Best salted brown butter shortbread

I had a little shortbread craving the other day, but my brain linked “brown butter” to the shortbread idea, probably courtesy of this post from Smitten Kitchen. I almost made that shortbread recipe, but for the many comments from readers whose attempts were less than stellar. So I did some research, which led me down a path from Epicurious to King Arthur Flour, and finally to a Cooks’ Illustrated recipe for Best Shortbread. Well, that’s what I wanted, the BEST shortbread, but made with brown butter and sea salt. So I mixed the Smitten Kitchen recipe with the CI technique of reverse creaming the butter, and this mash up is the result. It’s a recipe with a few more steps than I’m usually willing to take, but I found it more than worth the effort. As with many things in life, being the best takes a little more work.
Brown butter
The brown butter and brown sugar give this shortbread a caramel perfume and the sea salt is a delicate–and addictive–contrast. I’ve been hiding the cookie tin from the kids. How could I waste all that time, effort, subtle sophistication and butter on such undiscriminating palates?
A couple of notes: Don’t leave your butter as it’s browning. If you’re a better planner than I am, you’ll take 10 minutes to brown the butter the day before and chill it overnight. I just stick the bowl in the freezer. So be forewarned that you need to do that step at least an hour before you’re ready to mix and bake. And before you start, set out a bowl to pour the butter in, and perhaps a fine mesh strainer to strain out the too-dark butter solids. Finally, stir, stir, stir.
Ground oats
12 Tbsp. butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. coarsely ground sea salt
Set out a medium bowl and a fine mesh strainer. Cut butter into chunks and heat in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir continually until the flecks on the bottom of the pan turn brown and the butter is the color of tea. Pour the brown butter through the strainer into the bowl. Chill until very firm, about two hours in the refrigerator.
Grind the oats in a coffee or spice grinder (or food processor) until they become a fine powder. Pour the ground oats and the rest of the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for 30 seconds or until the dry ingredients are completely mixed. With a metal spoon, scoop the hardened butter into the mixing bowl. Mix on low for 5 minutes, or until the dough begins to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Cold brown butter added to dry ingredients
Press the dough together on a sheet of wax or parchment paper and roll it into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll the log up in the paper and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. With a very sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/2-in thick cookies and bake on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet for 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 250 degrees and bake 6 minutes more, or until just golden around the edges. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and poke holes in each cookie with a skewer or a fork. Turn the oven off, but return the cookies to the oven and prop the door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Leave in the oven for 30 minutes to dry out.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool the cookies completely on a wire rack. Yields 2 doz. cookies.

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