Butter is enjoying a surge in popularity. A 25 per cent increase in sales over the last decade has brought butter purchases to a 40-year high, according to the American Butter Institute. Home cooks are starting to focus more on whole foods and ingredients our grandmothers used, and nothing compares to the flavour of real butter. It's true — butter makes everything better. From bread to baked goods to popcorn, it really adds a new dimension to the flavour and — if you haven't tried it yet — browning the butter first beings a whole new experience into the mix. If you're embracing butter, here are a few ways it can make life even more delicious.
- It's delicious to cook with. The problem is, the milk solids in butter make it burn. Some people skirt around this by using oil and butter together but you can also use clarified butter, or ghee. This has the milk solids removed so you get the flavour of butter without the risk of it burning. To clarify your own butter, melt it in the microwave or on the stovetop. Spoon off any foamy stuff on the surface and discard any of the milky stuff on the bottom. The clear, melted butter you're left with is great for cooking.
- Browned butter is the best ever. To make browned butter, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, swirling the pan occasionally, until the foam starts turning golden and nutty-smelling. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl, making sure to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- You can make browned butter spreadable. Put equal amounts of liquid browned butter and room-temperature butter into a bowl and beat it with a mixer. It will turn lumpy at first but then perfectly smooth and spreadable. Scrape it into a ramekin and serve immediately or cover and keep it in the fridge. Expect it to firm up as it cools.
- You can make your own. To make your own butter, start with heavy (whipping) cream and beat it with an electric mixer. If you have a stand mixer, this is the easiest way and if you cover the top with plastic wrap, it will act as a splash guard you can see through to monitor its progress. Beat until the cream separates and turns into butter. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible and knead in a big pinch of salt if you like. Two cups of cream will make about 3/4 cup of butter.
- It makes a brilliantly-dressed salad. Warm browned butter drizzled over kale instead of the traditional olive or canola oil tames the hardy green, making it much more manageable — and munchable — raw.
- It makes perfect pastry. All-butter pastry has great flavour and texture. Make sure it's cold and cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender, fork or the bowl of a food processor, leaving lumps ranging from tiny to the size of a large pea. This will create flakiness.
- It inspired butter tarts. Show your patriotism by baking a batch — How to Win Friends and Influence People, Canadian-style.
- It makes a great communal cookie. In the Poitou region of France, the buttery broyé cookie is traditionally served in one big piece, set out in the middle of the table for guests to break off in chunks. It makes great use of good-quality butter, which you can hear sizzling as the cookie comes out of the oven. It's a perfect dinner party dessert, perhaps served with a bashed-up bar of dark chocolate, ice cream or fresh seasonal fruit.
Kale and Brussels sprout salad with browned butter, hazelnuts and pears
- 1/2 bunch kale, leaves removed and thinly sliced
- 4 to 5 Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced or shaved, with stem ends discarded (optional)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 to 2 tsp. lemon juice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 ripe but firm pear, chopped
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts, toasted
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese or aged Gouda.
Put the kale and Brussels sprouts in a bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, swirling the pan occasionally, until the foam starts turning golden and nutty-smelling. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Pour over the kale, scraping out the bottom of the pan to get all those browned bits, and toss to coat well. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Add the pear, hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese.
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water
Mix together the flour and salt. Add the butter and blend with a pastry cutter, fork or food processor until combined to the point where it's blended, with bits of butter no bigger than a pea. Add 1/4 cup of cold water and stir until the dough comes together. If it's too dry, add a little more water. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.
When ready to use your dough, lightly flour the countertop and roll it out 1/4-inch thick. Makes enough for a single crust pie or about a dozen tarts.
Grandma Woodall's butter tarts
My grandmother, Madelon Woodall, lived in Windsor, Ont., and made the best butter tarts in the world. You can use the pastry recipe from above for these tarts.
- Pastry for a single crust pie or a dozen tarts
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup Rogers' golden syrup or maple syrup
- 1 egg
- About 2 tsp. butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- Handful of currants, raisins and/or chopped pecans (Grandma Woodall always used currants)
Preheat the oven to 400 F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out 1/4-inch thick. Cut out circles using a 4-inch cookie cutter or empty can and press into ungreased muffin cups. In a medium bowl, stir together the brown sugar, egg, butter and vanilla. Stir in the currants and pecans, if you're using them. Fill the tart shells about 2/3 full and bake for 20 minutes, until bubbly and golden. Take them out of the pan using a thin knife to coax them out while they're still warm, otherwise any goo that has bubbled over will stick to the pan as it cools. If it does, pop them back in the oven for a minute to soften again. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes about 12 butter tarts.
Salted butter break-ups (adapted from Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan)
- 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 to 1 tsp. sel gris or sea salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
- 4 to 5 tbsp. cold water
- 1 egg yolk
Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Drop in the pieces of butter and pulse the mixture until it looks like coarse meal, with bigger clumps of butter the size of a pea. With the machine running, pour in the cold water gradually, adding just enough to allow to dough to start pulling away from the side of the bowl — if you squeeze it together, it will form a dough. Dump out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat it down to flatten into a disc then wrap it in plastic and chill it for about one hour, or up to three days (it will also freeze for up to two months).
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and put the dough between two sheets of parchment. If it's very firm, you may need to bash it a bit with your rolling pin to soften it up. Roll it into a rectangle that's about five by eleven inches. Transfer the dough to the lined baking sheet and peel off the top piece of parchment. Beat the egg yolk with a few drops of cold water and brush the surface all over. With the tines of a fork, decorate the top with a crosshatch pattern.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden. It will be firm to the touch but will have a little spring when pressed int he centre. The perfect break-up is crisp on the outside and still tender within. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve it whole on a platter or cutting board, set in the middle of the table.
Serves 10 to 15.