Foodie Tuesday: Butter and Bread

Photo montage: Peasant BreadYou have noticed, I am sure, that the phrase in English is virtually always given as “Bread and Butter,” but if you’ve been here even once before on a Tuesday, you know quite well that for me, butter—not bread—is the sine qua non of this duo, and indeed, in a multitude of other pairings and combinations. Bread, no matter how delicious, is first and foremost a vehicle for a quantity of excellent butter. I will, like other people, eat bread without butter if it’s superb bread or there is no butter to be had, but if you think I won’t eat butter without bread you are very much mistaken.

Butter is delicious.

It is also emerging, in latter years, from under the cloud of privation-inspired (wartime rationing, the Great Depression, and so on back through the ages) inhibitions that resulted in the invention and embrace of all kinds of butter substitutes and, subsequently, the pedantically reinforced attitude that fat in general, and butter, specifically, represented the earthly form of Pure Evil. Turns out that the less dramatic and more practicable truth is that fats, butter among them, are no more dangerous when eaten by non-allergic people and in reasonable quantities proportionate to their other food intake and not processed in ways that remove it too far from its natural state—fat is digestible, useful, and even healthful. Well, butter my biscuits!

Yes, bread is delicious, too.

The list of breads I love is astoundingly long, beginning with the simplest unleavened kinds and wending its way through worlds of batter-based, raised, kneaded, savory or sweet, dark or light, dense and moistly heavy (say, a chocolate-y black pumpernickel) or ethereally feather-fluffy and flaky (perhaps a vanilla-scented brioche or a just-baked croissant) to the filled, sculpted, decorated concoctions of the most masterful bakers. While I was never a baking genius, I was a dedicated maker of a variety of rather delicious breads during grad school, using the kneading time as my meditation and the choices of style and flavors as my medication, both necessary for the survival classes like Ed-Psych and Statistical Data Analysis for Pedagogical Applications.

My favorites to make tended toward the frivolous dessert-tinged breads, upon which a slathering of butter served, in essence, as icing on the cake. I used that classic baking bible, Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads, for many of my inspirations, though as I always do, I roamed far and wide in making substitutions to suit my pantry and my mood as I baked. But probably the two recipes I used as my foundational go-to favorites most often were from Mom, for Limpa (light, sweet Swedish-style rye) and Julekake (cardamom scented sweet bread traditionally made with dried and candied fruits and peels). I’ve made Limpa plain, once or twice, to be sure, but I can guarantee I never made Julekake exactly according to recipe, since every single version I’ve seen or eaten elsewhere contains raisins and often, candied cherries, neither of which I like texturally in baked goods. Just not my thing. So I’d either delete some add-ins or make all the measures of fruity/candied ingredients in the recipe be strictly candied peel and citron, which will undoubtedly make lots of people laugh, since very few folk I know dislike raisins, or even those neon red-and-green candied cherries, but citron is notoriously a love-it-or-hate-it ingredient and I gather, is less often admired than reviled.

Go figure.

Much of the time, when I’ve baked from recipes that called for candied peel and fruits, dried fruit pieces, nuts, and that sort of thing, I like most of all to substitute that sort of thing with my preferred varieties of them, whether it’s in breads, cakes, cookies, steamed puddings, or anything else. So you’re more likely to find me making a facsimile of Julekake that contains a combination of citron, juicy candied orange peel and ginger, diced dried apricots, and coarsely chopped dark chocolate. That’s the way I roll knead to do it.

And still. Even though it may be full of candy, I’m going to slather some fresh, cool, lightly salted butter all over that bread before I eat it, if I get the slightest chance. Makes it slide down mighty nicely, if I do say so!

PS—All of that being said, I do greatly enjoy bread’s natural suitability as a superb support and vehicle for lovely fats. Being in Texas, I am glad to indulge my admiration for fine BBQ (and whether it’s meat or not, it ought to be good and greasy) as often as possible, and sometimes even the squishy, soulless processed bread traditionally served with BBQ is perfect with it, a plate you can eat when the rest of the meal is gone. Incredible burnt ends. A hunk of bread to sop up the fat, outside and in. No dishes to wash. Bonus points.Photo: BBQ Fat Happiness

14 thoughts on “Foodie Tuesday: Butter and Bread

  1. I find it surprising, that as much as like to experiment and test new things in the kitchen, that I’ve never, even once, made any sort of flavored or enhanced butter. I suppose part of the reason is that I lean in the direction of herbs and spices as the colors in my crayon box, and also that I rarely use butter when cooking, but still, it seems I may be missing an entire encyclopedia of delights by omitting this chance to dabble with flavors. After all, with so many wonderful breads from which to taste, surely it makes sense to paint them artistically with various butter concoctions. For instance, I’ve only recently discovered a lovely artisan bread, made with a heavy dose of fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, and sage), as well as a sprinkling of Asiago cheese for texture and flavor. I can imagine that a flavored butter might elevate the experience even more, if I’m willing to experiment. Hmmm, something to consider. 🙂

    • Almost *nothing* can go wrong with adding another layer of butter (any kind that’s fresh and good) to anything, in my opinion. 😀 Flavored butters really are lovely! I’m suddenly reminded of when my older sister and I visited one of those hoity-toity ladies-who-lunch sorts of places where it was really all about the cultural experience of watching all of the rich people doing what rich people do and not so much about the overpriced food. The one thing that *did* make a big impression on me culinarily that day was a very simple popover with a big slathering of butter that had fresh strawberries whipped into it. Heaven. Thanks for reminding me! 😀

  2. I must reply to this! I just finished eating the very naughty snack of butter on saltines, several of them! We had only margarine growing up, including the kind that was a white bunch of margarine contained in a plastic bag, with a little button of food coloring that you popped and squeezed into the margarine before you opened the bag. At times, that addition of the food coloring didn’t work as it should, and someone ended up with a food colored squirt on their clothes. As an adult I discovered butter and decided that I could afford it! Yummy! Being most predominantly Ukrainian and Irish, two cultures who have survived on bread and potatoes, I am a great fan of bread, also! With butter, of course!

    • Ahhh, bread and potatoes! Yep. I’m Norwegian from all sides, so I share your reverence for those, and the more butter, the merrier as far as I’m concerned!!! I remember Mom mentioning once a brief foray into margarine-dye danger for one of her little brothers who managed to color his face with it and remained looking rather like a severely jaundiced child until it finally faded. Ha! Bet he was more careful after that one! 😀

    • I’m easily enough enslaved by the mere whiff of freshly baked bread that it’s mostly better I don’t go anywhere near it. But on occasion, who in her right mind could resist??? Surely there’s a cosmic reason for its invention/discovery. 😀

  3. If a food speaks HOME, nothing says it better than freshly baked bread dripping with melted butter. I used to time my bread so it would be coming out of the oven when my children were arriving home from school. It said, “Welcome home! I missed you.” Happy memories.

    • Yes, indeedy! I have a post queued up for publishing rather soon on a very similar topic remembering my mother’s version of that, and it was a saving grace of having to go to school at all, let alone having to slog home for lunch in wintertime in Illinois. 😉 Your kids undoubtedly remember the bread with the same fondness and knowledge of your deep love!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s