The Best Brown Butter Bourbon Cookies

By Charleen - January 26, 2024

It is truly a pleasure to come home from work to find freshly baked cookies. I still remember the day my daughter offered me these unassuming, tan cookies with small cracks across the top. My first bite revealed a luscious, moist interior with layered flavors harmonizing in my mouth like a warm embrace. Nutty brown butter, brown sugar molasses, warm cinnamon-nutmeg and spicy, smooth caramel bourbon goodness. I was instantly hooked and this became my favorite cookie, not too sweet, but warm and rich and blissful.

Although I am not naturally drawn to sweets, having family members that love to bake has shifted my tastes over the years. Originally, the only sweet I truly enjoyed was ice cream. Then I experienced daiquiri cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, bread pudding, key lime pie -- slowly and surely I encountered more and more desserts to enjoy. For Brown Butter Bourbon Cookies, however, it was love at first bite and I could not get enough.

Brown butter

An Amish restaurant in central Pennsylvania, mostly likely Good 'N Plenty, where you sit family style with other previously unknown guests, introduced me to the delights of brown butter. 

Butter is another food or ingredient that I used to think my husband slathered onto everything from force of habit, as I found it a bit bland  especially the generic supermarket stick. That is, until I had the most amazing Wisconsin butter to spread on my bread, which greatly eclipsed the flavored spreads offered. I realized that butter from different places had different flavors (and now I can taste the difference in milk as well). 
Brown butter noodles (arrows), pickled beets, mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken, chow chow served at Good 'N Plenty. There was also roast beef and ham, I believe, and shoo-fly pie. Photo modified from Lancaster County Mag. Good 'N Plenty and Plain & Fancy were both started by the Lapp family .Unfortunately, you can't get this type of "pass the plate" dining anymore. 
Well, brown butter is another level of delight altogether.  And the process of caramelizing the milk solids in the butter through steady heating and vigilant stirring transforms even generic supermarket butter into a culinary delight. Yes, the Amish fried chicken and roast beef and pickled vegetables and mashed potatoes were tasty. But it was the simplest dish of plain noodles tossed in brown butter that captivated me.

To make brown butter, you simply put a stick or two into a saucepan and heat over medium heat, swirling occasionally. Once it melts and starts to froth, you should pay attention and stir it more or less continuously until it attains a rich golden-amber hue, smells aromatic and a bit nutty, and collects a lot of brown flecks and specks at the bottom. 
Brown butter with the tasty brown flecks on the bottom
After it cools, it can be stored for 2 weeks in the fridge, or frozen. So, while you are at it browning butter for one recipe, make some extra for another use! When using the browned butter, be sure to stir it well to resuspend the precious brown bits so they make their way into the dish.

One of my favorite vegetarian recipes consists of radishes prepared three ways -- spicy raw slices, wedges panroasted until soft, juicy and beautifully browned, and the greens wilted into couscous cooked in brown butter. 
Frozen brown butter (top left) plus some extra butter to brown the radish wedges for Radish Three Ways
Throw a handful of hazelnuts, or almonds on top for a complete meal. The recipe and more information can be found here. 
Radish Three Ways with Nutty Brown Butter Couscous.

Brown butter bourbon cookies

Making the cookies is not difficult. Measure out the three sugars into one bowl, and the remaining dry ingredients into another medium bowl. The egg plus egg yolk and vanilla are placed in a separate small bowl (no need to beat). The cookies can be made using either a hand mixer or a stand mixer. 
Mise en place for brown butter bourbon cookies. Clockwise from the flour-baking soda-spices bowl are brown butter, three types of sugar, egg-vanilla mix and bourbon
To make the cookie dough, the cooled brown butter is mixed with three kinds of sugar, light brown, dark brown and regular white granulated to form a brown, crumbly mixture.

The egg-vanilla mix is added, followed by just 2 tablespoons of a fine bourbon. 
Our friends are always surprised to find that there is so little bourbon in these cookies as the flavor is so rich. Our favorite bourbon to use is Charles Goodnight 100 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, but we have had great results with other bourbons as well, such as Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Whiskey and Basil Hayden's. 
Finally, the dry ingredients are gradually mixed in, balls formed, and the cookies baked.  

Early on, my husband followed the recipe from the Bake Your Day website (which is no longer there), but his cookies did not turn out as good as my daughter's. 
The secret, it turns out, is to resist the urge to even slightly flatten out the cookies, and to make sure not to overbake them.
The cookies are allowed to cool for about 5 min on the pan (and will continue to cook a little), before being moved to a rack to finish cooling.

Brown Butter Bourbon Cookies
A highly satisfying cookie redolent with nutty caramel notes and warm spices. For a luscious, tender crumb inside, be sure not to overbake.

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (340 g)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (104 g)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (104 g)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (99 g)
2 1/2 cups flour (312 g)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
3 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs Bourbon

1. Brown butter by heating in a clean saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a whisk while it is melting, then whisk continuously until butter is browned with a nutty fragrance, about 8-10 min. You shouls see plenty of brown bits forming on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two half-sheet pans with Silpat or parchment paper.

3. Combine the three types of sugar in a small bowl. Mix remaining dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, spices) in a medium bowl. Separate out an egg yolk into another small bowl, then add the whole egg and vanilla. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl (if using hand mixer), or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the three types of sugar with the cooled brown butter. Be sure to stir the butter to suspend the brown bits before adding to the mixer bowl.  Mix with hand mixer or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until well blended. It will be crumbly in texture.

Add the egg-vanilla and mix until combined. Turn the mixer down to a low setting and mix in the Bourbon.

5. Slowly add the flour-spice mixture and mix until combined. Form the dough into 1 1/4 - 1 1/3 inch balls, placing 12 on a prepared half-sheet pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 min until the cookies are just set on the edges. 

6. While each batch of cookies is baking, prepare the other half sheet pan.  Cool the baked cookies on the cookie sheet for ~5 min, then transfer to a wire rack. Makes ~36 cookies.

For print formatted recipe, click here. 

Love2Chow Tips - 
🐾 Using a light colored saucepan, such as stainless steel, makes it easier to see the color developing in the brown butter.

🐾 It is better to bake just one sheet at a time. If you try two, it will likely take longer for one pan than the other. We have not tried using convection mode in an oven. 

🍃 Green Tips: The egg white can be used for velveting chicken, pork, shrimp, etc. for stir-fry, or brushed onto bread, rolls or pie crust as a glaze. You can freeze it in an ice cube tray for later use. For meringue or meringue cookies, you will need whites from 3-4 eggs.


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