The Dr. Frankenstein in me is going crazy with glee since it came up with the secret ingredient to these cookies.
Maybe I’m not exactly Frankenstein. Thankfully. But my inner mad scientist always comes out when food is involved. Like when I made chocolate mousse with no dairy, or creamy ice cream without cream, or everything-free chocolate chip cookies. Unlike all those other times, though, I’ve altered this recipe to be even more gluttonous and dairy-full. And I have no regrets.
About four years ago, when I came across Deb Perelman’s recipe for Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties, there was no doubt in my mind that they would be amazing. And they were. SO amazing. The only issue as far as I could tell was that they were difficult to shape – she says to roll it into a log and slice-’n’-bake, but that didn’t work for me at all. Even if it had, the cookies never kept their shape once baked anyway because they were so goddamn buttery.
With everything I’ve made with brown butter in the past, I’ve invariably wished its flavor would be stronger. It’s always offered a hint of its existence, but I wanted it to punch me in the face with its brown buttery-ness. If a little is good, more is better.
So when coming up with a new Christmas cookie, I immediately thought back to Deb’s cookies – all her recipe needed was a little tweaking.
First, I needed to whip them into holding their shape. I wanted to use festive cookie cutters, and I didn’t want to go through the trouble of cutting out shapes only to pull out buttery puddles from the oven. This was easily solved by chilling the dough and baking the cookies straight from the freezer.
The next change I’ve made is the real game-changer – prepare yourself to have your mind blown.
I’ve made you wait for it because I’m so proud of myself for figuring it out (I’ve since Googled it and it turns out I’m not the first to think of it, but still).
Here it is, the simple move that made these cookies perfection: I made the brown butter in this recipe extra brown-buttery. How?
I added dried milk powder.
And it worked – I had created brown butter on steroids. There were so many browned solids that I could imagine straining them out and eating them with a spoon as if it were cereal. My mind is still spinning with all the possible uses for this magical elixir. Cookies, pasta, bread, croissants, pies, cakes, frostings – the sky’s the limit and I am flying high.
The beauty of it is that even though you might not have noticed it before, dried milk powder is available in regular grocery stores all around the world, and it’s not full of any funky ingredients. No running to out-of-the-way specialty stores or ordering anything online. I encourage you to make this brown butter for yourself, and comment below if you use it, even if you don’t use it to make these cookies. I need to know what this cracked out butter is capable of.
These Christmas cookies are just like your average shortbread cookies: buttery, sweet, and they fall apart in your mouth. The only difference is that they’re made with the most intense brown butter ever and are a thousand percent better than regular shortbread cookies. Or any cookies, for that matter. Think I’m overselling it? Taste it for yourself, then get back to me.
Until then, I’ll be in my kitchen experimenting with the delicious monster I have created.
Intense Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies
- 6 ounces (3/4 cuunsalted butter
- 1/2 cup nonfat milk powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Confectioner’s sugar
First, brown the butter. Use a stainless steel saucepan (anything not non-sticto melt the butter on medium heat, then add the milk powder and whisk. Lower the heat slightly and stir frequently for the next 5-7 minutes, being sure to scrape the bottom. The milk solids will begin to caramelize and you’ll see brown specks throughout your butter, at first just lightly golden and then getting darker and more plentiful. When the butter is sufficiently browned to a dark golden color, remove from heat and set aside to cool. Once cool enough, transfer the butter to an airtight container and chill for 45-60 minutes, or until solid.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the salt and flour. Set aside.
When the brown butter has cooled, dump it into the bowl of a stand mixer or hand mixer. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy and evenly combined. Add the vanilla extract and mix. Then, on low speed, add the flour/salt mixture a little bit at a time. Once it’s all been added, mix on low for about a minute - too much gluten won’t be an issue for these cookies, so don’t be afraid to keep mixing. The final dough will look crumbly, but if it sticks together when squeezed, you’re good to go.
Dump the dough onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper, and roll it about 3-4mm thick (or however thick you want your cookies to be). Cover your rolled out dough with another sheet of parchment and transfer it to a cutting board or sheet pan, then freeze for at least 10 minutes, or until noticeably hardened.
Take out the dough and use cookie cutters (or a shot glass if you don’t have anto cut out your cookies. Transfer these back to the sheet pan to be chilled again before baking. This time, freeze for at least 20 minutes - you want them to go into the oven cold so they do not spread.
Preheat your oven to 350When you’re cookies are ready to bake, place them on a sheet pan with at least an inch of space between them. Bake for 9-11 minutes - don’t over-bake or they will taste burnt because of the brown butter. They won’t appear any more brown than they were going in, but they will feel dry to the touch.
Cool the cookies completely before icing, if you choose to. (To be honest, I prefer them un-decorated.) Combine confectioner’s sugar and very little milk and vanilla extract to achieve a thick consistency, then spread or pipe onto the cookies. I dusted the dried frosting with edible glitter and threw on some sugar beads for good measure, but even if you just add food coloring to the frosting you'll be able to do a better job decorating them than I have.
For storage, place a sheet of parchment between each layer of decorated cookies (or just stack undecorated cookiein an airtight container kept at room temperature. They will last about a week.