Compound Butters Without Fear

Forget dry rubs; use your fall herbs for something creamy.

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“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” This quote by Julia Child is funny. And if you know that butter is made from the creamy stuff, even funnier. A few years ago, I over‐whipped cream, a happy error that taught me how to make butter. It happened in a flash: swish, swish, thud, thud, splash! And there sat a craggy swath of butter in a pool of frothy buttermilk; two by‐products from one mistake, not bad.

I could have just heaped it on bread, but I looked out the kitchen window to my brand new herb garden in the courtyard and thought: compound butter.

In the garden’s 3‐ by 11‐foot confines are basil (Christmas, lettuce leaf, Thai), chives, fennel, lavender, marjoram, oregano (Greek and Italian), parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme (English, German, creeping and lime) and verbena. And fall is a perfect time to harvest herbs, just do it before the first frost.

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So I picked, snipped and blended my herbal palette into compound butters. Creamy concoctions came to mind, and so, I gave them a whirl. For slathering on scones, toast or pancakes: cinnamon basil and maple syrup, fennel pollen and honey or perhaps lavender and honey; to dollop on steak or fish: chives and peppercorns or Wölffer Estate Cabernet Franc, shallots and parsley.

The combinations are endless and the basics to making butter from scratch are simple: Pour a pint of heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer and blend. The process occurs like this: The cream transforms into fluffy whipped cream, then stiff peaks then, lastly, cheese‐like curds of butterfat separate from the milk, then voilà, butter. The by‐product—buttermilk—is a bonus, pour it off into a jar and save for baking. The final step is easier than making pastry dough: Squeeze and press as much of the buttermilk as possible out through a sieve or cheese cloth, place the butter in a bowl with one cup of ice water and press against the side of the bowl to wash. Pour off the cloudy liquid and repeat until the water becomes clear. Eat the butter as is or create your own mixture into creamy goodness by folding in chopped herbs and some sweet and/or savory spice.

Then grab the apron strings of Julia Child. If you are afraid of cream, use butter.

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The chefs at Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton make their compound butters this way. Chef de cuisine Bryan Futerman and pastry chef Rachel Cronemeyer start with a high‐quality European‐style butter from Wisconsin then fold the herbs and spices into the mix. I met them both in the restaurant’s one‐acre, 24‐year‐old garden to pick herbs for their compound butters. Futerman whipped up a sage butter to dollop on a grilled Berkshire pork chop seasoned with shallots from Balsam Farms and fresh garlic from Quail Hill Farm. No stranger to the importance of local food, Futerman is on the executive board of Slow Food East End and Edible School Gardens, whose mission is to reconnect children and their families with real food and to empower and inspire local communities to eat well. “Having Bryan on board follows what we believe in and what we are doing at Nick and Toni’s,” says executive chef Joe Realmuto.

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Cronemeyer made a verbena butter with honey harvested from Nick and Toni’s beehives. She blitzed the verbena in a spice grinder, added it to softened butter in a bowl with honey and a pinch of salt. Once mixed it was paired with a breakfast coffee cake (to die for) made with flour from Amber Waves Farm. Cronemeyer trained with the great pastry chef Claudia Fleming at the North Fork Table and Inn before joining Nick and Toni’s more than a year ago. “I was not looking for a job,” she says, “and one day I received an e‐mail from Joe, fell in love with what they do, and the rest is history. ” Cronemeyer now enthusiastically makes pastry for all of the group’s five restaurants: Nick and Toni’s, Nick and Toni’s Café in Manhattan, Rowdy Hall, Townline BBQ and La Fondita.

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“One thing about our food at Nick and Toni’s, we keep it super simple with the best local ingredients, execute it really well and let the dish speak for itself,” says Realmuto. “People should not have a hard time emulating our dishes; we are not doing anything crazy here that the average person cannot do.”

For compound butter recipes from Laura Luciano, Bryan Futerman and Rachel Cronemeyer, click here.

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Cook and artist Laura Luciano writes the blog outeastfoodie.com.