A Butter Bell is the Kitchen Gadget You've Been Missing
There are few things worse in the world of Southern cooking, than forgetting to soften your butter. Too many times I've sat down at the table for breakfast ready to spread butter on my biscuits or waffles, and the stick of butter is still sitting rock hard in the fridge.
It never occurred to me to always leave butter out on the counter, until I came across a nifty contraption my grandparents had on their kitchen table.
I asked my grandmother why she had left the butter out, and she laughed at me, then said that it didn't need to be in the fridge. I was completely perplexed. She explained that her Butter Bell kept the butter at a safe room temperature and had an air-tight seal because of the small amount of water in the bottom dish. No refrigeration necessary!
The result is smooth, spreadable butter. This way you don't have to remember to thaw your butter before digging into your Sunday spread.
Where had this lovely invention been all my life? I had many questions, so I took to the internet to learn more about the magical Butter Bell.
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This style of butter dish originated in France during the late 19th Century, but there's some question about which area it came from. It was either created in Vallauris, France, a town known for its pottery, or in Brittany or Normandy, France, both known for their butter production.
Despite the hazy origin story, the French butter dish, or "beurrier Breton" as they call it, made its way to the U.S. in the 1970s through craft fairs.
In 1995, L. Tremain trademarked their version titled "The Original Butter Bell Crock," and it has since become the most well-known style of butter dishes.
Despite what you may have grown up thinking, it's perfectly safe to leave your butter on the counter. If Julia Child did it, then we can do it too.
Now that we're more familiar with the history, let's get back to the design of this lovely contraption.
A butter crock has two parts: the bottom crock and the lid, which has an upside-down bowl attached to it. The crock is where you place the water, and then you spread your stick of butter into the lid.
For the French, the design ensured that the butter could be stored for up to a month on a counter without refrigeration (which only existed for the wealthy in the form of ice boxes at that time). As long as they didn't leave it out in extreme heat and replaced the water regularly, they could enjoy as many buttery croissants as their hearts desired.
Sounds pretty good, right?! I'll take easy-to-spread butter with my biscuits and jam any day.
Before we start imagining all the ways we can enjoy spreadable butter, here are a few things to note, to ensure you get the best performance out of your Butter Bell.
First, make sure you buy the real stuff. No margarine or fake butter allowed in the Butter Bells. It makes for an oily mess and clean-up process later.
Second, a little water goes a long way. You want just enough water in the bottom to ensure that the top will form a seal when replaced. Too much water equals wet butter, and we prefer our butter to stay at a normal consistency.
Also, make sure you refresh the water in the bowl every week or so. The colder the water, the fresher the butter will stay.
It's best not to leave your butter bell in direct light or heat. This could cause the container to get too hot and weaken the effectiveness of the design.
Finally, when you fill the lid with butter, make sure to pack it in and eliminate air pockets. This way you won't have a butter pad plop into the water when you open the lid.
Follow all those steps, et violà, fresh, spreadable butter! Now off you go to enjoy all the treats butter can be spread on. And if you're in need of a little baking inspiration, check out the Best Brown Butter Blondies.