19 February 2009



JUST CALL ME MELLOW YELLOW : Field Guide to Butter & Baking

Recently I have been reading the book TASTE by Kate Colquhoun, in which she describes the creation of English butter as an accident! When people travelled, cream was stored in leather pouches, which bumped and jostled along the route, until it thickened and turned into butter.

I remember learing how to make butter in kindergarden, it was like a field trip – but in the classroom! First we had to quietly get into a straight line (which was easier said than done for 15 little girls) and then each of us was given a glass jar, into which the teacher poured lovely thick cream. Tightly closing the lid, we shook the jars, watching in amazement as pale yellow islands gradually formed. Pouring out the remaining milk, we pressed the butter to remove excess water, rinsed & dried each cube & voila homemade butter!

Butter may have been simple to make but I’ve found that  it can be delicate to cook with, especially when it comes to baking. The New York Times has a great article on how butter holds the key to making great cookie, which seemed particularly appropriate to my current post, as one of only three main ingredients used is BUTTER!

THE BUTTER GUIDE – Here is a snippet:

  • Cold butters ability to hold air is the key to prefect dough / pastry!
  • Creaming butter softens it & adds the air bubbles
  • Preparing refrigerated butter for creaming: Cut butter into cubes, spread out on a plate & leave at room temp (do not use microwave or oven)
  • Ready to cream test: when butter is still cool but takes a finger imprint when gently pressed
  • Cream for at least 3 minutes at medium speed


These shortbread cookies (sablés) from Cuisiner Comme un Chef are buttery golden circles with vanilla speckled interiors & sweet sugary edges, that seem to melt in your mouth. They have the perfect harmony of butter, sugar & flour that produces a cookies that is not to sweet, heavy or crunchy.

The only tiny substitution that I made was to use pure vanilla bean instead of vanilla essence & cut the cylinders into 1cm slices instead of 2cm as per the original recipe. And if it is anything to go on, so impressed was I with the result that I made these cookie, not once, not twice but three times in the last few weeks & will shortly be turning into a shortbread or porkchop (which ever comes 1st), if this continues!


  • 225 gr unsalted butter (cold from the fridge)
  • 100 gr white sugar
  • the interior of 1/2 a vanilla bean
  • 320 gr white all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • White sugar for rolling dough cylinders in
  1. Cut butter into cubes, spread them on a plat and leave at room temperature.
  2. Ready to cream test: when the butter is still cool but takes a finger imprint when gently pressed it’s ready
  3. Cream the butter in an electric mixture for 3 minutes, it will lighten in colour.
  4. Take 1/2 a vanilla bean pod, slice it lengthwise & remove the inside by scrapping with a teaspoon
  5. Add the sugar, salt & vanilla to the butter & cream until mixed
  6. I use the paddle attachement now. Add the flour in two batches. Mix until large bread crumbs form
  7. Note: handle the dough as little as possible. Split the dough into three portions. Make a ball out of each. Roll each boll into a 3cm diameter cylinder
  8. Wrap each cylinder in plastic wrap & chill for 30 minutes
  9. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F convection heat
  10. Generously sprinkle white sugar onto a clean, flat surface. Roll each cylinder in the sugar until evenly coated
  11. Cut each cylinder into 1cm thick slices
  12. Space the slices out on a lined cookie sheet & cook for 14 minutes or until cookie edges are just golden
  13. Delicately place on cooling rack, the cookies will be less fragile when cooled

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