Lamb for Easter is a time-honored tradition, but we don’t just mean roasted leg of lamb. There’s also the butter lamb traditional to Polish, Russian, and Slovenian Catholic Easter tables, and it’s surprisingly easy to make yourself.
In some parts of the country this time of year, you’ll find ready-made butter lambs in mom-and-pop markets specializing in foods from Central or Eastern Europe, but it really is simple (and gratifying) to make your own.
If you’ve ever been to a state fair in dairy country, you may have seen professional butter sculptures of, say, likenesses of President Obama or Harry Potter, and you may be extremely suspicious of the above claim. But trust us. Your butter lamb might not look perfect, but it’ll be adorable—or at the very least, hilarious, in that “Nailed It“/cake wrecks kind of way. Memorable, for sure.
You can buy a mold, whether a traditional Polish wooden lamb mold or a modern silicone lamb mold meant for candymaking and crafts (bonus: you can make individual lambs for each place setting). You might even be able to make an extra-large butter lamb using a lamb cake mold. But we went with the fully handmade, whittled butter lamb first outlined for us by Chowhound Capn Ron in 2012.
The only special tools you need are a fine mesh strainer and a paring knife.
- 1-2 pounds salted butter, preferably in a single block or roll (you may need extra butter for the fur)
- 4 whole cloves
- fresh herbs (optional)
Winco Fine Mesh Strainer, $6.39 on Amazon
For making the fur!
Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Paring Knife, $15.29 on Amazon
For applying the fur (and whittling the lamb).
How to make a butter lamb
1. Allow butter to soften on the plate on which you plan to display your lamb. (You won’t be able to slide it off onto another serving platter later, at least not without risking your precious artwork.) Keep checking until the butter is at the point when you can easily mold it into the shape of a lamb’s body. If you’re working with multiple blocks of butter, press and smooth them together with your fingers (make sure your hands are spotlessly clean and dry, obviously).
2. Working with your fingertips and a small knife, trim and sculpt the butter into the shape of a lamb. Basically, you’re looking for one big block of butter with rounded edges/sides, with a head at the front. Keep the neck short; in Capn Ron’s experience, if you put the head on a long neck, your lamb can end up looking like a dog. Save all the pieces of butter you’re shaving off, because you’ll use them to make the fur later.
3. If the butter gets too soft while you’re sculpting the lamb, just pop it in the freezer to let it firm up a bit. The proper butter texture is crucial—not too hard and not too soft, and it’s mostly a matter of personal judgement. The good thing about butter is that it’s so malleable, it’s easy to fix any mistakes! Here’s about what your lamb should look like before you start making and applying the fur:
4. Make the fur by pushing the butter scraps you saved through a fine mesh strainer. Again, proper temperature and texture is important; you want the butter to be somewhat hard, so place it in the freezer if it gets too soft. As you push the butter through the mesh strainer, it will form strands that look surprisingly woolly. Carefully pry pieces of woolly butter off the strainer with a paring knife, and apply them to the lamb’s body, starting around the neck. You may need to bring in extra butter if you run out of sculpture scraps while making the fur.
5. Once the lamb is covered in fur, use cloves for its eyes, nose/mouth, and one rear hoof.
6. If you like, place some fresh herbs around the base of your butter lamb to give it a grassy bed (and help hide any less-than-perfect parts on the bottom). We used thyme and were pleased with the meadow effect.
Ta-dah! You’re the proud sculptor of a butter lamb!
Note: As first-time butter lamb sculptors, we forgot to put fur on top of the head, which gives our little lamb a slightly odd bald effect (and highlights his misshapen cranium), but the rustic, one-of-a-kind nature of each butter lamb creation is something to celebrate, right?
Next, try your hand at homemade marshmallow Peeps!
And if you make your own butter lamb, share it with us in the comments or on Instagram @Chowhound!
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