Anyone who has ever tried to recreate a favorite restaurant dish at home has wondered, “Why is it better when the chef makes it?” The answer can vary, but sometimes it’s as simple as improving the ingredient that drives crispy, crunchy, flaky textures and laces twists and turns of flavor through any dish: swapping out traditional sweet cream butter for the culinary secret known as cultured butter.
With its richness and tang, its notes of hazelnut and delightfully creamy texture, cultured butter is a lot like regular butter that’s had a glow up: it’s been getting its beauty sleep, learning to contour, and going to spin class. Cultured butter retains everything you love about standard butter, but takes it up a notch.
It’s made just like traditional butter, but before churning, live bacterial cultures are added to the fresh cream and left to sit for almost a day. Similar to how live cultures help turn milk into cheese, the process adds complexity to the cream, and the result in the butter, after churning, is better taste, higher acidity and better flavor transfer.
It’s a secret that used to be common practice—letting the evening cream sit out overnight before it was churned in the morning—and that still is widespread around Europe. But cultured butter lost its way here, and Americans lost the opportunity for flavor. Thankfully, the folks at Vermont Creamery believe in taste above all, so they discerned the difference and brought the traditional fermentation process back to the States, using it on their high-quality cream from Vermont family farms. New Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter can now be found in the dairy case at grocery stores all over the country. And that’s good news for cooks in search of a way to amp up the flavor of their favorite recipes, whether making for more buttery baked goods, super-charging steaks, or adding extra complexity to a shellfish dish.
The Better Butter for Baking
One of the biggest places that cultured butter makes a difference is in baking. Not only does the cultured flavor transfer directly to your scones and shortbreads, adding a barely definable boost that mostly makes the treats to taste nuttier and more like butter, it also improves the texture.
Many bakers swear by cultured butter when it comes to croissants, particularly, because the extra butterfat content in products such as Vermont Creamery’s cultured butter means less moisture sogging down those flaky layers and makes the butter easier to work with at colder temperatures—also a key in making pie crusts. Along with the fat, the bright flavor and richness makes for irresistible pound cakes with the tenderest crumb, and the acidity in the butter—the cause of that storied tang—also produces the softest biscuits.
High Fat, High Flavor
Cultured butter’s fat content also impacts how you cook, giving it a high smoke point, which means you can cook at higher temperatures. The higher the temperature of your pan, the easier it is to achieve that coveted crust on the outside of your steak, creating that crispy frond. But to get that, most oils force you to forgo flavor in favor of a higher smoke point. Because there are fewer milk solids, which bring down the smoke point, you can heat cultured butter like you would canola oil. And once you’ve finished cooking that steak, another pat of cultured butter on top is all but gilding the flavor lily, in the best kind of way.
Conventional wisdom around seafood is to keep it simple: let the flavor of lobster, clams, or crab come through on its own. But cooking them in a little cultured butter boosts their natural flavor: the nuttiness and tang pairs with minerality and brings out the sweetness of the shellfish. It absorbs some of the saltiness and adds in yet more complexity, making cultured butter and shellfish a remarkable pairing.
The same increased acidity that gives cultured butter its tasty tang also gives it a secret superpower: the low pH helps keep sauces from breaking. Hollandaise, beurre blanc, and white wine sauces can be notoriously difficult to keep together because of the acid in the added ingredients. But by starting with the high-acid cultured butter, it keeps the sauce from breaking or separating—and makes you look like a sauce savant.
But if you’re not up for cooking and baking with cultured butter, that’s not a problem, we’ve saved the best for last: the velvety creaminess of cultured butter makes it easy to spread and still capable of standing up to strong textures and even stronger flavors. While it will happily liven up a slice of baguette or loan its flavor to a tomato sandwich, it also shines on brown bread and can be a schmear beneath smoked salmon. Consider cultured butter your culinary chameleon: ready to blend in when needed or add a pop of excitement when called on.
Learn more about cultured butter and other ways to enjoy it here.
Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit