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Jan 5, 2010 05:23 AM

Help! Exploding brown butter!

I made the Cook's Illustrated Brown Sugar Cookies last night, and disaster ensued. (It's a great recipe that I've made twice before.) The first step is to melt, then brown over medium-high heat, 10 tablespoons of butter in a 10-inch skillet (mine is All Clad). While the butter was melting, I stepped away for a moment to gather some other ingredients and heard loud popping sounds. My stove, counter, floor (not to mention various items on the counter) were all covered with butter! What happened? What should I do differently in the future? Does the brand of butter matter? My exploding butter was Trader Joe's store brand. Would I be better off with european-style butter? Thank you!

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  1. i've browned tj's butter. sometimes it spatters. you're basically frying fat, lol. if this hasn't happened to you before, you may have just had the heat a wee bit higher than in the past. don't worry about it.

    1. When you melted the butter, the water in it sunk to the bottom and the oil rose to the top. The weight of the oil pressed down on the surface of the water, raising its boiling point.

      When the water finally reached the elevated boiling point, a column of steam essentially poked a hole through the oil, allowing atmospheric pressure to return and dropping the boiling point of the water back to normal. The now-superheated water boiled explosively, throwing oil all over the room.

      Any butter will do this, regardless of brand, source, or type. You can avoid the problem by leaving a spoon in the pan and cooking the butter very slowly until the moisture is gone, or by stirring frequently as you cook it over higher heat.

      1 Reply
      1. re: alanbarnes

        I love it when the technical explanations are right on target. Great info, Al. Looks like you paid attention in science class.