How to Make a Handmade Butter Dish and Fill it With Compound Butter!

Build a better butter dish!

handmade butter dish

It’s Thanksgiving day here in America, and because Thanksgiving often involves indulging in delicious food, I am continuing the tradition of posting a food recipe, as well as a how-to project. Today’s post focuses on one of my favorite food ingredients: Butter! First, Ann Rule will take you through the process of making a handmade butter dish. Then she will share some recipes for compound butter. If you are unfamiliar with compound butter, it is butter that has been flavored with various ingredients for create both savory and sweet tastes. And there might just be enough time to whip some up for your Thanksgiving feast! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

PS: See this post in the archives on how to make a French butter dish!


Butter is an essential ingredient in cooking and having it ready available and stiffened enough for use requires a good butter dish. This handmade butter dish is long and wide enough for ½ cup (one stick) of Elgin-style (U.S. East Coast – long narrow sticks) butter.

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Forming the Handmade Butter Dish

I make my handmade butter dish similar to the way I make my clay salt and pepper shakers. To create a template for the lid, cut two Styrofoam balls to have flat surfaces measuring 2½ inches in diameter. Rub the flat section with coarse sandpaper to refine the surface if needed.

For the butter dish base construction, make a template. Place the flat parts of the Styrofoam balls side by side on top of a sturdy surface such as foam insulation from your local home store or scrap plywood, so that there is a 1-inch gap between the two balls. Add ½ inch around the outline of the two ball halves to form an oval shape that is ½ inch larger than the silhouette of the Styrofoam balls. Mark and cut out the wood or foam template. The total measurement from end to end should be 7½ inches. The total measurement from side to side should be 3½ inches. I added a small handle to my template, but this is optional (1).

1 The cutout should measure 7½ in. across and 3½ in. wide. Place the 2½ in. Styrofoam balls on top to give reference.

2 Place the 2 in. piece of foam on a sturdy surface. Place the cut slab on the foam. Push down on the to impress the slab.

Next, roll out a clay slab about 3⁄8-inch thick and rib it smooth on both sides. Place your base template over the slab and measure about a ½ inch oval outline beyond the template. Cut the clay out along that line. Soften and round the edges.

Place the cut clay slab on top of a large piece of soft foam. Position the thick rigid insulating foam template in the center of the slab. Use both hands to press firmly down on top of the template (2). The pressure will be enough to cause the excess clay to curl up around the template.

To make the top of the handmade butter dish, roll out a ¼-inch thick slab and rib it smooth.

Place the two Styrofoam balls side by side with a 1-inch gap between them. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top of them. Gently drape the slab over the plastic-wrapped Styrofoam balls. Work the clay around the form. Remember to work the clay up against the rim of the form, trying not to stretch it too thin. Now carefully cut around the rim, leaving a little extra clay around at the bottom in case the clay has become thin (3).

3 Stretch the slab over the Styrofoam balls to naturally form an oval shape. Cut the excess clay away.

4 Turn the lid over and take out the Styrofoam balls. Then gently peel the plastic wrap away from the interior.

5 Put the slightly stiffened top onto the base. Create a knob for the top and attach it. Put some plastic on and let it dry slowly.

Let the clay dry so that it stiffens up a bit, then turn the butter dish top over and remove the foam balls (4). Smooth the inside. Compress the rim for strength, remove any excess clay, and soften the rim.

Place the butter dish on top of the rigid insulating foam template and adjust the edges so that it fits snugly. Once the top and the base are dry enough so that the clay is not sticky, place the top down on the base, add a knob to the top if desired, and dry slowly (5).

To see how Ann decorates her butter dishes, see the Pottery Making Illustrated archives!

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