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How to Measure Butter from a Block of it

peachblossom Aug 4, 2006 04:40 PM

I've been buying the "gourmet", organic, european butter lately (Kerrigold, stuff from Trader Joe's, etc). I agree that it tastes better than the run of the mill, ultra mass produced stuff. My question is this: the butter comes in a single, huge block. How do you measure this block for tablespoons or sticks (8 T) for a recipe? When I buy the butter I don't think to measure it out ahead of time and I use it as necessary for buttering toast, cutting chunks out to fry meat in, etc. How are people measuring out butter if they don't have a scale? Do I have to approximate the amounts out when I buy the butter and cut it up ahead of time -- wouldn't doing so also mean the butter wouldn't last as long too?

  1. MMRuth Aug 4, 2006 04:49 PM

    After noting the weight of the block on the packaging, you could then lightly score lines on the block to indicate 1/2, 1/4 or whatever, and then you could make the calculations you needed.

    2 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth
      toodie jane Aug 7, 2006 02:23 PM

      This shape of block is confusing. I'd suggest using a 'sacrifice' block to see how much you need to shave off the end to get a tablespoon, or 4 tablespoons(1/4 cup). Then practice cutting more equal-sized measurements. The visual memory should stay with you.

      What to do with your practice butter? Soften it slightly and pack it into a butter bell for table use.

      remember that 1# butter has 32 T (Tablespoons)
      16 T = 1 cup = 1/2 #
      4 T = 1/4 cup = 1/8 #
      8 T = 1/2 cup = 1/4 #

      ....now just tell me how to make this butter shape fit in my butter dish!

      1. re: toodie jane
        cleverchica Jul 4, 2012 03:12 PM

        You are awesome! This just came in extremely handy. Mwaah!

    2. withalonge Aug 4, 2006 04:53 PM

      depending on the recipe I usually weigh it or use a measuring cup with water... adding butter to displace the amount i need. (also works well with shortening and peanut butter, etc.)

      10 Replies
      1. re: withalonge
        peachblossom Aug 4, 2006 05:22 PM

        How do you add butter to a measuring cup to displace the water? Normally what I have are recipes for cookies where it's best to keep the butter as cold as possible and if I were to try to put the butter in a measuring cup the butter would have to be soft, woudldn't it?

        1. re: peachblossom
          pikawicca Aug 4, 2006 06:15 PM

          For example: If you need 1/2 cup of butter, put 1/2 cup of water in a liquid measuring cup. Add chunks of cold butter until the water line reaches 1 cup. Voila!

          1. re: peachblossom
            peachblossom Aug 4, 2006 07:26 PM

            Wow. That is a very cool technique. I'll have to try it!

            1. re: peachblossom
              Jonathan Saw Aug 4, 2006 07:29 PM

              This method, assuming you do it right, is just as accurate as using a scale (at least for baking needs). (There's some physics behind it about equal volume displacement, but that's WAY beyond my capacity to explain).

              One caveat, if you need to measure 3/4 of a cup or more of butter, fill your measuring cup to 1 and 1/4 cups, otherwise you won't have enough water to displace to get an accurate measurement.

              1. re: Jonathan Saw
                mirage Aug 5, 2006 01:25 PM

                This is how I always measure my peanut butter for cookies!

              2. re: peachblossom
                faijay Aug 4, 2006 08:15 PM

                Actually, this is Archimedes principal. He discovered it in the bathtub, when he noted his weight displaced the water, so it is very scientific. As Archimedes said EUREKA. It is one of the founding formulae.

                1. re: faijay
                  Melanie Wong Aug 5, 2006 06:28 PM

                  Brought a smile to me face when I read "withalonge's" post. This exact demonstration of measuring out butter by displacement is how the Archimedes principle was explained to me when I was 8 years old. Then we made cookies! As you see, the lesson has stuck with me all these years.

                  1. re: faijay
                    faijay Aug 9, 2006 03:58 PM

                    Me too, that's why I answered. Actually, it was my mother showing me how to measure Crisco to make pie crust.

                    1. re: faijay
                      JGrey Aug 9, 2006 11:08 PM

                      My mother measured Crisco this way, also.

                      Just to clarify (as a physics professor, I am helpless to withhold my knowledge):

                      It was Archimedes' volume, not his weight that displaced the water. Something with equal volume but greater density would have displaced the same amount of water while weighing more. So I guess that is the physics behind it-- immersing an object of some volume in a liquid displaces that exact volume of liquid. Weight and volume are related by density, and assuming most butter has the same (known) density, weighing the butter would also tell you the volume, and vice versa.

                      Archimedes' principle fully is that the buoyant force on an object is equal to the weight of displaced liquid. This allows you to calculate the density of an object (like Archimedes and the questionably pure gold wreath) if you measure the difference in the weight of the object in and out of the water.

                      Thus endeth the lesson.

                      1. re: faijay
                        Melanie Wong Aug 10, 2006 12:14 AM

                        JGrey, thanks for the correction. Coincidentally, Stanford had an announcement about Archimedes last week -

                2. c
                  cheryl_h Aug 4, 2006 04:59 PM

                  You might consider investing in a scale. It will be a basic tool for as long as you cook. Weights are far more accurate than measuring by volume.

                  1. Pei Aug 4, 2006 05:18 PM

                    I usually have some butter sitting out at room temperature, so I just scoop out what I need with a measuring spoon. But I do like the idea of displacing water. And I wish I had a scale.

                    1. f
                      foiegras Aug 4, 2006 06:08 PM

                      I agree, you gotta have a scale. It's good for bunches of things--baking using European recipes, portion control, etc.

                      1. j
                        Janet Aug 4, 2006 07:10 PM


                        Back in the dark ages of the 50' and 60's, people didn't have kitchen scales. We let the butter soften just a little bit, and then you filled up your measuring spoon and leveled it off.

                        I still do this.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Janet
                          greygarious Jul 4, 2012 03:26 PM

                          I grew up in that era and recall that the water displacement method was the gold standard, as it were. When you press softened butter - or peanut butter, cheese, etc. - into a measuring cup it may contain trapped air that you can't see. You'd have to prick it all over, then repack. It gets pretty messy. Cold water in a measuring cup is neater and more reliable.

                          As regards the OP's problem, a simple solution is to halve or quarter the block after purchase. Slice a quarter of a pound into 8 equal parts, each of which will be a tablespoon. A foolproof way of doing this is to slice diagonally from corner to corner, then through the middle. Freeze the sliced piece and break off the desired amounts when needed.

                          1. re: greygarious
                            paulj Jul 4, 2012 10:37 PM

                            I believe the Kerrygold at TJ is in 8oz blocks - i.e. 2 sticks worth.

                            Butter is less dense than water. By convention a Tbl of butter is 1/8 of a 1/4 lb, i.e. 1/8 of a stick. It is not the same as 1 Tbl of water. 1/4lb stick is '1/2 cup'

                            Note that most of the posts in this thread are from 2006

                        2. s
                          sedimental Jul 4, 2012 06:46 PM

                          I think a simple solution is to just learn to eyeball it for accuracy. I have tested myself and I I am always spot on with visual measurements. It doesn't take long to acquire this skill and it makes measuring soooo much easier.

                          1. Caroline1 Jul 5, 2012 01:55 AM

                            I haven't read every single post in this thread, and I fully realize that I am responding to a question that is six years old at this writing, but I think my answer may be useful to some. The EASIEST and most ACCURATE way to measure the correct amount of butter from a big block is by displacement. You need a two cup measuring cup that is marked in Tbsps AND cups AND metric. Fill it with one cup of water. Add chunks of butter until you reach the quantity-plus-one-cup that you require. Drain off the water and you've got exactly the amount of butter you need. Works every time!

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