Butter 101

Butter plays an important role in baking and cooking, and using the right type of butter at the right temperature will greatly affect the final results of your efforts. 

Many baking recipes call for unsalted butter. Why? Because salted butter contains more water than unsalted which will interfere with gluten production. If there’s too much water, your baked goods may turn out mushy.

Another reason to use unsalted butter is that salt will mask butter’s naturally sweet flavor and can make the flavor overwhelming.  Especially in butter-specific recipes such as buttercream frosting.

What Temperature?

The temperature that you use your butter can greatly affect the texture of baked goods. Here are some tactile clues to help you gauge if your butter is the right temp.

CHILLED (about 35 degrees F)

  • Method: Cut butter into small, even pieces and place in freezer for about 10 to 15 minutes, until very firm.
  • Test: Press with a finger; it should be cold and unyielding.
  • Why do this?: Cold butter melts during baking, which will leave behind small pockets of air the will create flaky layers in recipes such as pie crusts and croissants.

SOFTENED (about 65 degrees F)

  • Method: Let refrigerated butter stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  • Test: The stick will easily bend without breaking in half. It will also give slightly when pressed.
  • Why do this?: When butter is softened, it is flexible enough to be whipped but firm enough to retain the incorporated air, which is vital to making cakes with a tender crumb.

MELTED AND COOLED (85 to 90 degrees F)

  • Method: Melt butter in a small saucepan or melt in microwave. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
  • Test: The butter should be fluid and slightly warm.
  • Why do this?: Since butter is roughly 16% water, when it is melted, the water breaks from the emulsion and helps create gluten for chewier cookies.
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