Coconut oil “brown butter”

I wanted a dairy-free substitute for brown butter and the recipes I found online weren’t that convincing. So, I looked into it myself.

Basics of butter

According to most sources on the Internet, unsalted butter is roughly 80% fat, 17% water, and 3% milk solids. Browning butter is simply the act of heating butter to the point that all the water evaporates, which allows the milk solids to brown and caramelize.

Dairy-free version

The recipes I’ve come across are far more complicated than I was hoping for, while still not giving me a great solution. Coconut oil was the front runner in terms of oil choice, since it is the closest to being solid at room temperature like butter. In order to mimic the milk solids, I went with coconut milk powder. This is dairy-free and allows for that same rich toasty-ness that brown butter is famous for.

Brown butter math

In order to convert a recipe, you have to do the math on how much coconut oil and coconut milk powder to use. Since butter is typically composed of 80% oil, you need to calculate how much that is based on how much the recipe calls for. For example, if the recipe calls for 100 grams of butter, that is essentially 80g of oil. Since coconut oil contains no water to evaporate off, omit the water from the calculation. Then, calculate the milk solids by multiplying the amount of butter by .035.

Reducing the amount of oil

From my experience, reducing the amount of coconut oil than a 1:1 ratio gives results in a less greasy product that is closer to the butter version. I find that instead of multiplying the butter amount by .85, .7 is much more accurate. As with everything, trial and error is the only way to find out since all recipes are different.

How to make

Coconut oil “brown butter” is made the same way as regular brown butter, the only difference is there is no water to evaporate off.

  1. Heat coconut oil and milk powder in a light-colored metal saucepan (easiest to see the milk solids) over medium-low (3) heat.
  2. Stir often until milk powder turns golden brown.

Many recipes call for a little bit of water or milk to be added back to the recently browned butter. This replaces the water that is missing from the coconut oil as well as stops the cooking of the milk solids.

How to use

The best way to use coconut oil “brown butter” is to look for recipes that use brown butter and sub it 1:1.

Regular butter

Regular butter (meaning not browned) contains water and has a different melting point than coconut oil. Because of this, coconut oil “brown butter” won’t necessarily work for all recipes calling for just “butter.” It heavily depends on how the butter is being used. If the butter needs to be whipped or beaten to aerate the mixture, this recipe likely won’t be a great substitute.

Melted butter

If the recipe calls for melted butter, there is a good chance coconut oil “brown butter” will work just fine. Just remember that regular melted butter contains water and coconut oil “brown butter” does not. Therefore, it’s worth doing the math to calculate 15% of the melted butter asked for and substitute that with water or milk, and the rest being coconut oil “brown butter”.

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