Hey friends! Has your fall been zooming by? Those last lazy days of summer? Where did they go? More like queue the montage of calendar pages slowly flipping then getting faster and faster until they are flying off the screen as fast as possible. September and October are usually the lull before the holidays but this fall I decided to write a SUPER SPECIAL collection of recipes for your perfectly curated holiday cookie platter. Exclamation marks. More exclamation marks.
It should be ready just in time to be downloaded to your iPad for all your holiday cookie baking needs. I AM SO EXCITED TO SHARE IT WITH YOU. For realz. This is not your grandmother’s cookie platter. Unless your grandmother made things like mulled red wine crumble squares and bourbon-spiked drop cookies.
I’ve been up to my elbows in butter, flour, sugar, and festive sprinkles as well as working on a variety of other projects. Like these extra cu-HOOT-e owl cookies made with speculoos cookie butter which I made as part of Rent the Runway’s Halloween Bazaar curated by the fabulous party planners Cait & Jules. I’d like to also make a special shout out to the dry cleaning costume which from personal experience I can recommend as a fabulous last-minute costume idea. After being a Metrocard the year before I had exhausted all my costume mojo and I couldn’t quite get it together – thus “dry cleaning” as costume was born.
All of this is to say that just last week alone, there have been legitimate POUNDS of butter cycling from fridge to oven to cooling rack. I’ve gotten seriously buttered up on butter. It is no surprise that I love baking with butter. Butter is better. How many times can I write butter? Never enough times!
But making butter? That is another whole cow to tackle (did that metaphor work?) The one and only time I attempted my hand at making butter was when I was eight years old. My dad and I had been banished to Father/Daughter Camp so my mom could have the house to herself to do something like reupholster the couch or something and at the time I could not understand why such a thing would require my leaving. But it was cool because I got to take the ferry and my dad and I had a great time, despite being a bit challenged in the camp activity department. The welcome activity was making bread and butter. It should have been easy enough. We were given our “tools” or a mason jar, a marble, some dough ingredients, and a stick on which to bake the bread in a properly calibrated and temperature-controlled oven (ha! I mean campfire). While all the other fathers and daughters set right to the task at hand and within minutes were churning out silky butter that they were generously spreading over steaming hot bread. On the other hand my dad and I were having less success and could barely get our marble to work, a detail I blamed on our potentially faulty mason jar. Who knows! Thankfully as the weekend progressed we improved in our task completion, but I think we both wished there had been a badge for sleeping in and eating waffles without feeling guilty that we were late to a nature walk on Pacific Northwest lichen.
Since then, I haven’t really explored any more into the process of making butter. My tastebuds know that some butter tastes better than others but then again when you are sitting on a Parisian street corner that croissant will taste good no matter what. But now that I use so much butter in my baking I wondered what really makes some butter better than others.
As as it turns out, I got my answer in Vermont. I did more than dream myself into spiced maple syrup cookie heaven while I was up in The Green Mountain State. I also got to pay a visit to The Vermont Creamery. The Creamery was born out of chance when Bob Reese needed goat cheese for a dinner celebrating Vermont agricultural products and cheesemaker Allison Hooper was up to the task. The cheese was a hit and with some seed money of a few thousand bucks and 25 years later, a vision that began with the need in America for good cheese and butter has “spread” into a bustling hub of activity with lots of happy goats, a factory where the magic comes together, and everything in between.
The amount of time I have spent on farms has been quite limited. You can definitely call me a city girl. I grew up with a garden-obsessed mother and I have hung out with the occasional horse (all the farmers are laughing now!) but on my visit to Vermont things came full circle.
I saw the whole process of making butter and cheese beginning with the fresh milk to the rhythm of hand-shaping cheese to ending with slathering cultured butter on hot french toast. Speaking of, let’s talk about cultured butter. Leave it to Europe to excel in the art of fine living – we all know that stylish footwear wouldn’t be where it is today without a little European help – and butter is no exception.
Allison told me that while she was working on a farm in France she noticed that when fresh milk was set aside for a while, the natural lactic bacteria would start to just do its thang, turning into crème fraîche – just like that. But when crème fraîche is churned into butter, something magic happens. Not only does this make for an out-of-this-world butter experience to your tastebuds, using high-quality butter in baked goods is something else.
So imagine back to your last French vacation and remember that innocent looking shortbread that took your breath away? I can bet it started with high-quality butter. The good news is that you can pick up yourself some cultured butter, bake it into your favorite buttery treat, and after one bite you will not look back to your trusty ol’ sticks of butter. After all the holidays are quickly approaching and about time to get buttered up!