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Guide to butter serving and supplies

Make breakfast fun or liven up your next party with flavored or decorative butters served in unique ways

Whether you are creating flavored butters or using the plain variety, here are some utensils and merchandise that will help make your butter service formal, festive, or just plain fun.

Most of us love the taste of butter in one form or another. We are so fortunate that many versions exist today to meet our cooking and dietary needs.

If you have tried flavored butters, then you know how easy it is to whip up a great topping for just about any meal, especially breakfasts and desserts. The great taste of cinnamon butter melting on a thick slab of toast is delightful and the slather of garlic herbed butter on a warmed baguette is downright divine.

Butter service can be so much more than using a knife to slice off a pat or to dip into a tub. A few standard must-haves are listed below along with a few fun suggestions for serving butter - flavored or plain.

-Butter keepers. Keeping butter cool is a challenge when left out on the table for any length of time. Crocks, keepers, and boats are double-layered to keep butter cool. Fill the outer bowl with cold water or crushed ice. Fill the inner bowl with a stick or pack it with softened butter.

-Butter knives. Essential for proper butter service. They can be fancy or fanciful in design; keep a small assortment on hand for butter, cream cheese and cream cheese-type dips.

-Butter curler. This utensil has been around for decades and remains the essential item for a variant on serving butter in square pats. Butter curls are easy to use; just scrape the patterned edge along the surface of the butter to create a seashell-type shaving. The serrated scraping edge builds ridges and other designs. Purchase different styles for variety. Place the curls in a small crystal bowl and surround with ice in a larger serving piece.

-Melon ballers also give butter a little pizzazz. They, too, have decorative indentations that will add a pattern to the butter.

-Look for vegetable cutters with fluted or zigzag designs. Just slice through your cold butter to create interesting slices.

-Cooks of yesteryear used small paddles to create balls of butter. The paddles might be smooth on one side and patterned on the opposite for imprinting the butter. Keep the butter cold and pinch off enough to make a quarter-sized ball. Place the butter between the paddles and roll it around for shape. Shop for butter paddles at kitchen supply and specialty stores. You may even find unique paddles at antique shops.

For casual settings, try these butter-shaping ideas:

-Look for small cookie molds or cutters in fun shapes. You can pack the cookie molds with a cinnamon/honey butter mix, refrigerate, and pop it out on a piece of toast or on a pancake stack. This is a kid favorite. If you have cutters, place barely-softened butter between two sheets of wax paper and roll out. Return to the refrigerator until ready to use. Remove and use the cookie cutters to make shapes. (Storage reminder: butter is a flavor magnet, so keep it tightly sealed when keeping it in the refrigerator.)

-Purchase mini-muffin tins, line them with same-size paper cups or plastic wrap and fill with softened butter. Place in refrigerator to gain a slight firmness. Use a clean rubber stamp to make an impression in the mold. Any plain round or square mold will work, also; let the butter soften slightly and stamp.

-Specialty kitchen stores may carry branding irons that are personalized with initials or a symbol. These are perfect for creating a special indent in the top of a butter square.

-Pastry kits are not just for icing; use them with softened butter and then let harden in the refrigerator. Use your imagination - create single stars, for instance, or add tiny twirls to a butter square or ball.

Whether you are topping pancakes, preparing a barbecue spread, or planning a nice brunch, butter can go from mundane to fun and fancy in a matter of minutes.

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