Written by Pastry Chef Denise Spooner
Baking is a beautiful blend of creativity and science, but knowing your ingredients and the quality of them, will make you a better baker!
Butter is one of the main ingredients in a bakery or a home kitchen. Used in everything from cookies to sweet breads. It’s functions in a recipe include flavor, moisture, leavening of a baked good or to provide the flakiness of a pie crust. Fats in general are also what we call a tenderizer, meaning it makes it easier to bite into a finished baked good.
Butter is an emulsification of fat, water and milk solids. The characteristic that makes butter more superior to other fats like shortening is not only the flavor but the final mouthfeel. Due to the lower melting point of the fat, it doesn’t leave an after-feel or waxy coating on the tongue.
But taking a walk into the butter section in any grocery store we are met with various types of butters, which is best for baking? That’s going to depend upon the application it’s being used in and personal flavor choice.
Butter No. 1
Sweet Cream Butters: Land o Lakes, Breakstone or Store Brand
Either unsalted or salted. This is a wonderful go to butter for practical uses. It can be used in baking and cooking. Usually unsalted is best for baking, especially in breads to control the salt content. It’s an American Style Butter, containing around 80% fat and uses pasteurized milk. It does not contain sugar, though it is called sweet. What it means is it has zero sour notes to it. Very neutral in flavor, and great to use when butter isn’t the shining ingredient. Perfect for cookies, buttercreams, frostings that will be flavored. Be sure to use the sticks and not spreads, the added oils will affect your baked goods!
Butter No. 2
Cultured Butter: Vermont Creamery or Organic Valley
This means the dairy used was fermented first. During fermentation, the lactose ( sugar in the milk) is converted into lactic acid, resulting in a more distinct sour flavor. A wonderful butter to use as a spread on bread or if you like a sour kick added to a recipe.
Butter No. 3
European Style Butters: Plugra or Kerry Gold
Pastry Chefs love to use it when butter is the main ingredient. Like in pie crusts, croissants or other buttery doughs. But it can also be used in any recipe. It contains more fat than American butters, upwards to 86%, and has a rich, smoother mouthfeel. Remember fat is flavor but it also costs a lot more too. These butters tend to also be cultured and have a very slight tang to it.
Butter No. 4
Grass fed: The dairy source’s diet was rich in grass, which can result in a more vibrant color and flavor.
Clarified Butter & Ghee: Heated butter to remove the water. The milk solids float and are skimmed off, leaving just the fat. Ghee is cooked for a longer time resulting in a longer shelf life and may have some nutty flavors to it. This is great for uses needing clear butter like some cakes, or sautéing at a higher temperature.
Brown Butter: This is butter cooked a step after clarified or Ghee. As the remaining lactose cooks, it begins to caramelize resulting in a rich nutty flavor and a brown color. A wonderful addition to cookies or cakes to add a subtle nutty flavor!
Butter No. 5
Vegan Butters: Miyoko’s Creamery or Earth Balance
Plant-based oils or nuts that are solidified at room temperature. Depending upon the brands, they can be substituted for any butter in a recipe, as long as they are solid at room temperature. My go to is Miyoko's Cashew Butter. Works great in cookies and breads. Can be used just like dairy butter.
So when deciding between butters it’s important to know what your desired final flavor is. A high fat content or a sour note might be what you want, testing and trying is the only way to know! But for a nice neutral flavor, the basic sweet cream can be used universally.