Salted or unsalted, butter or margarine? Things every home baker should know about baking with butter.
Without this vital ingredient, cake as we know it would cease to be. Sponges would be dry and unpalatable and fluffy whipped frostings would be non-existent. We’re talking about butter!
Used by the slab in baking, basted over a roasting chicken or stirred into creamy sauces, butter is one ingredient no cook should be without.
Too many spoonfuls of the stuff, however, may expand your belt by a few notches. This is because most butter has around 80 per cent fat content, so it is best not to eat too many foods that are made using lots of it. But when it comes to taste, it’s butter that gives pastry its melt-in-the mouth flakiness, sauces and gravies their glossiness and sponge its moist buttery crumb.
Butter is made when cream is churned; this action separates the solids from buttermilk, which is another useful baking ingredient in its own right, going towards making recipes such as American pancakes and red velvet sponges.
Some farmers choose to churn their butter by hand and locally produced butters can produce wonderful results when used in baking. If you buy your dairy at the supermarket, the butter aisle can seem a baffling place.
However, the margarine-versus-butter debate is quite straightforward if you are a baker: no quality cake is ever made with anything less than honest, quality-made butter. We certainly never recommend substituting this dairy essential with vegetable oil spreads or alternative dairy-free products unless dietary requirements warrant the swap. From the texture of the crumb to flavour and mouth-feel, the results simply aren’t the same.
Another question mark hovering over butter is that of salt. Some butter is salted and some is left unsalted, but the thing to remember when baking is to follow the recipe and always use the type of butter listed in the ingredients. You wouldn’t add an extra teaspoonful of salt if the recipe didn’t ask for it, so it’s advisable to view the salt levels of your butter as a hidden ingredient.
It can also be tricky to know just how much salt has been added to your butter, so for this reason don’t be tempted to use salted in place of unsalted.