If buttering up is what you have in mind, here’s a thought: use butter. Everyone likes olive oil, and for daily cooking many of us turn to it most often. But this is about butter and the particular fruits of its labor: beurre noisette, caramel, hollandaise. Bread and butter is the ultimate pairing, like Fred and Ginger, pretzels and mustard, gin and tonic.
Last week, a friend and I drove past Red Lobster. Though I haven’t yet had the pleasure of dining there myself, I’m reminded of an online forum where chefs and food geeks confess gustatory pleasures deemed degenerate, and said establishment’s cheddar bay biscuits garner a lot of secret praise. With a pang of psychic remorse, we order a bag to go. By the time we arrive back to the car, the paper is blotted with dark grease stains. We dig in. This is it: the week's most offensive cataclysm in the memory of my mouth and tongue—butter-flavored oil and seasoned Bisquick. As the proverb goes, boil stones in butter and you may sup the broth. As far as I know, nobody’s ever rhapsodized about Crisco.
In a controlled field study conducted at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, the amount of butter and olive oil consumption were compared during a restaurant meal when adult diners were provided with one or the other, at random, to accompany bread. Those given olive oil used 26 percent more oil on each slice of bread than those who given butter, but they also ended up eating 23 percent less bread than their rosy-cheeked brethren. Implicit in the study was the notion that, though one might assume butter-users would fall squarely in the happy camp of crude irreverence (rock on), it was actually those endowed with olive oil who had trouble controlling themselves.
Whipped butter, a product inexplicably adored by many, was originally designed to be spreadable even while cold. The commercial variety is fluffed by the addition of nitrogen gas; regular old air would expedite the spread's demise by oxidizing it. Though I find whipped butter quite inedible, worst yet is butter that has been softened, piped decoratively into ramekins and then refrigerated to taste like all the contents therein.
Dutch food writer Klary Koopmans writes that her pet peeve is butter that “seems to have picked up odd flavors from something else.” She goes on to quell my quasi-shame over my dislike of room temperature butter. “What I’m most particular about is the freshness of the butter. So often you are served butter that’s been kept at room temp for too long, not quite rancid but getting there.”
I’ve heard the gripes about frozen butter. “It tears the bread!” the masses complain.
Personally, I love the way cool butter opens up as it melts, its essential milkiness, yielding but still firm, chilled but not frozen so hard the knife ricochets, leaving behind a dejected stab wound.
Several spreadable butters have been developed over the years. Most of them are sold in tubs and marketed as butter substitutes and, while it’s now easy to find trans-fat free varieties, if you can’t believe it’s not butter, then it isn’t.
This is generational, to a degree: Would you like some skim milk with that boneless, skinless chicken breast? After all, I’ve had to wrestle a tub of Country Crock from the hands of loved ones until they’ve relented and agreed to read some literature on the subject. Speaking of crocks, those who prefer their butter at room temp swear by storing their butter in countertop containers, also known as French or Acadian butter dishes.
Give me butter or give me plain bread. Like Lord Krishna, I’m a naughty child in woman’s clothes and I dream of stealing butter. It was butter, in fact, that led to my first culinary debate. When confronted with a teacher who claimed that Butterball turkeys were named so because they are injected with butter while they’re being processed (an urban myth), my rebuttal was merely: “Well, if it’s so full of butter, then why isn’t it delicious?”
Lemon Butter Bars
These delicious lemon bars are adapted from, of all places, a box of regular old Land O’Lakes butter. I recommend using organic sweet butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows, such as Organic Valley brand.
Makes 12 Bars
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup softened butter
¼ cup sugar
Grated zest of half a lemon
¾ cup, minus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix crust ingredients in a small bowl. Beat on low speed, making sure to scrape sides of bowl, until texture is crumbly. Press mixture into bottom of ungreased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Mix all filling ingredients, except powdered sugar, in a bowl. Beat on low speed until thoroughly combined. Pour over hot crust. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until filling is wobbly but set. While it’s warm, sprinkle with a little powdered sugar. Repeat once cool.