As Richard III found himself mucking about in an open field, his horse having been shot out from under him, in vain and what some may add valiantly, attempting to continue his losing battle against his foe, his last battle cry has gone down in the annals of history (thanks in part to Mr. Shakespeare) “…a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!!”
My battle cry may be somewhat similar, however it would not be for a noble steed of which I cry but rather for a pound of butter!!
Yes, my kingdom for butter!! The churned and solidified state of fresh cream. Legally, in the US, to be classified as the real deal, butter must contain at least 80% milk fat. It is graded AA, A, B, C. It most usually starts out as liquid fresh “sweet” cream, verses sour cream. It is lightly salted, which adds flavor and assists as a bit of a natural preservative. But as any cook can tell you, unsalted butter is the perfered cooking ingredient.
However I have discovered that it is the European style butters that seem to satisfy my soul, as well as my taste buds, as opposed to good ol USA butter. European style butters, and please note that I say “style” may be made outside of Europe, but in order to possess the same quality of butters made inside of Europe — it is all a matter of fat content that differentiates European butter to say, American butter. (Europeans, however, will also tell you that it is the diet of their cows which makes all of the difference–difference in taste and color)— American butter has a fat content of 80% where as European butter will have anywhere from 83% to 86%. More fat equals less water. Of which leads to a more dense consistancy. As European butters are made more slowy, flavores have more time to develop.
That oh so unctuous goodness which slowly melts on ones tongue– hinting at the cool freshness of real cream, hints of grassiness, some with a bit of a tang or bite, with the perfect light hint of salt—is there anything better?
During “the war”, and that would be for our younger readers WWII, butter was a hot commodity. Ration books were issued in both the United States as well as throughout Europe. The things that we take for granted today were sacred and scarce for previous generations of a war torn world. Cows throughout Europe had either been slaughtered for occupying troop’s consumption or were in the cross fire of battle and killed by the thousands, or worse, died of starvation as grazing lands had been scorched by the bombings. In the US, in an attempt to maintain supplies for home as well as for troops abroad, so many items were rationed for consumer consumption. One had to use ration stamps verses money in order to procure food, gas and even clothing. Butter was worth more points than say a piece of meat.
But what does any of that have to do with Lent you ask. Well as we know Lent is a time of atonement and penance. A time of deep spiritual reflection. We are reminded of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted, tested, poked and prodded by Satan. Jesus used this time to fast, pray and to prepare himself in order to begin his earthly ministry. He cleansed mind, body and spirit.
In commemoration of this most solemn time leading up to Holy Week, Christians world wide are called to reflection—a time of fasting and prayer. Those who are most devout will kept to strict fasting rules—-no fats whatsoever, no meat, no alcohol, no sex—-a time devoid of self and all bodily pleasure which will assist one in the direction of thought and prayer as the distractions of this world must slip away in order to allow ourselves to be open to God and what He wants to say to each of us……how ever can we hear Him if we are consumed with self placation. I need to be less in order that God may be more—less of me and more of Him.
So in my humble weak observance of Lent, I have given up my unhealthy obsession with and of butter. Bread and butter to be exact. I am so bad that my husband will ask not if I would like for him to butter me a piece of bread when dining out, but rather would I like a tad of bread for what he knows will be the consumption of the entire butter dish. I am a butter connoisseur. I can tell if its US or European style in one taste. I have been known to order butter from Italy—as this particular butter is made from the same cows in which the famed cheese of Parmigiano Reggiano is produced. I have ordered handcrafted butter made on small farms in Vermont using the cream from the famed Jersey cows. And whipping cream—ohhhh that is for an entirely different post—-YUM is all I can say……
Let’s not discuss cholesterol shall we, I don’t wish to ruin my day any further. But in order to let go of an obsession allowing myself to be a bit more open for a God who so longs to be as important to me as say, butter, I can do without my butter and bread for these 40 days. And who knows maybe I won’t “need” it nearly as badly as I’ve thought come Easter!!
I would like to offer two lovely recipes, however, both of which showcase the taste and use of butter in magical harmony.
The first is a recipe taken from the vault of Saveur Magazine. They had an article a few years back on butter—fascinating to be sure…..
SERVES 10 – 12
Over the years, the formula for pound cake has evolved, making for a lighter cake. This recipe is testament to that delicious transformation.
12 oz. butter plus more for the pan (preferably
Beurre Lescure) at room temperature
2 tbsp. plus 3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. fine salt
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure almond extract
1 tsp. pure lemon extract
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1. Heat oven to 325°. Generously grease a light-colored 10″ tube pan with butter. Add 2 tbsp. flour; turn the pan to coat it evenly with flour, tap out any excess, and set aside. (The inside of the pan should be smoothly and evenly coated with butter and flour, with no clumps or gaps.)
2. Using a sieve set over a bowl, sift together remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Repeat 2 more times. In a measuring vessel with a pourable spout, combine milk and the almond, lemon, and vanilla extracts. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter at medium-low speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, 1⁄4 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat until satiny smooth, about 3 minutes.
3. Add 1 egg at a time to the butter mixture, beating for 15 seconds before adding another, and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour and milk mixtures in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down sides of the bowl; beat just until the batter is smooth and silky but no more.
4. Scrape batter into prepared pan and firmly tap on a counter to allow batter to settle evenly. Bake until light golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out moist but clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack; let cool completely before slicing.
The second recipe is for a Blender hollandaise Sauce. Talk about decadent and yet light. A beautiful lemon yellow, offering a taste of spring. Use on asparagus of course, but is equally at home accompanying fish, other vegetables or as a base for bernaise sauce when serving beef tenderloin…
8 tablespoons of butter (the real deal please–salted or not)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice (Meyer lemons make this extra flavorful if you can find them it is well worth the quest)
1/2 teaspoon of salt (if using unsalted butter)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Yields 3/4 cup ( do not attempt to double)
Heat butter just until foamy–do not brown. Place egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and cayenne into blender. Turn bender on–as blades reach full speed, slowly add melted butter in one thin stream, ( sauce will then thicken as you pour.) May be kept warm over warm water but it must be use relatively quickly. ***I realize that raw eggs are being used—make certain they are pasteurized and fresh with no cracks to the shell. The lemon juice helps to “cook” the eggs. I have used this recipe for years with no problems but if you worry, research a hollandaise sauce that is cooked on the stove or, heavens forbid, the microwave.