brown butter pound cake

brown butter pound cake

I have been ruined, my friends. Forever. By nothing more than a simple brown butter cake batter. And as I sit here and type this, I can only contemplate one thing – chemistry. What a boring name for what actually happens! It should be called magic, or sorcery, or things transformed. But not chemistry. That doesn’t sounds like something I want to eat.

While we’re talking chemistry here, let me just confess that I loathed chemistry in high school. In fact, I think I might have avoided pre-med specifically because of it. My mother still thinks I would have made a fantastic doctor (she thinks surgery’s my thing) and I don’t disagree with her – medicine has always fascinated me as I readily absorbed all the medical trivia. And they always say that you tend to remember that which interests you the most. Likes crus of butter, or benefits of raw milk, or say all the different kinds of apples you can find at farmers market this month. But what I am realizing now, after all these years, is that I should have loved chemistry most of all subjects; I should have been doing that homework first, and not last. After all, chemistry is all about change and transformation – which is really what cooking is all about.

yeah, this ain't no joke herefrothy
then bubblythen sorta sudsy and you gotta see those solids

Butter by itself is an exciting thing, at least to me. I could wax rhapsodic about how if you take cream and just shake it for some time, you get butter. You start with one thing. You finish with another. Magic, right? And when your end result happens to be butter – nothing short of enchanting or magical should be attributed to your result. But, if you continue on, and take this butter, this delicious, sinfully rich, tangy butter that you just made and you heat it to the point where its solids turn chocolatey-brown, you get this thing that I consider to be the sexiest two words in the English language – brown butter.

brown butter - swoon

I think it’s impossible to understand why people go mad for brown butter until you try it, or try something with it. I have yet to meet a soul who hasn’t been completely seduced by it. I say “seduced” and not “won over” because brown butter is exactly that: seductive, sensual, sexy. If butter is a negligee, then brown butter is the merry widow. Even as I write this, my heart sinks a little bit, the same way it sinks when someone you have a huge crush on leans in for that first kiss and the world suddenly goes into surreal slow motion.

brown butter pound cake

brown butter pound cake

For me, this pound cake is that ultimate crush. I can have it as dessert at the end of the meal topped with gorgeous berries (or wine-stewed prunes as in the picture at the bottom of the page) or it’s my perfect morning coffee companion. And while pound cake isn’t the kind of thing one normally gets giddy about, brown butter pound cake, certainly is, at least in my book. You should also know by now that I’m a girl who likes her bourbon and looks for opportunities sneak it in anywhere she can. At times, I wonder if the Sassy Radish logo should have a parenthetical “we like bourbon here” by-line. By now you probably guessed correctly that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add a tiny bit here just to give the already earthy, nutty flavor a little hint of caramel and smoke.

brown butter pound cake

So, my goal here is to ruin all of you as well. Heck, if I’m going down, I’m taking you all with me. And while I might come across as all sweetness and innocence, I have devious plans. If you haven’t ever tried brown butter, then you’re in for quite a treat, and if you have – then I’m surprised you’re still sitting here and reading this post, instead of rushing to the kitchen to make this pound cake. Trust me – being ruined never felt so good.

brown butter pound cake

Brown Butter Pound Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2009

2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tsp bourbon (of course, I did!)


1. Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in middle. Butter and lightly flour an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.

2. Heat butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until milk solids on bottom are a dark chocolate brown. Transfer to a shallow bowl and chill in freezer until just congealed, about 15 minutes.

3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Beat together brown butter and sugars with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and then the bourbon (!). At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated.

5. Transfer batter to pan, smoothing top, then rap pan on counter to settle batter. Bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then invert cake onto a rack and cool completely, right side up, 1 hour.


  • The Gardener's Eden

    Go ahead, lead me astray. It is truly delightful to be taken for a pleasure ride. You are ‘sassy’ after all…
    I can almost taste this moist, buttery temptress now. Why must I work, when I would prefer to experiment with you in the kitchen?

  • Michelle

    I’m always so worried about really burning the butter that I never quite get it brown enough for the “magic” part to happen. I’ve really gotta work on that.

  • tariqata

    I think I’ll be making this sometime soon. It will be my excuse to break out my latest batch of homemade vanilla, ’cause I’ve had a vanilla bean steeping away in a jar of bourbon for more than a month now.

  • Kim (Edible/Usable)

    If you don’t have a copy, you should definitely get Harold McGee’s “On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen” It’s full of chemistry, but chemistry about cooking and food. It sounds daunting, but is totally readable. I’ve been reading it every night before bed and have been learning all sorts of things that will really change the way I cook and bake.
    His website
    Looks like a lovely cake. Brown butter and caramelized sugar are two of my favorites.

  • kickpleat

    Oh yeah, I love the bourbon & the brown butter here! I’ve never made pound cake before….so this one will go into my “make now, dammit!” file.

  • Mark Scarbrough

    OK, that may be the sexiest pound cake I’ve ever seen, after all these years in the business. Holy cow. And I’m no fan of pound cake. But I do believe this thing will make a convert out of me. I’m definitely going to try it this weekend when guests arrive. I’m picturing it with a little apricot jam on top of each serving.

  • Jennifer

    I’m with Mark, that is one gorgeous looking pound cake (but I also really love the stuff). It is on my list once I get out of cookbook testing hell.

  • Lori @ RecipeGirl

    Oh, I am *completely* with you on the brown butter thing! I’ve been obsessed with it of late… making brown butter snickerdoodles, brown butter chocolate chip cookies, and even brown butter banana bread. It’s all as fabulous as it sounds!!
    This sounds simply dreamy too. There’s something about that transformation into brown that really solidifies that fabulous flavor!

  • Eggy Z.

    Oh man…I am NOT a cake person at all really…I can’t be bothered with over-frosted poofy things but I love me a pound cake.
    I’ve never used brown butter or tasted it either…but this post has definitly got me tempted! I’ll have to see if I have enough butter in the house…my parents insist on using magarine for their bread-spread, but I’ll be damned the day I give up real butter for baking.

  • Amber

    This looks beautiful. Wondering if it’s possible to make pound cake muffins. Find they’re just a bit more portable for morning. I haven’t ever cooked with brown butter, but you’ve got me convinced! I love your writing. And your infatuation with bourbon!

  • Heather

    Whew. I am just about ready to bail out of my office to go home and make this cake immediately. Bourbon, vanilla, brown butter? Sold. Just fell upon your blog today via the local network of hungrybruno and others. Beautiful, luscious pictures! Can’t wait to read more.

  • Patricia

    I swooned when I saw this recipe in Gourmet. When I made it, I think I may have overbrowned my butter a bit (it was a little closer to espresso than chocolate) but the end result was still heavenly. Love the photos (and the addition of bourbon… we like bourbon around here too).

  • Stephanie

    It is currently in the oven – the batter was amazing! Can’t wait to try it with a little vanilla bean ice cream.

  • It's Not You, it's Brie

    Amanda and Sassy Radish-
    We should start a Brown Butter & Bourbon bakery? I’d volunteer. And fair warning, I might be tempted to cover everything brown-buttered with blood orange glaze. Or fried sage.

  • radish

    Thank you everyone for such lovely, sweet comments. Brown butter is just the bees’ knees. And so is good bourbon. My collection is now 5 different kinds at home! I’m like my own mini-bar!

  • Hannah

    Mmmm, this looks delicious. I’ve never, ever used brown butter, but I think I need too. I’m going to have to make this – and soon!

  • Hannah

    Mmmm, this looks delicious. I’ve never, ever used brown butter, but I think I need too. I’m going to have to make this – and soon!

  • Hannah

    Mmmm, this looks delicious. I’ve never, ever used brown butter, but I think I need too. I’m going to have to make this – and soon!

  • Erika from The Pastry Chef At Home

    mmmmmmm. And yes, “seduced” is totally the right word. The first time I made brown butter was for ravioli in brown butter sauce (with sage,nutmeg and Parmigiano.) I was indeed “seduced” and wanted to die from pleasure while eating it. Then again, what doesn’t taste good drenched in butter?

  • KT

    Made this but I think my chronic overmixing struck again! It tasted great but fell when I took it out of the oven :( I’ll definitely try it again, though, and you’ve convinced me of the awesomeness of brown butter!

  • Veggie Virginia

    Brown butter is also great with savory dishes. My favorite sauce for salmon is brown butter with green onion (cook the white in the butter, add the green at the end), lemon juice and salt & pepper. You could use this sauce on other fish or on veggies or just about anything.
    So fast and easy, yet so delicious and seems so fancy.

  • Reanna

    I was really excited to make this, but unfortunately it did not live up to my expectations. The cake looked really great, but was fairly dry.

  • Debren

    I could not agree with you more. Brown butter is heavenly. I use it as my “secret weapon” in quite a few dishes, including chocolate chip cookies. I discovered it a few years ago in an article by Celia Barbour and have never looked back!

    This is my first visit to your site, and undoubtedly not the last. Lovely to make your acquaintance.

  • Dani

    Tried it and loved it! The last pound cake I made required sifting the dry ingredients three times (THREE!) and whipping egg whites into a frenzy. This was easy-peasy after that. And it’s delicious. I didn’t find it to be dense or dry at all and the flavor is amazing. It’s sweet enough that it doesn’t even need whipped cream, but not so sweet that I feel bad eating with with berries for breakfast.

    Thanks so much for the wonderful recipe!

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