Brown and buttery

Cynthia Stone
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You may think from the title that this column is about savoury fried dishes, but if you take the brown butter out of the frying pan and incorporate it in your holiday baking, you’re in for a flavour-packed treat.

Brown butter apple crumble bars

These coffee-loving sweets have all the flavour of a warm apple crisp; in fact, serve them right out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a fabulous dessert. They will transport perfectly, however, to an office party or neighbourhood get-together.

You can get away with margarine in the topping, but don’t be tempted in the base — substitutes simply won’t work.

Crisp Topping:

1/3 cup large-cut rolled oats

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/4 tsp. each cinnamon and salt

3 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


1-1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup unsalted butter (no other)

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup large-cut rolled oats

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg and cardamom

2 cups peeled and cored apples, finely diced

Make the topping first. Whisk together rolled oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt until well blended. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until mixture is crumbly and fairly homogenous, although small pieces of butter are OK.

For the base, whisk together brown sugar, eggs and vanilla until thoroughly combined; set aside. Place butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over low until melted and starting to foam. Swirling often, continue to heat the butter until it turns caramel brown in colour and there are some tiny, dark brown bits on the bottom of the pot. This step will take 6 or 7 minutes, but once the butter is foaming you can’t walk away because it burns in a second. As soon as you get the brown colour, remove the pot from the heat and dip the bottom in cold water — I usually have a pan of washing up water in the sink and that works fine, too. You need to stop the cooking immediately. Cool the butter for 5 minutes then pour, whisking constantly, into the sugar, egg and vanilla mixture; set aside.

Whisk together flour, rolled oats, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Toss apples in flour mixture to coat thoroughly. Add apple mixture to browned butter mixture and stir just until combined — the batter will be quite stiff. Spread in a well-greased 9 by 13-inch baking dish and smooth the top. Sprinkle on the reserved crumbly topping mixture and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes — a tester in the middle will still have a couple of moist crumbs attached and the top will be golden brown. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack then cut into bars or squares.

Chocolate fudge bars with brown butter icing

Here are two classics that found each other in my recipe files. Cut these into smallish pieces because they are definitely rich, but very satisfying. These might just be this holiday season’s winning gooey squares recipe.


2/3 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate

1-1/2 cups white sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

4 eggs

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

Browned Butter Icing:

1/2 cup unsalted butter (no other)

1/3 cup whipping cream

2 tsp. vanilla

4 cups sifted icing sugar

Chocolate Drizzle:

1 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

1 tbsp. unsalted butter (no other)

For the base, melt butter and chocolate together over hot, not boiling, water (or in a microwave), stirring until smooth. Cool for a few minutes. Beat white sugar, brown sugar and eggs until light in colour and creamy. Stir in melted chocolate and butter mixture. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and add to chocolate mixture. Stir in walnuts and spread in a greased 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

For the icing, brown the butter in a pot as described in the previous recipe. Cool slightly then add whipping cream and vanilla. Beat in the icing sugar until mixture is creamy, thick and of good spreading consistency. Spread evenly on the cooled base. Melt semi-sweet chocolate and butter together and drizzle over the top. Cut into squares or bars and serve.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s.

Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86,

St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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