Bizarro Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes

&uotMy pantry, on a surface level, would appear well stocked. There’s pasta, there’s rice, there’s beans, there’s flour, there’s sugar, there’s oil, there’s baking soda. You can look in my pantry and think to yourself: “My! Imagine all the glorious things he can make with this!”

But when put to the test, my pantry failed me. This happened Monday night. I have a new Monday night ritual. Because I’ve spoiled my Tuesday playwriting workshop week after week with home cooked treats, I now feel obligated to bake something for them on a regular basis. They expect it. “What are you bringing, tomorrow?” my workshop classmates ask me. “I DON’T KNOW! LEAVE ME ALONE!” I scream and run into the bathroom crying. (I’m very dramatic in the Dramatic Writing program).

So this past Monday, at 11 pm, after directing a scene for directing class and writing a 10 page paper comparing “Uncle Vanya” to “The Wood Demon” I set upon making a baked good. I flipped through my many baked goods cookbooks and found, to my dismay, that I didn’t have the ingredients for 99% of the recipes. I needed coconut, I needed cream, I needed marzipan, I needed lemons. I just didn’t have those things.

What I do have plenty of is butter. And so when I stumbled upon Nigella Lawson’s ;Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes” I was intrigued. The ingredients were incredibly basic and the end result sounded so exotic.

Now I must tell you here that my brother is sleeping in the living room right now so I can’t turn the light on to take the book off the shelf to tell you the recipe beat by beat. I can do that for you in the comments for it at a later date if you BEG ME and reveal DEEP PERSONAL SECRETS ABOUT YOURSELF.

What I will do is give you a very basic narrative. First, you burn the butter. It’s this much butter in a saucepan at medium heat:


You let it cook until it turns dark golden brown. This is a fun process. You stir stir stir and wait wait wait. This is what you end up with:


But here’s the part that angers me. Nigella then says: “Wait for the butter to resolidfy. Do not put in the fridge though! You need the butter soft. It really won’t take that long.”

Oh, Nigella. How long it took. It took so long that I almost put the butter in the freezer, but I settled upon the fridge. Even that took a while. So I’m not sure what was happening (I’m sure my foodie friends can chime in) but if I were you, if you ever make this recipe, just stick it in the fridge and check every few minutes. That’s what I’d do.

Once that happens, it’s so straight forward you could die from overexposure to straightforwardness. You just blitz that brown butter with brown sugar and flour and other things in the food processor. Add milk. Pour into muffin tins. You’re done.

But wait. Then there’s the frosting. For the frosting you have to do the SAME BROWN BUTTER PROCESS. So it takes that same crazy amount of time. But this time I used the fridge method and I was happy. The frosting is wonderful. Here’s the resulting cupcake:


I actually love this cupcake because the ingredients are so simple and yet it tastes so exotic. When people talk about browned butter they often use the word “nuttiness” to describe the taste (at least Nigella does). I think that’s true but it’s a comforting nuttiness–there’s a warmth to it that’s hard to describe.

Was it a hit in class?

Well Dan, sitting next to me, bit into it while someone was reading a poem and said: “OH MY GOD! Adam, this is AMAZING.”

On the other hand, a certain classmate who shall remain nameless took one bite and pushed it away. She didn’t know I noticed this but I DID. Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes aren’t for anyone. Are they for you? Only one way to find out. All you need is butter, fire and time.

9 thoughts on “Bizarro Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes”

  1. Chris in the poorhouse

    And then everyone had to be rushed to the emergency room. The end.

    So, you’re basically eating a stick of butter cut with milk… Joy!

  2. Adam, I am begging you. I think I was made for these cupcakes. And this is my very personal deepest secret: Although I eat at 3 star restaurants (that is as much as it gets in Europe, you know), although I love cooking and make really eloborate things; if oneday I am sitting in the death row and they ask me what I want for my last meal, I will ask for french fries. Proper ones, mind you.

  3. My not so shameful yet quite deep secret: there’s a bakery near my place. (How astonishing! How brave of you to confess). Yeah well it’s one of those irritating pseudo bakeries, with nice decorations and the breads put out in a very attriactive manner, but the bread tastes like cardboard. I bet that they even buy little “bread scented” perfumes to spritz over the place and attract customers. Anyhow, sometimes I do get in, when no other bakeries have bread or are closed (this in a little french town, not NYC). And each time that I enter, the store is empty. So I look around and there’s no one except those hideous breads freakily staring back at me. Eventually, the owner will come in, sometimes coming from the hairdresser who’s probably a friend or after a smoke. No apologies, just a grumble. So I’ve tested this and I’ve realised that he is always absent. So one time I strategically went with an empty backpack, looked around, and carefully put 2 fresh croissants and 2 pretzels that were at the counter in my bag. He nonchalantly entered and I asked for my usual baguette. He didn’t notice and I walked off happily.

  4. This one brings me out of my lurking to beg. Abase myself. Perhaps grovel. I have nothing you could want; I live in the far frozen North of Upstate… but I would love the recipe to this!

    Here’s a secret: I eat raw bread dough. I love it in all its yeasty goodness. My friends and relations think its a vile habit and slap my hands when I reach to just “trim off a bit” of the pizza crust as we shape them for baking…

    I have a freezer full of butter bought on sale this winter. I must use it, and this seems like a worthy use. Please give us the recipe!

  5. Lurker coming out of the woodwork for the recipe because these sound freaking awesome.

    Deep, dark secret: I am an evangelical Christian and a Democrat. There.

    (I don’t really think it’s such a big deal, but one of those elements on their own usually freaks *someone* out, much less together, so *shrug*.)

  6. Ok, friends and secret-revealers, here’s Nigella’s recipe. Have fun burning that butter!

    For the cupcakes:

    1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs unsalted butter

    3/4 cup self-rising cake flour

    3 Tbs sugar

    5 Tbs light brown sugar

    2 large eggs

    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1 tsp baking powder

    2-3 Tbs milk

    12-cup muffin panlined with 2 paper baking cups

    For the icing:

    1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs unsalted butter

    1 2/3 to 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

    1 tsp vanilla extract

    2-3 Tbs milk

    Preheat the oven to 400F and then get on with burning your butter. Put it in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring all the time until it turns a dark golden color. Take the pan off the heat and strain the butter into a bowl or cup, as it will have made a sediment. In other words, this is like clarified butter, but with a smoky note. Let the butter solidify again but don’t put it in the refrigerator; you need it to remain soft for the cupcakes. This shouldn’t take long, except in hot weather, in which case leave the preheating of the oven till after the butter’s been burnt.

    When the butter is solid but still soft, put all the cake ingredients except the milk in a food processor and blitz to a smooth batter. As normal, add the milk down the funnel, pulsing sparingly to form a soft, dropping mixture.

    Divide among the paper cups, and cook for 15-20 minutes. While the cupcakes are baking, get on with the icing. It’s the same procedure for the butter–burn, strain, solidify–then beat it with half the sugar or enough to make it stiff. Addd Tbs of milk and the remaining sugar alternately to reach a good consistency, and finally the vanilla.

    While the icing’s still soft, smear messily over the cooled and waiting cupcakes. Makes 12.

  7. Quick query – doesn’t the recipe actually call for ‘unrefined’ icing sugar? I’m certain the UK/Australian one does; it’s pale brown and smells like fudge or toffee and makes an incredible caramel flavour, even when it’s just mixed with a little water. I don’t know if it’s hard to come by in the US (maybe she altered the recipe for the US market) but I think she notes in my copy that the unrefined icing sugar is a necessity to give it a ‘voluptuous fudginess’ (yeah, I could be totally misquoting here, but I’m far too lazy to go and get my book. Trust me when I say that unrefined icing sugar has been my GREATEST discovery in the past few months. Billington’s, from UK makes it….)

  8. Here’s another twist to the same concept. Crystallized sugar can be whirled in the Cuisinart until crunchy but not quite granular. It gives a very toffee-esque touch to the frosting.

    BTW – cupcakes are ever so much fun to share and can be personalized as well. I can feel my arteries clogging even as I contemplate the possibilities…

    Best, Kimberley

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