As a child, one of my favorite snacks at my babysitter’s house was counter-softened butter on saltine crackers. She almost always had butter sitting out on the counter, seemingly just waiting for me to grab a sleeve of crackers and dig in.
These days I rarely have saltines and tend to keep my butter in the fridge and while I’d be happy to enjoy that simple snack, if I want to feel really indulgent, I’ll whip up some compound butter.
Compound butters are one of the easiest things to make in the kitchen to elevate simple butter, and whatever it is spread on, with the addition of a few ingredients. From savory to sweet, they can be used on virtually anything you would usually use plain butter on.
Any butter can be used, but this is a time when it is probably worth it to spend a little extra on a high quality butter. Since compound butters use a small number of ingredients, it is more important to use top-notch ingredients than if butter or seasonings were simply a small part of a laundry list of recipe ingredients.
Also, it is better to use unsalted butter as the salt content in salted butters can vary widely. Unsalted butter gives you a “clean slate” to work with and the results will be more consistent with whatever blend of seasonings you use.
Making compound butters doesn’t take much time, but it is important that you start with softened butter so all of the ingredients can be evenly mixed together. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, an hour or two on the counter may be enough to soften it to the point where touching it with your finger will leave an indent without it being shiny or greasy.
Savory compound butters are delicious on bread, potatoes and grilled steak or other meats. Sweet compound butters can be spread on toast or waffles, used instead of regular butter in cookie recipes, and drizzled over popcorn.
Spicy Tomato Compound Butter
½ tsp smoked paprika
Pinch chipotle powder
Pinch kosher salt
3 sundried tomatoes (the dry kind, not oil-packed)
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
Puree all ingredients in food processor until tomatoes and garlic are well chopped and everything is blended. Alternately, the tomatoes and garlic can be minced and the ingredients stirred together in a bowl until well blended. Refrigerate.
Sweet & Spicy Coffee Compound Butter
1 Tbsp water, heated to nearly boiling
2 Tbsp instant coffee granules
1 Tbsp brown sugar
¼ tsp vanilla or almond extract
⅛ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
Stir instant coffee into water until dissolved. Add remaining ingredients except for butter, stirring until well blended. Add butter and whisk until smooth.
Pour mixture (it will be fairly loose) in a jar or container and refrigerate until firm (overnight ideally).