A Better Butter

Cow in a green field

As a lactose-intolerant person, butter is probably the best thing that comes from a cow. OK, maybe not… maybe it’s steak. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about compound butters lately and I had this hysterical picture of a cow. So, that’s the tie-in.

Anyway, I know I don’t have much of a life if I’m spending my brain power working out compound butter recipes. But alas, world peace will have to wait! I need to indulge in the glories of butter.

Quite simply, compound butter is butter with some other stuff in it. What other stuff is really up to you. Hence, the joy one can gain from delving into the butter creation realm. You can make any number of varieties of compound butter. Although it helps to have an electric mixer, you can use just a wooden spoon or whisk.

This most recent jag of mine started on Easter when I made maple butter for the cornbread muffins. While staring into the mixing bowl, I thought, “I haven’t made compound butter since culinary school. What a shame.” Then, the recipes started in my head.

Here is the basic formula:

  1. Take a stick of butter and let it come to room temperature. Follow this step exactly. That means use REAL butter (if you’re going through the trouble, why skimp and use margarine?) and let it fully come to room temperature (don’t get impatient). It should be soft (not liquid) so that step 2 is easier.
  2. Put butter in bowl and whip it. Whip it good. This is where the electric mixer and Devo come in handy. This is also why room temperature is ideal. Refrigerated Devo is so not fun. Seriously, you need the butter soft enough that whipping doesn’t become a tennis elbow inducing chore.
  3. Mix in your chosen stuff. (More on that in a bit.)
  4. Take a rubber spatula and put the butter in a mold. Don’t have a butter mold? Plop the butter on a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a tube.
  5. Pop in the fridge or freezer for later use.

That’s it. One of the easier things you can do in the kitchen. The key is proportions. Don’t use too much liquid. I would say, if you have 1 cup of butter (two sticks), you shouldn’t use more than ¼ cup of liquid. That’s an awful lot of butter so if you start with one stick make sure you use less liquid. You’ll see what makes a good consistency after one batch.

Finally, make sure to chop, dice, or mince any non-liquid stuff you add. You just don’t want big bits in your butter.

So, what is the stuff in step 3? Well, it depends… do you want a sweet or a savory butter? Here are some ideas to get your started:

Sweet Stuff

  • Maple syrup
  • Citrus: Lemon, lime, or orange (zest or juice)
  • Alcohol: Rum, tequila, bourbon, or Scotch
  • Vanilla
  • Sugars: Granulated, brown, or powdered
  • Coffee (liquid, not powdered) or tea (green tea powder or brewed liquid)
  • Chocolate (powder, melted, or chopped)
  • Fresh berries (or lacking that the jam version): Raspberry, strawberry or blackberry
  • Dried fruits: Cranberry, prune, cherry, or raisin (I’d soak them in water or rum before chopping.)
  • Spices: Cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin or apple pie spice, poppy seed, or cardamom (be careful, it can taste soapy if you use too much)
  • Crystallized ginger

Savory Stuff

  • Fresh herbs: Basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, sage, or dill
  • Garlic
  • Onions, scallions, or shallots (you can caramelize the onions to make them a bit sweeter) and then mix them with an herb
  • Capers, pickles, or other vinegared items
  • Spices: Mustard (either in liquid or powder form), paprika, curry powder, or toasted sesame seeds
  • Salted items such as anchovies or prosciutto
  • Sauces: BBQ, Worcestershire, soy, or Tabasco
  • Salt and pepper
  • Toasted nuts: Pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, or pistachios
  • Roasted peppers: Bell, jalapeño, or otherwise
  • Bacon, ham, or pork belly

You get the idea why this starts to become a fun project. Decide if you want a sweet or a savory butter and then just pick one, two, or three items from the list (or more… what do I care?… go nuts… the above list is just a sample of what can be done).

Or, get crazy and pick an item from each: Lime and jalapeno butter could be great on fish tacos. Bourbon and ham butter would rock sweet potatoes.

Which brings me to the question: What do you do with compound butter? Just about anything you want. I like sweet butters for breakfast pastries, muffins, bagels, and toast. But, you can also make a compound butter and put it on a cake. (The recipe for buttercream frosting is pretty much butter and powdered sugar with a touch of vanilla.)

Savory butters make great sauces when melted. I like to cook fish in a compound butter of herbs and shallots. You can also put it on top of steaks and/or potatoes. Let’s not forget savory butters for your toast when you have omelets.

The whole idea is to experiment because this is definitely a “recipe” you can do without an actual recipe. What’s the worst that can happen? At the end of the day, you still have butter. So, be bold and compound your butter!


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  1. #1 by digoodrich on 10.1.2012 - 7:56 pm

    hey Cuz, if you like dairy, get some really good digest enzymes and try taking them before eating pizza or whatever… if you have not problems then that is all you lack… I have a few friends that this has worked on… hope it does it for you, I know I love to cook with butter.. and drink real milk.. 🙂

  2. #2 by e.marie on 10.3.2012 - 2:17 pm

    i used to be able to pop lactaid and other digestive aids, then eat small amounts of cheese… but now, they no longer seem to work… i’ve found that lactose free milk now has the same consistency and taste as regular milk… so i go with that… but fake cheese is still very very icky… i will, if the dish is worth it, eat it and suffer the consequences!

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