There on the table were four scoops of flavor, each more alluring than the last, along with slices of a baguette.
Where to begin, when the options are salted maple, blueberry basil, raspberry with pickled rhubarb, and chocolate?
On another day, I would have been fooled into thinking these were treats from the freezer. But not today, as I sat across from Beth Fisher, who has taken on the role of consultant for Rustica Bakery. The longtime chef, most recently of Wise Acre Eatery and, earlier, Lucia’s, has a new playground.
“I’m having a blast,” she said with the exuberance of a child with a new toy. “I’m using everything I’ve learned over the years to look at things differently.”
Which brings us to the colorful mounds before us.
“Rustica sent me home with every loaf of bread they make, and all I could think of was butter. This was one of my first projects: Bring butter to the bread,” she said.
So Fisher developed the flavored varieties — called “compound” butters in the food world — to be paired with the distinctive loaves.
I’d tried them several months earlier at a fundraiser when she was starting to experiment with the flavorings, and I knew I wanted to make these at home.
On this day, Fisher was offering a taste of the possibilities, and giving me a gentle nudge to mix and match these in the kitchen.
For those who want the flavor without the minimal work of putting these butters together, be assured that two varieties will be available, as of this weekend, at Rustica Bakery’s main location (3220 W. Lake St., Calhoun Village Shopping Center, Mpls., 612-822-1119, rusticabakery.com), with plans to expand later.
A 4-ounce package of the flavored butter will cost about $5. Two varieties will initially be offered: Salted maple, made with Minnesota maple syrup and a pinch of black pepper, will be regularly featured, and a seasonal butter will vary, with the first likely to be a chocolate raspberry.
Where to use these flavorings
Let’s head back to the kitchen. You may have used a pat of herb butter to top off a grilled steak or fish fillet. But don’t stop there. Consider these options from Fisher:
• Use chocolate butter on sesame bagels or nut bread, or on French toast or pancakes. Or try a maple version on the same. How about an orange-cardamom variety? You get the idea. Make breakfast better.
• Add a tarragon-mustard version to a pot of mussels.
• Add a spoonful of either sweet or savory flavored butter to finish meat or seafood in the pan.
• Use it as a “reverse” marinade. Fisher grills chicken thighs and then tosses them with a flavored butter. (Typical spicy Buffalo wings coating is nothing more than butter, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, she said.)
• Place the flavored butter on a cheese board, with other offerings.
How to make at home
There are few “rules” to making compound butters — these are, after all, simple combos. But Fisher has some tips for making the most of this effort.
• You don’t need the best quality butter, but it does need to be good. “Land O’Lakes works,” said Fisher. Use unsalted butter so you can control the sodium amount.
• Use really good ingredients — fresh and flavorful — when adding them to the butter and take advantage of seasonal produce. Fresh raspberries in the summer will taste much different than those from midwinter. Most herbs can be simply chopped up and added to the mix, but rosemary — with its stronger flavor — should be blanched first. Keep the texture of the other ingredients intact by not processing them first. Leave the ingredients in chunks, which is prettier and tastes good, too. Fisher suggests keeping small berries whole.
• Let butter soften — but not too much — before you mix in the flavorings. Fisher uses a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. She prefers not to whip the butter, as it adds too much air to the finished item.
• Some cooks roll the butter into a log when completed (foils for this are available online), but Fisher prefers to transfer the butter to a small container for serving.
• Store the butter in the refrigerator due to the flavorings you’ve added, but let the mixture sit out on the counter for about an hour before you use it. The exception is if adding the butter to hot food, as in a sauce; then the butter should be cold when added.
As for the chocolate butter, with the recipe below, there’s one word. Well, maybe two. “Yum” and “Mmm” come to mind.
It looks like a chunk of chocolate, but of course it’s more than that.
“You have to remind yourself you’re eating butter,” Fisher said with a laugh.
Yes, indeed. Really good butter.
Makes 1 3/4 cup.
Note: This compound butter was developed for Rustica Bakery in Minneapolis by Beth Fisher. The flavored butter can be refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen for up to three months.
• 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60 percent cacao; use a good brand)
• 2 sticks (1 c.) unsalted butter (your favorite brand), room temperature
• 1/8 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (a good brand, such as Callebaut or Valrhona)
• 4 tsp. flaky sea salt
Melt chocolate over double boiler. Cool for 10 minutes.
Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter for 1 minute. Scrape butter off sides of bowl. Add the cooled chocolate, cocoa powder and salt, incorporating well on slow speed.
When ingredients have come together nicely, spoon butter into pretty vessels and serve at room temperature (but store in refrigerator).