You might notice that some recipes call for adding a pad of butter while others suggest using a pat of butter. So which is it — a pad or pat of butter?
What is a pad of butter?
The short answer is that there is no such thing as a pad of butter. If someone uses that term in their recipe, what they really mean is a “pat” of butter. Saying a “pad” of butter is a malapropism—a mistaken word used in place of a correct word that sounds a lot like the correct word. It would be like saying Alcoholics Unanimous rather than Alcoholics Anonymous. Perhaps people who say pad of butter are imagining the tidy squares cut from a stick. One of those squares kind of looks a pad, right?
What is a pat of butter?
There is no universal agreement of exactly how much butter is in a pat. It is, however, generally considered to be a small portion, usually under a tablespoon and probably somewhere around a teaspoon and a half. You could think of a pat as being just the right amount for buttering your toast. When some people refer to a pat of butter, they mean the amount contained in those small, prepackaged tubs found in restaurant butter bowls.
Where did “a pat” of butter come from, anyway?
Ever notice that you never hear about a “pat” of anything besides butter? There’s never a pat of chocolate or a pat of mustard. It’s because a “pat” is only for butter. The term “pat of butter” originated from high-end restaurants presenting their customers with individual servings of butter molded into decorative shapes like swirls or flowers. How did the butter get into the molds? It was “patted” in. The amount contained in a single mold became known as a pat of butter.
What other butter measurements are there?
A stick of butter – There are eight tablespoons in a stick of butter.
A knob of butter – This British English term, like a pat, is also a non-specific amount of butter, although somehow, cooks seem to intuitively understand that a pat is smaller than a knob. Some sources feel that a knob is over a tablespoon of butter or could even be two tablespoons. When you start talking about small knobs versus large knobs of butter, things can get really imprecise. What is or what isn’t a knob of butter should probably be left up to the whim of the chef.
A lump of butter – This archaic measurement isn’t seen very often other than in 18th century cookbooks. Today, a lump of butter is thought to have been comparable to a heaping tablespoon of butter.
The moral of the pad versus pat butter controversy is that when you are confronted with a mysterious butter measurement, the best thing to do is use your instinct. Ask yourself what makes sense in the context of the recipe, and you will be just fine.