookies are not exactly in season right now, but the icing is! Brown Butter Icing is always in season!
Since discovering Brown Butter Icing when I first made those cookies over 15 years ago, I have never stopped loving brown butter as one of my all time favorite ingredients on earth. There is nothing like it, and it goes with EVERYTHING. Sure, it’s at its best with certain other ingredients, but it seriously goes with everything.
Anytime I want to amplify a recipe and take it up a notch, I brown the butter that’s going into it. Boom.
Brown butter is so special — it becomes fragrant and nutty, caramel-like, brown sugar-like too, it’s hard to explain, but it becomes magical.
A tip I like to share if you’re making brown butter for the first time: know that it goes from brown to burned really, really fast. Once it’s very near being “done”, it completes in the blink of an eye, so watch it closely. I’ve added notes to that effect in the recipe card.
As you’re making it, the butter foams heavily, then the foaming dissipates, and then you’re about 90% done. You’ll want to watch it carefully at that time.
I’ve also added a note about troubleshooting this Brown Butter Icing. Occasionally it appears to seize and separate. That’s okay, and your Brown Butter Icing isn’t ruined — it just needs to be emulsified and thoroughly mixed. Whip it in an electric mixer for a minute or two, and it will come together.
My Brown Butter Icing recipe has made many, many appearances on the blog, and it will continue to do so. I’m going to sprinkle in some photo examples. Anyway, I adore it, it’s nearly impossible to find a more delicious food! You can seriously put it on anything you want to ice or frost, but for some recipe ideas:
Note: I’ve also made this Brown Butter Frosting which is more of a buttercream-type recipe than an icing. Brown Butter Icing is not a whipped, fluffy buttercream, but rather more like a thick glaze or thick spread. That is “icing” to me, a thicker glaze, but thinner than buttercream. You follow?
Brown Butter Icing is the type that “sets.” What’s great though is that you can still make it ahead of time, store it in the fridge or freezer, and revitalize it when you’re ready to use it. Notes in the recipe card for how to do that.
As a funny side note: I don’t always buy ingredients specifically to make a recipe. I have a habit of strolling around stores and stocking up on all kinds of fun baking ingredients and condiments without having a recipe in mind at all. I just like to have lots of variety and options on hand.
Over the last year or two, I’ve thought about challenging myself to use up as much as I possibly can, limited to what I already have in my pantry, without purchasing additional ingredients. Like, before I let myself go out and buy, try to use as much as possible of what I already have. Here we are — a real-life instance where we need to do that anyway: use up what is only on-hand.
I didn’t buy Carrot Cake Spread from Trader Joe’s with any particular idea in mind, it just sounded fun! I figured I’d come up with something later, but I haven’t yet. Now is that time, I’d say.
Please let me know what you’re making and baking during this time. What are some of your go-to simple recipes? If you try this Brown Butter Icing, I hope you’ll share your thoughts! I always love to hear feedback. Take care, and talk soon.
Brown Butter Icing
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup salted butter cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Place the powdered sugar in a medium bowl, and set aside.
- Melt butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat, stirring frequently, until it foams, the foam dissipates, it turns a deep golden brown, and develops brown flecks and a nutty fragrance, about 10 minutes or so. Toward the later stages, around the time it begins to foam, watch the brown butter very closely. It can go from 'brown' to 'burned' very quickly.
- Remove from heat, cool 2-3 minutes, and *carefully* pour over powdered sugar.
- Add milk and vanilla, and vigorously whisk the mixture until smooth. If the icing seems to seize or separate, you just need to reeeeeeally mix it to emulsify it. You can use an electric mixer if preferred. But don't give up thinking it's ruined, it just needs to be emulsified, so give it a serious mixing! Icing should be thin enough to spread, but not runny or drippy. Add additional milk or powdered sugar, as needed, to achieve desired consistency.
- Frost cakes, cookies, breads. It is an icing that sets. However, if you plan to use this frosting at a later time, it will freeze beautifully. Seal it in an airtight container and freeze. When ready to use, thaw to room temperature, and then microwave for 20-30 seconds -- that's it -- to thin it out.