Make Festive Compound Butter With Fresh Cranberries

Let's face it: butter makes just about everything better — from those simple scrambled eggs made using browned butter to restaurants using dollops of it to boost flavor. Sweet or savory, a majority of your favorite dishes use this gift of churned dairy to raise their decadence quotient, and well, dishes that are festive season favorites wouldn't be the same without it either. 

So, if simple butter can do so much, imagine the heavenly culinary heights that can be attained if it were given a flavor boost. Enter compound butter, a softened version of butter enriched with flavors of your choosing. The possibilities are endless, and serving herbed or spiced compound butter with savory dishes is common. However, you can also go the sweet route and surprise people with an unconventional compound butter to reinvigorate traditional holiday ingredients, and what better place to start than the simple, tarty crowd pleaser — cranberries.

Cranberries and butter pair well

Cranberries are a classic Thanksgiving ingredient signifying the American harvest holiday, and melting butter infused with the seasonal berry transforms it from a spread to sauce that's fit for any festive food table. With these complimentary flavors as a base, you can choose whether to make a sweet or savory butter, depending on your menu. Mix in some chopped fresh herbs and a little bit of minced garlic along with the cranberries into the softened butter, and you have the perfect topping for meats like ham, chicken, salmon, and even vegetables set to roast. If you're going the sweet way and want to make a compound butter that pairs well with cheese, bread, and desserts, substitute the herbs and garlic for cinnamon, lemon zest, orange juice, and brown sugar.

While the savory compound butter described can be made by merely mixing the ingredients, the sweet version requires you to simmer and mash them together in a pan and let them cool before incorporating them into a softened portion of it. You can also make cranberry sauce according to your favorite recipe and mix it with room-temperature butter. 

More compound butter ideas for the festive season

The holiday season is the perfect time to try out different types of compound butter to find your favorites and complement your menu. A compound butter of fresh thyme and lemon works well for meat, vegetables, or fish. Or you can substitute thyme for either basil or cilantro. Finely chopped jalapeño or smoked paprika powder can also be added for a bit of heat and a more complex flavor. For a compound butter that pairs well with sweet dishes, maple syrup, honey, ground cinnamon, and citrus zests are all ingredients worth trying. Add crushed pecans or walnuts into the mix for some added texture. And, of course, those fresh tart cranberries will pair well with all these options.

Now, a few pointers for when you're making your compound butter. Always use softened butter, kept at room temperature since melted butter loses its texture. Once you have mixed in the ingredients, whisk the butter for a few more minutes if you want a whipped, easy-to-spread consistency. Or, for those restaurant-style butter medallions, roll the soft compound butter into a log using parchment paper and refrigerate until it's time to serve. You can also refrigerate it as a block and use a vegetable peeler for easily spreadable butter. However you serve it, your compound butter dish might be the one that's passed around the most at your dinner gathering.

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