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Mountain Home Magazine

The Beauty of (Melted) Butter

Mar 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Teresa Banik Capuzzo

Friends were visiting for the weekend, and it’s our custom when we’re together to do a significant brunch. Jon is from Texas, and I was going to try my hand at biscuits and sausage gravy, a southern (and this Yankee’s) favorite. My sister-in-law Lisa had recently served butter swim biscuits at a family dinner, and they were as beautiful a thing as the name suggests.

I had just plopped a stick of butter into a tiny saucepan as my friend Linda, Jon's wife, walked into the kitchen.

“So…you know how this goes,” I told her, as the glorious scent spilled around us.

“Yeah,” she nodded wisely. “I know.”

Because melting butter needs no further explanation. Along with the classic “It just needs another dash of salt,” chefs use it as a little cheat (if you can call anything so pure a cheat) to add a final glow to sauces; soften a sharp red sauce; take a perfectly grilled steak to the next level.

But it was only at that moment that it occurred to me that two of my other go-to recipes start in this same intoxicatingly silky way: Melt a stick of butter.

It is an epic epicurean common denominator.

This recipe is a traditional buttermilk biscuit without all the fuss. You’ll find several iterations on the internet, this one from 12 Tomatoes. The biscuits were fabulous with the sausage gravy. But this is the kind of biscuit that will answer any biscuit need (like holding up chicken in gravy…or strawberry jammmmm):

Butter Swim Biscuits

  • 2½ c. all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1½ Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. buttermilk
  • ½ c. (1 stick) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add buttermilk and mix just until a moist dough is formed. Pour melted butter into an 8x8 baking pan and dump the dough on top of the melted butter. Use a spatula to spread the dough evenly across the pan until it touches the sides. Cut the dough into 9 squares and bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

It used to be easy to find chicken livers in the poultry section at the grocery store. But popular tastes (or food industry habits) must have changed, because the chicken liver river all but dried up. Then came Delivered Fresh, the local food service that provides local folks with local meats and produce, and we were back in business. Every time I see chicken livers on sale I tuck them into the freezer for a rainy day, to make Julia Child’s chicken liver mousse for my chicken-liver-lovin’ pals. You can serve it on plain crackers. Served on thin, toasted French bread it is almost a meal in itself. This recipe is from Julia’s magnum opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking:

Chicken Liver Mousse

  • 1 lb. (about 2 c.) chicken livers
  • 2 Tbsp. minced shallots or green onions
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 c. Madeira or cognac
  • ¼ c. heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • Pinch of thyme
  • ½ c. (1 stick) butter, melted

Look the livers over and remove any greenish or blackish spots, then cut into ½-inch pieces. Sauté with the shallots or green onions in 2 Tbsp. hot butter for 2 to 3 minutes, until the livers are just stiffened, but still rosy inside. Scrape into a blender.

Pour the wine or cognac into the sauté pan and boil it down rapidly until it has reduced to 3 Tbsp. Scrape it into the blender. Add the cream and seasonings to the blender, cover, and blend at top speed for several seconds until the liver is a smooth paste. Then add the melted butter and blend several seconds more. (Julia at this point forces the mixture through a sieve, which I have yet to do—and so far no complaints.) Taste carefully for seasoning. Pack it into a bowl or jar, cover with waxed paper, and chill for 2 to 3 hours.

In anticipation of an emergency need for a dessert, I always have a can of tart cherries on hand (beware: not the gloppy sweetened cherry “filling” you see in the baking aisle), and in the freezer a bag of pecans (and, of course, reserve butter). Peggy Dettwiler, the brilliant conductor and director of choral activities at Commonwealth University-Mansfield first baked this Schwartzwalder kirschtorte (that’s German for Black Forest cake) for us. Peggy’s husband, Jürgen Thym, emeritus professor of musicology at Eastman School of Music, reports that their recipe came from conductor Emily Freeman Brown, the wife of his Eastman colleague, composer Samuel Adler. Jürgen suspects this recipe came from Sam’s mom.

Jürgen also introduced us to kirsch (or kirschwasser), the dry, clear brandy that’s distilled from black morello cherries. It, too, hails from the Black Forest, and you can either sprinkle it onto or serve it (neat) alongside the cake.

For this recipe, be careful that the melted butter is not hot when you mix it into the batter. You don’t want to cook the eggs before the cake hits the oven.

Schwartzwalder Kirschtorte

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar
  • ½ c. (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • ½ c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • ¾ c. chopped pecans
  • 1 can sour cherries, drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, sugar, and butter, mixing well. Add remaining ingredients except the cherries and pour into a buttered 9-inch springform pan. (It will make your life a lot easier if you line the bottom with buttered parchment paper.) Place the cherries in circles on top of the batter, pressing in lightly. Bake 35-40 minutes (be careful not to dry it out). Cool slightly, pop it out of the springform, then do a double flip onto the cake plate. Serve topped with whipped cream.

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