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~ The Savory-Sweet Simplicity of Compound Butter ~

IMG_3180The first time I made compound butter I was certain I had invented something important.  It was a life-changing moment.  It didn't get taught to me by my grandmother, Food TV or via a cookbook or a cooking publication.  I didn't learn the technical term for it until years later.  As a 6-year old, it was important to mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of Cinnamon 'n Sugar with two tablespoons of softened butter to make my cinnamon toast -- I didn't like getting cinnamon-sugar dust up my nose.  The quantity yielded 3 slices of perfectly-executed cinnamon-raisin toast (two for me and one for my little brother), or, enough to stir into our two bowls of steaming-hot oatmeal w/sliced bananas!

IMG_3073Mel's Favorite Childhood Cinnamon 'n Sugar Compound Butter:  

8 tablespoons very soft salted butter + 2  tablespoons Cinnamon 'n Sugar

IMG_3047 IMG_3055 IMG_3073Time marched on.  

I never thought much more about compound butter until I reached my teens and early twenties, when:

I began encountering it in fancy French restaurants in the form of an herbaceous thyme-shallot spread for a crispy 'n soft-centered baguette.  It showed up in hotel restaurants too (where it was generically referred to as "hotel butter"), in the form of a chilled dollop of a peppery parsley, assorted herbs and garlic butter, which melted down over the top of a big, thick, juicy steak.

A bit about compound butter:  Known as "beurre compose" in France, compound butter is room-temperature butter that is creamed with other ingredients.  There are savory versions and sweet versions.  Compound butter can be stored in a bowl or ramekin in the refrigerator, then  served soft, as a spread for enjoying on savory breads or sweet muffins.  It can be scooped into individual little dollops and placed on a parchment-lined baking pan.  Compound butter can be rolled into logs and refrigerated or frozen, to slice and season cooked meats, fish or vegetables. Almost anything soft or semi-soft and very flavorful can be used to make compound butter:    

IMG_3151Savory versions can include fresh herbs or herb blends, ground spices, minced garlic, shallots or onion, and, sometimes an acid like wine or citrus juice/zest.  Sweet versions, like my cinnamon-sugar butter and the always popular honey-butter, contain some form of sugar (honey, maple syrup, molasses, liqueur, etc.), minced, fresh, juicy berries, ground aromatic spices and/or a splash of citrus juice or zest.  Whether savory or sweet, salt brings up the flavor of everything -- always add a bit of salt to unsalted butter or use salted butter at the outset.

Compound butter is about adding lots of flavor, not lots of texture, to butter: 

6a0120a8551282970b017c37da7d5c970bI have tasted savory versions containing bits of cured meats, crispy bacon and even soft cheeses like brie and blue (aside from finely-grated Parmesan-type cheeses, cheese is problematic because it softens at a different speed than butter).  I have tasted sweet versions containing bits of dried fruits and nuts.  I'm not here to criticize, but for me, compound butter is all about incorporating flavor, not texture, into butter.  I like my compound butter smoothish and spreadable.  I don't like it chunky.  

Save the chunky ingredients for non-butter cream-cheese-type spreads!

IMG_0060Compound butters made with fresh herbs taste like Summer, but, I rarely make savory compound butter in the Summer.  Why?  In the Summer all it takes is a trip to my herb garden to incorporate the fresh flavor of an herb into what I'm cooking.  I make compound butter in the Fall, using it as a means to preserve my dwindling supply of fresh herbs.  I find myself making it in the Winter too, using it as a means to get "more bang for my buck" out of a pricey package of store-bought fresh herbs.

My 5 Basic Rules for Making Compound Butter:

IMG_31541)  Give the butter plenty of time to come to room temperature and get very soft, about two hours.

IMG_0663 IMG_16392)  Use fresh herbs only and finely chop them. Mince pungent ingredients like garlic and onions. Don't substitute dried, minced garlic or onion. Process fresh berries as directed - they contain lots of liquid, so, use them judiciously.

3)  Thoroughly incorporate, via a bowl and a hand-held electric mixer or just a spoon, any liquid flavorings, followed by the ground spices, into the butter.  Limit liquids (like citrus juice, extracts and/or liqueurs) to 1/2 teaspoon per stick of butter, as they can make the butter runny.  Add ground spices, to taste.  Taste and adjust seasonings until you are lip-smacking happy. Incorporate fresh ingredients last, as recipe directs, planning on 4-6 tablespoons of minced fresh herbs per stick of butter and 3-4 tablesoons of pungent ingredients per stick.  Remember:  

The flavor of compound butter should be vibrant and robust.  If you like it going into the refrigerator you are going to love it coming out, as it will intensify while butter is chilling.

4)  Keep it simple and uncomplicated.  Don't over concoct.  My general rule is five ingredients (not including salt), for instance:  1 herb, 1 pungent ingredient, 1 liquid flavoring, 2 spices, butter.

IMG_33155)  Chill the mixed butter 20-30 minutes, just long enough to make it manageable to form/shape.

IMG_3073 IMG_3126 IMG_3098Here are your options:  

~ You can portion it into 1-2 small ramekins and serve it room-temperature free-form and family-style.

~ You can use a small 1 1/2-1 tablespoon-sized ice-cream scoop to portion it onto a parchment lined baking pan or use a pastry bag to pipe it into similar-sized, fancier-shaped "dollops".  

IMG_3094~ You can place it all on a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment and roll it up to form a log.  Once butter is shaped, it can be stored in the refrigerator for several days or refrigerated for several months.

My Favorite Savory Compound Butter Combinations:

IMG_3103Basil, Tomato, Garlic, Parm & Pepper  --  for spreading on bread or topping chicken or tossing into cooked pasta.  Pictured just above, click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe.

Cilantro, Lime & Chipotle Chili Powder -- for topping chicken, steak and corn on the cob.

Parsley, Onion & Cracked Black Pepper -- for topping chicken, steak and baked potatoes.

Dill, Lemon & Peppercorn Blend -- for topping salmon, steamed vegetables and rice.

Tarragon, Orange & Old Bay Seasoning -- for topping king crab, lobster, shrimp or scallops. 

Truffle Butter (which I often purchase) --  for preparing perfect and decadent French omelettes.

My Favorite Sweet Compound Butter Combinations:

IMG_2809Cinnamon 'n Sugar Butter -- for spreading on cinnamon-raisin toast and stirring into cooked oatmeal.

Creamed Honey & Cinnamon or Red Chili Butter -- For spreading on biscuits, warm apple streusel muffins, or, corn muffins or cornbread (Click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe which is pictured here.)

Orange, Cinnamon & Vanilla -- For dolloping on Johnny cakes, pancakes or waffles (it melts into warm maple syrup like a dream).

Whether you are partial to the savory side of life...

IMG_3264... or to the sweet side of life:

IMG_2840Everything tastes better with a pat or two of compound butter!

IMG_3204The Savory-Sweet Simplicity of Compound Butter:  Recipe yields general guidelines for making compound butter.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small bowls or ramekins, or; small ice-cream scoop or pastry bag and baking pan; plastic wrap or parchment paper and kitchen twine

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac44effe970dCook's Note:  For another way to keep the taste of Summer in your freezer through the Winter, click into Categories 8, 13, 20 or 22 to get my recipe for ~ Chimichurri:  The Sauce Steak Can't Live Without ~!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 


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