Photo by by Katherine Lewinski via Getty Images

Yes, you heard me

Max Falkowitz
May 23, 2018

This is known: Cold butter on warm bread is the best thing. You may disagree, but you’d be wrong.

As proof, I offer the bread service at the two greatest institutions of American dining: the steakhouse and the diner. At the former—at least at a good one—ice cold, elaborately sculpted butter roses are de rigueur with fresh-from-the-oven rolls. At the latter, it’s your god-given right as a resident of this land to spread brick after brick of cool, foil-wrapped butter on your rye toast.

Except spreading that butter isn’t so easy, is it? The deep-chilled dairy resists every swoop of the knife. The bread tears. Crumbs interrupt your efforts at an evenly shallacked layer of fat. As you struggle to maneuver the hard pebbles of butter, the broken shards dissolve into puddles of grease on your toast.

There has to be a better way.

You deserve a proper, even shmear of cold butter on your toast; to relish the butter’s fresh, creamy solidity before it melts in your mouth.

The answer can be found in another staple of American breakfast: the American cheese single, a pre-portioned, even, slice of cheese perfectly trimmed to fit your bread. So, then, why not a butter single, individually wrapped in paper to place fresh on your hot slice of toast? Even if you wrongly prefer warmed, softened butter on your hot bread, you can’t argue with the convenience of a single over waiting for a stick of butter to soften, or suffering the faux-salubrity of whipped butter spread.

Sure, you may mock me. You may draw comparisons to last year’s humiliating peanut butter slices ‘hack’ by the Food Network, in which, to the internet’s vast and ruthless derision, a disturbingly cheery home cook attempted to make the case for elaborately prepared peanut butter singles as a "convenient" alternative to a jar and a spoon.

Laugh all you want, but consider that back in 2001, the idea had enough legs to drive Oklahoma State University researchers to create a commercial brand of peanut butter singles. Admittedly, it only sold in five states and went it out of business a few years later. But still.

Butter does not behave like peanut butter. Though both are non-Newtonian fluids, peanut butter is principally thixotropic. That is, If you smoosh it long enough, it goes where you want it to go. Butter, on the other hand, is viscoelastic, and as a 1970 paper in the Journal of Texture Studies makes painfully clear, “creep-compliance time curves” irrefutably demonstrate “a wide range of bond strengths” in butter, dependent on factors including temperature. To wit, it’s a pain in the ass to spread cold butter.

So we have a clear and present need for butter singles. And we certainly have the technology. But since Kraft isn’t returning my calls, all we can do for now is try it ourselves and hope the idea catches on.

Here is everything you need to make your own butter singles:

1 pound of your favorite butter
A half-sheet pan or cookie sheet
Several feet of parchment or wax paper
A flexible spreading tool (offset icing spatulas are perfect for this, but so are bench scrapers, or even a plain silicone spatula)
A large, flat, heavy object, such as that pretentious coffee table book someone gave you for Christmas
A sharp knife or pizza wheel

Before you set up anything else, retrieve your butter from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and set it out at room temperature. You want it to get as soft and pliable as possible, which could take an hour or two.

Once it’s softened, tear a sheet of parchment paper the length of your sheet pan and place it on top. Plop the butter on top of that, then cover it with another sheet of parchment the same length as the first. Use your spatula to spread the fat glob to a roughly even thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch, then flatten it more with your pretentious heavy book, using your spatula to tidy up the edges. Your goal is a rectangle approximately 16 inches by 13 inches.

Put the sheet pan in the freezer until the butter is frozen solid, about half an hour. Then retrieve it, slide the butter off the pan, and use your knife to cut the rectangle into a 5-by-4 grid of 20 even squares, each about 3 1/4 inches long. The resulting singles will weigh about 22 grams, roughly the same as those foil-wrapped bricks of butter at your diner.

From there, you can use your butter singles immediately and stack all the remainders—separated from each other by the parchment—in your fridge. Your toast will taste magnificent, nary a crumb out of place.

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