Ken Williams for The Concord Monitor
We don’t know how the first bit of butter came to be but using our own marriages as a framework we can easily imagine the following scenario: Some guy in a good mood decides to swing the milk pail all the way from the barn to the kitchen one morning and sheepishly deposits a gallon of lumpy froth on the counter, hoping against hope that she won’t notice. His wife, who had been waiting and waiting and waiting for the milk so she can serve breakfast and get on with her day, served it right up. Poor guy had no choice but to choke it down.
Butter as a punishment—if only every passive-aggressive marital standoff could end so deliciously.
We love everything about butter. The gorgeous color, the lilting flavor, the mouth-watering aroma. A knob of butter and some gentle heat transforms even the most flaccid of peppers and sprouty of onions into heaven in a pan. Butter has all the sweet, creamy goodness that are lacking in other areas of our lives. Our children may swear, our checks may bounce and our coffee may be weak and lukewarm but butter makes it all better.
Well, possibly not the clarity of our arteries or the size of our thighs, but before anyone starts dialing up the food police we’d like to state that YES we know that obesity is a terrible problem, and YES we understand that olive oil is much healthier, but there are times when only butter will get the job done.
You won’t find us decorating margarine cookies this holiday season and you couldn’t pay us to serve Canola Oil Crunch ice cream on top of slabs of our Gooey Trans-fat Free Spread Cake.
If you seriously Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter we seriously can’t believe you’ve got a single working taste bud.
Butter even sounds good. First of all, how about that sizzle in the pan? We’ll bet you a steak sandwich smothered in fried onions that your mouth is watering right now just thinking about the sound. The goodness of butter is all over the English language.
What do we do when we want something from the boss? We butter her up!
What words do we use to describe the feel of a luxurious fabric? Buttery soft, natch.
And what is it they pump onto the month-old popcorn at the movie theatre? Buttery topping of course.
No one in their right mind would ever say yes if the sullen teen behind the register asked if we’d like a squirt of partially hydrogenated coconut and cottonseed oils flavored with salt, beta carotene and artificial butter flavor on our 5 gallon buckets. Never!
It may seem counter-intuitive, but as our family budgets are squeezed ever tighter, butter becomes less and less of a splurge.
Even on our worst bare-cupboard days, there is always a half a stick of butter in the back of the fridge that we know will transform a box of store brand macaroni and a couple shakes of “cheese” from the green jar into a dinner that everyone will eat with relish.
And we’re not sure any of our little darlings would ever touch a vegetable without a little buttery lubrication—just a pat and even the wrinkly, freezer-burnt peas from the improperly closed bag are gobbled right up.
For once the foodies are with us: Whip up a classic omelet with a few mushrooms sauteed in butter and you’ll have a frugal dish that even Julia Child would serve with pride and better wine.
Speaking of Julia—we loved the movie Julie and Julia and while Merryl Streep’s transformation was incredible and we loved the unfolding of blogger Julie Powell’s New York Times moment; it was when Amy Adams leaves a pound of butter beneath Julia’s portrait in the Smithsonian that we got weepy, not to mention jealous.
We’ve just got to find out where they sell those giant bricks of butter!
For this week’s recipe we’ve taken a Canadian classic from The Joy of Baking and made it even more decadent:
Butter Toffee Butter Tarts
Makes 12 4-inch tarts
We make a sweet, buttery tart crust in the food processor for this recipe, but this filling is scrumptious ladled into pre-made pie crusts too--just cut out circles to fit your pans. And muffin tins work perfectly well for these tarts—we used the small, flat tart pans so Ken Williams would have an easier time photographing yet another plate of brown food.
Tart Crust Pastry (Pate Brisee):
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/8 to 1/4 cup ice water—measure by putting ¼ cup cold water into a measuring cup and adding a few ice cubes
Put the flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and blitz for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs and there are no giant lumps of butter visible. Add a dribble of the ice water and blitz just until the dough comes together. Add another dribble or two of water if the dough seems very dry and won’t clump.
Scrape the dough into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least a half hour. Roll out carefully, using plenty of flour, and cut into circles at least an inch bigger around than the circumference of the pans. Carefully press into the pan and let the tart shells chill for another half hour while you make the filling:
Butter Tart Filling:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup light cream or half and half
1/2 cup toffee chips, or raisins if you insist. (optional)
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy using either a stand or a hand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Add the vanilla extract and the cream and mix well, being sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl. If using the optional toffee chips or raisins, add about a teaspoon to the bottom of each unbaked tart shell and then carefully pour in the filling mixture, being sure not to fill them any more than two thirds of the way full as the filling will puff up in the oven. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are brown and the filling isn’t all jiggly. A scoop of Butter Crunch ice cream would be a totally decadent and unnecessary garnish.