A pat of butter is a term used to refer to a small dollop of butter that is ornamentally shaped and placed on a table.
Pats of butter had their heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Restaurants would press the butter into decorative molds before sending them out with baskets of bread. Each pat would be an individual serving.
At home, upper and middle-class people would also press their butter into molds for special occasions for a little bit of flair and poshness. In some cases, the servants would do the patting.
Nowadays, pats of butter are little square servings of butter often wrapped in foil packets or plastic tubs. These are usually seen in restaurants and hotels rather than the home.
Why is it called a pat of butter?
There are a couple of plausible reasons for the name.
The earliest explanation comes from the tools used to make butter. These are called Scotch hands or butter pats depending on where you come from.
Butter pats are wooden paddles that have a grooved side and a smooth side. They were used to squeeze the buttermilk out of blocks of butter and to distribute salt through the butter.
These wooden butter pats were needed because handling butter with bare hands would cause it to melt. Butter pats allow you to handle the butter without melting it.
Some argue that a pat of butter is so named because of the tools used to make it.
Another explanation is that when pats of butter were being molded for use in restaurants, chefs would pat larger dollops of butter into the molds.
The final explanation for the name is less pleasant. The word ‘pat’ can be used to describe a compact mass of soft material.
The name is supposed to reflect the sound something soft like butter makes when dropped into a pile.
It is from this meaning that we get the term cowpat which is a pile of cow dung. Not the nicest link to make with butter, I know.
How much does a pat of butter weigh?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive weight or size measurement. You see when restaurants began molding pats of butter, they just went with whatever shape and size they thought looked good.
In general, a pat of butter is one serving so it will have enough butter to cover a slice or two of toast, or enough to cover your potatoes in.
That isn’t very helpful if a recipe asks you to use a pat of butter though. So, in general, a pat of butter is about 1 ½ teaspoons of butter.
1 ½ teaspoons of butter are equal to ½ a tablespoon, 9 grams, or ⅓ ounce of butter.
If a recipe calls for a pat of butter you have some wiggle room and can use butter to taste. Some will want to go for a generous pat, others a more conservative pat. As long as you don’t go to extremes the recipe will still work.
How many calories are in a pat of butter?
Again, it’s hard to give a definite calorie count if the amount of butter isn’t fixed.
Working with the average, a pat of butter will have about 30-50 calories. Most sources and manufacturers list the calorie count as 36 for a pat.
The number of calories in a pat won’t change between salted and unsalted butter as salt doesn’t add calories.
The only nutritional difference between a pat of salted butter and a pat of unsalted butter is the sodium content.
Salted butter has 90 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon whereas unsalted butter has 0 milligrams of sodium. In a pat, this works out as 45 milligrams of sodium compared to 0 milligrams.
How to make a pat of butter
If you want to get fancy for your next dinner party you could make your own ornate pats of butter.
It is a really simple process that can be done with just your hands if you’re quick enough.
The first step is to decide what design and shape you want to go with. The easiest shape is going to be a rectangle about 1inch square and about ⅓ inch thick. You can make these by simply cutting squares from your stick of butter.
The best way to do it is to cut a ⅓ inch slice off your stick and then cut your inch squares.
If you’re not a fan of corners and edges, you could make circles or balls of butter. Use a small cookie cutter to make circular pats of butter.
Rolling the butter into balls by hand is tricky because it can melt. You can get away with it if you work fast, but you might want to use spoons to shape the balls to avoid melting.
To make a ball of butter using spoons can be a bit tricky. Essentially you need to use the spoons as extensions of your hands. To be honest, flat wooden spoons or spatulas work best.
The easiest way to get a ball of butter is to use a melon baller or small ice cream scoop to get perfectly formed balls.
If you are going for a more intricate design you may want to get a mold. Ice cube trays work well as butter molds and tend to be just the right size.
Have a look for some fun and unique designs to liven up your dinner display. We’ve used Star Wars ice cube trays to make little storm trooper butter pats!
For a real show stopping butter pat, you could try forming your own design. This is tricky because handling the butter will make it melt but if you start with very cold butter and work fast you should be ok.
Serving your butter pats
Once you’ve shaped your butter pats, put them back in the refrigerator so that they stay cool, and hold their shape.
You want to take them out about 15 minutes before serving so that they have time to soften up. There’s nothing worse than having your bread ripped apart by a pat of solid butter.
The last step is to give yourself a ‘pat on the back’ as your guests enjoy your quirky little servings of butter!