Between the Slices: Butter
Bread and butter. It is a basic and satisfying combination to eat. Butter is not only a great condiment, it’s a necessary and helpful ingredient. What does it do and where does it come from?
The process of making butter has been around for hundreds of years and involves the churning of fresh cream or milk until an emulsion is created. You may remember what an emulsion is from science class, but in case you are not familiar with it; an emulsion refers to the fine and even dispersion of one liquid into another liquid. A very common form of emulsion can be found in a vinaigrette you purchase at the store. Vinegar and oil are mixed (shaken) and suspended in each other just before serving. The vinegar and oil can separate over time and its the reason why you need to shake the bottle before you serve it. Butter is made in roughly the same way, but involves water, milk proteins, and butterfat rather than oil and vinegar and is more stable. Butter is more solid than oil due to the proteins involved, so merely shaking the ingredients will not give you the desired results. Tools were created for just this reason. The butter churn allowed for this process to occur, but required lots of elbow grease to get the proper emulsion.
Enough about the science, what kinds of butters do bakers use and why? Bakers use unsalted butter. Salted butter tastes great, but yields an inconsistent and overly salty product. Salt can effect many aspects of a baked good from the development of the gluten web to the fermentation. These factors are the driving force behind the decision to use unsalted butter when dealing with bread recipes. Control over salt content is one of the many aspects a baker must keep in mind for the creation of quality breads and the health of those who enjoy them. This being said, everything has its place in moderation, including salt.
Butter is used in some breads such as challah, brioche, and quick breads to create tender finished products and a smoother and more pleasing texture. Professional bakers will typically use a European style butter over a typical brand like Land O Lakes. The main reason for this choice comes from the difference in the two butters. Regular butters (sweet cream style) have a butterfat content of about 80% while European butter has a butterfat content of around 85%. The difference is the presence of water in the butter. The less water content a butter has, the more creamy and pleasing it is to your palette. You can also see the difference in the two butters by simply cutting a cold piece of each. Regular butter tends to crumble as it is cut while European style butter will cut smoother with less cracking and crumbling.
You might ask, “Daniel, what if plain butter is too boring for me? I need action, adventure, and adrenaline!” Slow down Michael Bay, besides your love with alliteration; I can show you how to spice up your ordinary butter to use on bread or in your favorite dishes. It is not as hard as you might think, in fact; it’s so easy that a child could do it. The core of the recipe (compound butter) revolves around the addition of your choice of ingredients to softened butter. Here is how it works and some flavor ideas for thought.
- Warm the desired amount of butter at room temperature till soft throughout.
- Prepare your choice of ingredients; fresh herbs, spices, sweeteners, etc.
- Whisk together or mix with a paddle attachment till combined completely and evenly.
- Refrigerate wrapped for at least 2 hours to re-harden the butter before serving. Butter has about a 2 week shelf life.
That’s it. You have mastered compound butter. See, I told you it was easy. The amount of ingredients is up to your own discretion. Chefs love experimenting with this simple recipe to add flare and color to dishes ranging from fish to steak. For example, a tab of thyme-lemon butter goes well over baked fish, while a garlic butter compliments the flavors of a grilled steak. The butter adds a pop of color while giving more flavor to the dish. The same can be said about the use of compound butter with baked bread. Understand that you can use salted and unsalted butter to make your own compound creation, but be mindful of the paired dish’s existing flavors. A salty or sweet dish may be fine when paired with an unsalted compound butter.
Honey Butter – Unsalted butter, honey, ground cinnamon, vanilla extract (optional)
I find a darker style honey adds a nice extra layer of depth. A little cinnamon can go a long way, use sparingly. Vanilla is nice, but not necessary. Goes well with your morning toast.
Cucumber Butter – Salted butter, cucumber (peeled, diced small)
Goes well as a spread on sandwiches or as a dip. Refreshing and gives a nice texture. I got this idea from Tillamook’s website under the community blog.
Mustard Butter – Salted butter, whole grain mustard
Can be as light or strong a mustard flavor as you desire. Pairs well on a sandwich, crackers, or with a biscuit and ham.
Sesame Wasabi Butter – Unsalted butter, grated ginger, tamari (similar to soy sauce), wasabi paste, sesame seeds (optional for coating)
For a full description, check out the original recipe at Plugra’s website.
Experiment with flavors and find your favorites. If you get stumped by what flavors work well together, check out the Flavor Bible for divine inspiration. What flavors are you planning to try out at home? Have you made compound butter before and if so, what is your favorite flavor combination? Leave me a response in the comment section above.