I am one of those diners who will stand in front of a lavish breakfast spread and eye the butter. Bacon can wait, so can congee, croissants and waffles. For me, butter is supreme.
I am an ardent fan of Amul, practically a rite of passage in India, which is probably why most Indians like their butter salted and emphatically yellow. I still remember tasting garlic bread for the first time, and my excitement at the magical alchemy created by butter fused with garlic, then baked.
Then, on one of my first trips abroad, at Nikko hotel, in Malaysia, I found myself standing at a breakfast buffet in front of a huge bowl filled with an assortment of butter cubes.
Each cube had a different colour (green, red, yellow) and given I cannot read Chinese, I picked a few in different shades. One turned out to be margarine, which I quickly put aside. The rest were all astonishingly powerful bursts of buttery flavour.
There was spiced butter, nutty butter, bacon butter... I was in butter heaven.
There seems to be no end to my quest for flavoured butters. However, my first experiment with making garlic-flavoured butter was a big flop. The second attempt, even a bigger flop, had me giving up. Eventually, I gave up on trials. So when I found garlic butter on the shelf of a supermarket after 10 years, I was delighted. Yet, store-bought garlic butter just doesn’t taste half as good as the home-made versions.
“What could be the reason?” I ask home-baker Arundati Rao. She says, “Flavoured butter tastes best when flavoured at home. When this is done, it is soft and smooth vis-à-vis the hard slab bought from stores.” Store-bought flavoured butter comes with dried ingredients and the choice is much less.
Jam in the flavour
Fl avoured butter is also compound butter. The simplest way to get compound butter is by whipping ingredients, such as herbs, spices or liquid infusions, into the butter.
Jams and sweeteners, too, can be considered. Once these ingredients are added, the butter is reformed, usually in a plastic wrap or parchment paper, and chilled until it is firm enough to be sliced. This can be stored in the freezer for about a month. Sounds delicious?
Food stylists and recipe developers say flavoured butters can also be used to toss your favourite veggies and meats into while cooking them. Arundati’s favourite lemon-and-thyme butter, for instance, has many uses.
“I eat it on crackers, as well as with fish and chicken. The mild flavours make the butters themselves a lot more versatile.”
Onions for breakfast
Dur ing summers in Sweden, red onion butter served with bread rolls makes breakfast a gourmet affair. Canada exults in maple syrup butter — imagine that on a stack of hot, fluffy pancakes! That’s not all: you can also slather your toast with butter infused with cinnamon and pumpkin, cranberry and honey, lemon and thyme...
I recently found myself faced with two shells placed on a chic black slate at Ottimo in ITC Kohenur. Assuming that it was a fancy cheese, given Ottimo is an Italian restaurant, I balanced an entire shell on a bread stick and popped it into my mouth. It turned out to be a delicious burst of cool pesto butter.
Indian artisan butter-makers have found ways to add desi ingredients to surprise diners. “Little Treats in Mumbai sells thecha butter,” says influencer and food stylist Ankiet Gulabani. He adds, “ Thecha is a spicy green chilli condiment which is coarse, and also has peanuts. Butter is a smooth vehicle for its strong flavours... I have also tasted curry leaves and green garlic butter.”
Little Treat’s Kadipatta butter, with a hint of curry leaves, fresh chilli and garlic, packs a punch on a toast. Or try sautéing prawns in it.
Mumbai-based Sunita Pradhan of Little Treats says her Indian flavoured butters are the best sellers. Besides kadipatta and thecha , she makes moringa butter as well. “I use only natural ingredients with unsalted butter. I like to control the salt in the butter I prepare. On request, I have made Jain thecha butter and gun powder butter,” she says. Her range includes coconut and vegan butter, and Sunita is always down to customising, adding, “Tell me any flavour and the butter will be done.”
If you want more drama on your toast, whip yourself some black butter with activated charcoal.