There is a place on Cape Cod called Arnold's that serves up legendary seafood platters, enormous lobsters and mounds of fried clams. But my favorite thing they dish out are their simple little dinner rolls and baked potatoes, all served with individually wrapped pats of salted butter. Delicious, delicious salted butter. So old school. So perfect.
Salted butter is the unloved stepchild of "serious" cooking. While Alison Roman's star-making chocolate chunk cookie recipe famously and transgressively calls for salted butter, you will find very few other accepted uses for the stuff from the pros. You will be hard pressed to find a decent cookbook — and even more challenged to find a baking one — that does not explicitly direct the reader that all butter called for is unsalted. The idea is uniformity and control. Milk Bar's Christina Tosi "swears by" cultured, unsalted butter. Sally's Baking Addiction argues that, among other things, unsalted butter is "fresher" than its more shelf stable relation. The Kitchn, meanwhile, warns against the "butter funk" of the salty variety. And Samin Nosrat, who put the word "salt" first in her bestselling cooking guide and series, advises, "Use unsalted butter when cooking and baking, and add your own salt to taste."
So salted butter is just for lazy garbage people to spread on toast, not for anyone who actually cares about cooking and baking. But guess what, I happen to like my butter "funky." I think salted butter tastes good. And if it is so déclassé, why does every brand, even the fanciest among them, have a salted version? Sorry, haters, that's exactly what I reach for every time I cook. And then — get ready for it — I add a little sea salt at the end as well. I like the even distribution of salinity that a salted butter provides, and I like the variation from bite to bite that a finishing salt provides. That is my ideal flavor composition; fight me.
If you are buying good salted butter and if you use is regularly, freshness should't be an issue. Nor should control — you'll know the flavor and personality of the butter you like the best. I'm usually a Kerrygold fan. But recently the folks at Meyenberg Goat Milk sent me a sampling of their unique products, and I must conclude that if you want to expand your culinary horizons, goat is the way to go.
Goat milk is lower in lactose than cow milk, so if you're usually sensitive to dairy, you may be pleasantly surprised at how differently your stomach handles it. Its by-product goat butter has a lighter color and earthier flavor that its bovine counterpart, a flavor that is more pronounced the less it's fussed with. Deeply browned, you might not notice its distinctive personality. But slathered on bread or radishes, it's a next level experience. Where it also does quite well is in one of the greatest butter delivery methods ever created — shortbread.
I would rather eat shortbread than almost anything, ever. It is easy and endlessly customizable, with a basic recipe you can execute once and memorize for life. It also never fails to elicit delight. In a world of cake-topped milkshakes and unicorn cannoli, shortbread is a testament to the mighty power of pure simplicity. People have very strong feelings about shortbread and so do I. If it has any eggs, it's not shortbread, throw it back. If it doesn't have confectioner's sugar, it's inferior.
In a moment of epicurean curiosity — and inspired by Lost Bread's legendary signature cookie, I recently baked up a pretzel-based version of the classic with salted goat butter. The end result was an utterly exquisite, slightly mysterious interpretation of the humble cookie. You can, of course, make your shortbread with regular flour and butter, but the deep, nutty flavors here play so well off each other. If you have the extra two minutes in your day to crush up some pretzel flour and the motivation to find goat butter, you will be rewarded with something truly exceptional. Just promise me you won't use the unsalted stuff here; go ahead and live dangerously.
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Recipe: Goat Butter Pretzel Shortbread
Inspired by Constellation Inspiration
Makes roughly 12
- 1 small bag of hard pretzels
- 1/2 cup of white flour (OR omit pretzels and use 1 cup of white flour)
- 1/2 cup of salted goat butter (OR your favorite good salted butter), room temperature and cut into several pieces
- 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- Pulverize your pretzels in a food processor, or put in a large Ziploc bag and crush well with a rolling pin. Sift through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and measure out one 1/2 cup of pretzel flour into a medium bowl. (You can use the leftover pretzel flour anyplace you'd use breadcrumbs. It makes a great coating for chicken.)
- Add your 1/2 cup of white flour to your bowl and whisk. (OR just one whole cup of white flour here.)
- In your food processor or using a bowl and mixer, beat the butter a minute or so until fluffy, then add your confectioner's sugar and vanilla. Continue mixing another minute or so. If you don't have a mixer, a bowl and wooden spoon work fine.
- Add flour mixture and beat until combined.
- Scrape the dough on to a large sheet of parchment, foil, or plastic wrap. Roll the dough into a log roughly 3 inches in diameter, and twist each each end of the wrapping to seal.
- If you have time, chill in the refrigerator a half hour or more. (This makes it easier to cut and prevents spreading while baking, but maybe you have places to go and things to do.)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and place a piece of parchment on a large cookie sheet.
- Remove dough from the fridge and unwrap. Cut your dough into 1/4 inch slices and lay your cookies evenly out on your cookie sheet.
- Bake cookies approximately 10 minutes, checking on them and turning the pan halfway through baking. You may need to pull them out a little early or let them go a minute or so longer. They should be only lightly browned.
- Let cool thoroughly before eating, if you can restrain yourself. Store covered at room temperature. They are even better the second day.
More Quick & Dirty:
- This riff on a classic Southern pie is comfort in a bite — and the leftovers taste great for breakfast
- French-inspired lentils are the easiest cure for your winter blues — and they're impossible to mess up
- The viral feta pasta dish everyone's raving about is even better without pasta
- A chocolate sandwich tastes exactly as comforting as it sounds — and it's sublime
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