Books – Bread & Butter: History, Culture, Recipes by Grant Harrington, Richard Snapes and Eve Hemingway

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Bread & Butter is a love letter to two glorious foods that have graced our tables for centuries. Delving deep into the history and culture behind the bread and butter partnership, Eve Hemingway, baker Richard Snapes, and chef Grant Harrington explore how bread and butter are eaten across the world, the traditions, the flavours and the making processes as well as share more than 50 outstanding sweet and savoury recipes that celebrate the best of both foods.

The reason

Why write a book about bread and butter? What makes such a humble pairing, and ostensibly a minor event of the day, become a heroic match worthy of exploration over 256 pages?

Well, if you’re reading this, you probably quite like bread and butter and you’ve probably liked it for some time. You might remember it as a childhood treat – simple for a parent to slice, spread and share to keep you quiet. Perhaps, when under the weather, you note the heartening feeling of spying a doorstop slice thick with golden spread, precariously balanced at the edge of a bowl of steaming soup. Maybe you’re responsible for prepping the sandwiches, making sure so-and-so’s has no crusts, and heaven forbid the tomato makes the bread soggy. You might be a regular toast-eater, your tongue swiftly following yellow rivers of butter dripping down your wrist after impatient morning crunches. You could, in other words, be deeply in love with bread and butter, and yet know very little about it.

When we looked at other cookbooks on the shelves, we saw turquoises, fuchsias and golds promising titillation of the senses from cultures unknown to us. Alongside these exotic titles, there were beaming faces, promising ways to improve your gut health, even change your microbiome. And, delving deeper, books for the real food nerds, the ones that really make you think about how and why we eat what we eat.

At first we couldn’t see how bread and butter, two such quotidian foodstuffs, could stand up to these vibrant and exotic subjects. Surely, they could not transport you beyond the familiar, or aid digestion or teach you something you didn’t know because: you eat them every day. Or most days at least. Yet, on reflection, we realised that bread and butter can do all of these things.

Bread and butter exists in weird and wonderful forms across the world, making them truly global products. Between us, we’ve seen a Tibetan cream separator that looks more like an intricate jewellery box, its mahogany lacquer and polished brass dials emanating pride and expertise. In the Polish celebration of nowe latko, literally meaning ‘new summer’ but celebrated at the end of the year, bread figurines of a man with a bobble cap surrounded by eight geese are made to encourage abundance in the fields in the coming year. And in Amarante in Portugal, the bolos de São Gonçalo (Saint Gonçalo cakes) are phallic-shaped breads or, more commonly now, pastries, intricately iced and given to single women as lucky love charms. We’re sure the recipients are very, um, grateful.

With regard to health, we cannot promise our dishes will do wonders for your waistline (many of these recipes are a far cry from cauliflower rice and cashew cheese), but well-being also comes from pleasure. The Danish, for example, have an apt, joy-filled phrase, tandsmør, meaning ‘tooth butter’, to describe the teeth marks you leave in butter when it’s spread thickly enough on bread. It is this generosity of spirit we love and hope you will find here.

And in terms of teaching you something, we swiftly recognised the wealth of information and experience we three authors could share. From the origins and history of bread and butter, via the science, and on to a passionate appreciation of the resurgence of interest in bread and butter crafted with care. As demand is showing, people are ready for something a little different, even if it takes longer, looks wonky or varies slightly from batch to batch. Flavour is the most important thing.

This book is a celebration, a love letter and a record of bread and butter: it adores them and reveals their mysteries; it unpacks their history and champions their future.

 

Grant’s signature butter

Makes about 500g (1lb 2oz) butter and an equal amount cultured buttermilk

 

Equipment

large mixing bowl

piece of muslin (cheesecloth) large enough to cover the mixing bowl

electric stand mixer or handheld electric beaters

digital thermometer

cold, clean surface

 

Ingredients

1 litre (1 quart) 40% fat high quality double (thick) cream

100ml (3½fl oz) sour cream, crème fraîche or yogurt, which is the starter

rock salt, to taste (approx. 20g/¾oz)

In a large and spotlessly clean bowl, mix together your cream and starter (sour cream, crème fraîche or yogurt), stirring well to make sure the starter is fully incorporated.

Cover the bowl with muslin and leave at room temperature (about 25ºC/77ºF) for 20 hours.

When the time is up replace the muslin with plastic wrap/clingfilm and chill in the fridge for a further 20 hours.

Remove the cultured cream from the fridge and leave it at room temperature for about an hour, or until it has warmed to around 8–14ºC (46–57ºF). This chilling and warming encourages the bacteria to develop and the cream to ferment.

Now we’re ready to churn. Using an electric stand mixer or hand-held beaters on medium-high speed (or even whisking by hand if you’ve got arms like an ox) begin to whisk your cultured cream. It’s important to have your bowl no more than half full, as the cream will expand before it splits.

When the cream completely splits to form yellow globules (called popcorn butter) and liquid (buttermilk), strain through a sieve, reserving both the popcorn butter and the buttermilk. This cultured buttermilk will keep for 12 days in the fridge.

Quickly knead the popcorn butter on a cold, clean surface by working it with the heels of your hands, squeezing out any remaining buttermilk until all the moisture has been removed from your butter.

Season with salt to taste. Then handknead the butter again to release any final excess of moisture.

The cultured butter will keep for up to 3 weeks in the fridge, and will continue to mature and develop over that time.

 

Toasted Butter Danish Daal

 

Denmark may not be the most obvious place to associate with a good daal, and there is no claim of authenticity here. The idea with this recipe is to gradually build up layers of flavour, starting with the earthy alliums and spices, then acidity from the tomatoes, followed by the creaminess and richness of coconut and butter. Finally, a hit of freshness from the citrus and coriander lifts and balances the dish.

This recipe comes from a very good friend, Rebecca, who cooked this soupy daal when we lived together in Denmark. The apartment was so small my bedroom was also the kitchen – the joke that ‘I spend so much time in the kitchen I might as well live there’ sometimes felt rather too close to reality! With nothing but a shelf of cookbooks separating the living space from my sleeping space, it’s a miracle we didn’t get sick of each other. This recipe is included as a reminder of much commensality around that dining table and is a tribute to Rebecca’s warmth, patience and kindness during those happy years. EH

Serves 4

Ingredients

100g (3½oz) Cultured Butter (see above)

2 small onions, finely chopped

2 small leeks, cut into thin, thumb-length strips

3 celery sticks, finely diced

1 cooking apple, peeled and finely diced

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon hot curry powder

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 x 400g (14oz) can of chopped tomatoes

1½ litres (1½ quarts) good chicken stock

75g (2½oz) split red lentils

5–6 curry leaves (or 2 bay leaves)

2 Kaffir lime leaves

4 green cardamom pods, seeds removed and reserved

2 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon chilli flakes

1 x 400g (14oz) can of coconut milk

juice of 1 lime

sea salt

plenty of roughly chopped coriander (cilantro), to garnish

steamed rice or chapatis, roti or naan bread, to serve

 

In a large saucepan, heat half of the butter over a medium heat. After a few minutes, add the onions and leeks and cook for 10–15 minutes until golden and starting to crisp at the edges. Add the celery and apple, stir well and cook for another minute or so.

Add the turmeric, cumin, curry powder, garam masala and 1 teaspoon of salt. Carefully cook the spices for 5 minutes to release all their beautiful aromas, stirring them often so they don’t burn.

Add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the stock, lentils, curry leaves, Kaffir lime leaves, cardamom seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick and lemon zest. Simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes, skimming away any foam that rises to the surface with a large spoon.

When the daal is almost done, heat the remaining butter in a small frying pan over a low heat and gently fry the garlic until it is a very pale gold, taking care not to let it colour too much.

When the lentils are cooked and the daal has thickened add the chilli flakes, coconut milk and half of the lime juice and simmer for 5 minutes.

Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed, then stir through the remaining lime juice. Top with the sliced garlic and toasted butter and garnish with chopped coriander. The daal is beautiful by itself, but can also be served with steamed rice and Indian breads.

Bread & Butter: History, Culture, Recipes by Grant Harrington, Richard Snapes and Eve Hemingway (Quadrille, £26) Photography: Patricia Niven

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