I once heard that Martha Stewart's favorite baguette in New York was from Le Pain Quotidien. (This was way back when, before Pain Q had blossomed into the organic Belgian pastry empire it is today.) Now, credit where credit is due: I agree that they put out a superb French stick (as the Brits rather amusingly call it). It's tender within and crusty without, with that clean, floury-but-not-yeasty chewiness that only the best baguettes manage to pull off. But ever since I ordered my very first Baker's Basket, I've been convinced that all of Pain Q's bread exists primarily as a vehicle for the butter they serve with it.
I'll admit I'm a true butter lover. I'm not one of those people who spend five minutes shellacking a layer of butter as thin as parchment on each slice of bread, working the knife back and forth like a bricklayer with his trowel until the butter is perfectly even. No, I'm a slatherer. Always have been. I'm not happy until I can no longer see the surface of the bread beneath its creamy cap of butter.
You can imagine my surprise that first time at Pain Q when I discovered that the salty, creamy blob of dairy fat I had been excavating from its little rectangle of foil and delightedly plastering all over my organic spelt slice was not from France -- or even from Vermont for that matter. None of this highfalutin 99.9% butter fat stuff. Nope, I discovered that I had just been nearly swooning over butter made by none other than the cooperative of farmers at Organic Valley.
Let me just say outright that this butter is a revelation. It has precisely the right amount of salt, is a lovely pale straw color and boasts a silkiness that would rival a sow's ear. I look for Organic Valley butter everywhere these days (unfortunately, it is somewhat elusive), my eyes perpetually peeled for that sky blue box peeking out at me from the dairy shelves. I told Amanda about it, and several weeks later she was served some delicious butter at a dinner party. When she asked what it was, I think you can guess what the response was. Yep, Organic Valley.
When I do manage to get my hands on it, I never use it for cooking -- although I have no doubt it could give Plugra a run for its money in a bake off. For me, that would be the equivalent of squandering a bottle of Château Pétrus on coq au vin. Instead, I let the butter come to just below room temperature (spreadable but still cool) and then use it for something simple: bread and butter with peppery radishes and coarse sea salt, or freshly baked banana bread cloaked in a generous swathe of the stuff. Another favorite is the cucumber and butter tea sandwich, which my mother made frequently when I was a child. I recommend you seek out some Organic Valley butter and make some of these delicate little sandwiches yourself.
2 slices white or wheat sandwich bread (preferably Pepperidge Farm Very Thin)
good quality salted butter, at room temperature
salt and freshly ground pepper
Peel the cucumber and cut 8 thin rounds. Spread one side of a slice of bread with about 1 teaspoon of butter and arrange the cucumber in overlapping rows over the butter. Sprinkle the cucumber with salt and pepper to taste. Butter the second slice of bread and make a sandwich. Slice off the crusts and cut the sandwich into 3 equal rectangles. Eat, accompanied by a glass of homemade iced tea or white wine.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).