Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brown Butter Pecan Cookies

Dear Butter Pecan Ice Cream,

I'd like to turn you into a cookie. A very chewy cookie packed with brown butter flavour and toasted pecans. I hope you don't mind if I finish you off with a rich brown butter glaze. You'll be tasty, I promise.

Your fan,

The high ratio of brown sugar to butter in this recipe for Brown Butter Pecan Cookies creates a very chewy texture. Due to the grand water-binding ability of sugar, these cookies stay chewy for quite a few days if stored in an air-tight container.

Usually when recipes call for brown butter, they state "do not burn the butter". Well, call me crazy but I actually want you to go ahead and burn the butter. Do it gently, though. I encourage you to cook it until the non-fat solids, which consist mainly of protein and lactose (milk sugar), turn dark brown to black.

The "brown" part in brown butter is caused by a complex reaction between lactose and amino acids of milk proteins under very high temperatures, called the Maillard reaction or Maillard browning. After a series of rearrangements and degradations, the Maillard reaction ultimately produces potent compounds having flavours and aromas that can generally be described as nutty, floral, toasted, meaty and caramel-like. It also creates brown-coloured compounds, called melanoidins. 

Maillard Browning is probably the most delicious reaction in the culinary world, as it is responsible for the bitter caramel-flavoured crust on seared or grilled steak, the crispy golden exterior of roasted potatoes, the amber crust of baked brioche and the valuable "brown bits" that stick to the bottom of a skillet or roasting pan and serve as the base for rich, intensely-flavoured sauces. Oh, and did I mention that products of Maillard browning contribute to the flavour of chocolate? That definitely puts it in first place as the most important chemical reaction EVER. Well, maybe it's second to the reaction that sends the "this is delicious" signal to our brains when we eat chocolate. Yes, that makes more sense.

To prepare these delicious cookies as they appear in the images, toast extra whole pecans (one extra per cookie) and press one down into the center of each cookie dough ball before baking.

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