All About Butter
When it comes to baking, butter is king. From providing richness, flavour and colour to giving tenderness and that divine ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ texture, butter forms the cornerstone to many baking recipes.
Here I answer some of the most common questions about butter when used in baking...
What type of butter should I use?
You can buy butter that is salted, reduced-salt or low-salt, unsalted or cultured (salted and unsalted), and which you choose is up to you. I generally like to use unsalted butter in my baking. It is slightly ‘sweeter’ than salted butter and gives me greater control over the amount of added salt in a recipe. However, in general baking—both sweet and savoury—using salted butter works well and has the convenience of adding a small amount of salt to your recipe to complement and bring out the other flavours. I opt for cultured unsalted butter (also sometimes known as Danish-style butter) for delicate pastries and cakes that I want to benefit from the slightly acidic flavour it imparts.
How should I store my butter?
You need to store butter correctly, as warm temperatures, light and water will all cause butter to deteriorate quickly and become rancid. Have you ever noticed when cutting through a block of butter that it has developed a darker yellow layer around the outside? This, and if you take a whiff and notice it has a slightly sour smell, are signs that the butter has started to go rancid.
To prevent this, always buy butter that has a foil-like wrapping (light can easily penetrate thin, paper-like wrapping and the oxidation process that causes the butter to go rancid may well have started before you even took it home). Keep the butter in its original wrapping in the main part of the fridge; the butter compartment is not cold enough to keep blocks of butter in it for any length of time. Any leftover butter should be rewrapped and placed in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag and used soon after to avoid it absorbing other flavours from the fridge—you certainly don’t want your chocolate brownies tasting of fish.
Butter will keep for up to eight weeks in the fridge if stored correctly but I would recommend buying it as you need it. Also remember to check the used by date for optimum freshness. Unopened butter can be frozen in a sealed freezer bag for up to six months. Thaw it in the fridge before using.
Why do recipes ask for butter to be at a particular consistency?
Butter is used at different temperatures and states depending on what you need it to do in your baking. Here are the three most common state it is used in:
- Chilled butter is used when a recipe requires the butter to hold it shape and not be completely incorporated into a mixture – basically when little lumps of butter is desirable. Pastry is a perfect example where chilled butter is used.
- Softened or room temperature butter is used when the butter needs to be soft enough to be easily and evenly combined with other ingredients and/or beaten to incorporate air for lightness. Recipes that ’cream’ the butter and sugar, such as a butter cake, will always need room temperature butter. To test if it is at the right consistency press your finger into it—it should make a dent easily without too much pressure.
- Melted butter is used in recipes that don’t beat the butter and a ‘liquid’, oil-like consistency is preferable. Many quick-mix recipe use melted butter.
What’s the best way to soften butter?
If you need softened or room-temperature butter, take it out the fridge at least one hour before you start to bake; I often leave mine out overnight, depending on the temperature. Cutting the butter into small cubes or coarsely grating it will also help it soften more quickly and evenly. Don’t ever be tempted to soften butter in the microwave, as you are likely to end up with partially melted butter that will be unsuitable to use in these types of recipes.
One of my favourite recipes that is completely reliant on butter are these Quick-Mix Citrus Shortbread. Try them – they are melt-in-the-mouth heaven!
What is your favourite recipe that just wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t use butter?