The Butter Guide for Better Baking
How is butter made?
Butter is made by churning fresh or fermented milk or cream. This process is done to separate the buttermilk out from the butterfat. Butter is actually a water-in-oil emulsion that typically is at least 80% fat, about 16-18% water, and 1-3% milk solids depending on the commercial brand of butter.
Unsalted Butter Offers More Control than Salted Butter
Salted butter has a longer shelf life than does unsalted butter. What this means, is that generally speaking, unsalted butter tends to be “fresher” than salted butter because it cannot stay on grocery store shelves for as long. In addition, the salt content of butter varies by brand, so it becomes harder to control the amount of salt that a baking recipe calls for. Since baking is an exact science, the lack of control can make it harder to manage the delicate balance of flavors that exist in many baked goods.
What is melted butter?Melted or drawn butter is achieved by heating up butter so that it goes from solid into a liquid. The liquid form still retains the milk solids. This can be done in a sauce pan or a microwave, but care must be taken to not burn the butter. Melted butter should be done over low or medium heat, or else the milk solids will separate and burn the butter.
What is Creamed Butter?Creamed butter is a mixture of butter and sugar where the sugar acts to aerate or add air into the butter to achieve a fluffy consistency. Butter first is softened – often accomplished by leaving out in room temperature to have the butter to lose some of its firm structure and become “softened”.
Can I Replace Melted Butter for Creamed Butter and Vice Versa in a Recipe?The answer to this depends on what baked good you are cooking and what texture you are looking to accomplish. In general, creamed butter will lead to cakier textures as it introduces more air to the baking process than melted butter. Melted butter in comparison will be denser, and often times recipes calling for this will introduce another leavening agent to be the one adding air to a baked good.
Melted butter is often used in recipes that call for gentle mixing such as quick breads, brownies, muffins, cupcakes, pancakes etc. These recipes usually have a leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda as part of the recipe. Creamed butter is often used in cakes, cookies, and other foods that have fluffier textures. That’s not to say that creamed butter or melted butter can’t be replaced, just that the difference in texture and incorporation of air is something that needs to be taken account of in order to do so.
What is Clarified Butter:Clarified butter is purified butterfat, where the milk solids and the water have been removed. This is often done by heating the butter in a saucepan to precisely the point where water evaporates. The milk solids are then filtered in a strainer lined with a cheesecloth. Clarified butter is more concentrated in flavor as a result of removing the water. An advantage of clarified butter in baking is that it has a high smoke point, which means the temperature it can be heated up to before it burns.
What is Ghee?Ghee is a type of clarified butter that originated from India. Like clarified butter, Ghee must be strained to remove the milk solids, but unlike clarified butter, Ghee is cooked until the milk solids begin to caramelize lightly. Ghee is typically a little more golden than clarified butter in appearance and introduces a slight caramel flavor when used.
What is Browned Butter?Browned butter is a result of heating butter and letting it caramelize. Unlike ghee and clarified butter, the milk solids will caramelize and be retained for cooking or baking. Browned butter introduces what most people define as a “nutty caramel flavor”. Browned butter is a fairly potent flavor that can really elevate the flavors in a lot of baked goods.
Can I Bake with Margarine Instead of Stick Butter?In comparison to butter, margarine has a higher water content and a lower fat content, which will greatly impact the flavor and texture of your baked goods. It is not recommended in baking because it can have a fairly sizable impact on your recipe.
Bonus: Does Cocoa Butter Have Dairy?Cocoa butter is not from cow’s milk and is instead the vegetable fat from cocoa beans. It is typically used in chocolates, but not ideal for baking as it has a low melting point.