So far in previous posts I have written facts & tips on how to use the essential baking ingredients: flour, eggs & sugar. This week is about Butter. Just like the others, knowing how best to work with butter is vital for successful happy baking!
What is butter?
Butter is essentially the concentrated fat of the milk with some water. It is made from milk, cream or both of these ingredients. Commercial butter may even be made from whey which is taken during the cheese making process. The colour of the butter varies from dark yellow to creamy white – this is due to what the animal’s are fed on, or is sometimes manipulated with food colourings. The basics of butter making is simple – they produce it by churning the milk/ cream until the fats separate from the liquid (buttermilk).
What is the best way to store butter?
- Storage of unsalted butter: up to 2 weeks refrigerated & up to 5 months frozen from day of purchase.
- Storage of salted butter: Salt gives better shelf life; up to 2 months refrigerated & up to 6-9 months frozen from day of purchase.
Make sure it is properly sealed in its foil packaging to avoid it turning rancid from exposure to air, & away from smelly foods as it readily picks up odour. The best way to defrost is to place the required amount in the fridge for 6 hours – never leave it in room temperature as it’ll end up with water droplets sweating out of it.
How soft is room temperature butter? How do I achieve it?
You can tell wether you’ve achieved ‘Room temperature butter’ when the softness allows you to ‘easily’ depress the surface with your finger, at the same time not melting.
To obtain it, all you have to do is to leave the quantity of butter your recipe requires (still in its packaging) out in the room for 30 minutes. – I never have the time nor patience to do that (or indeed remember to take it out in advance), so I just cube my block of butter straight from the fridge & zap it in the microwave at 10 second intervals at first & then careful 5 second gaps until the right consistency is reached. Easy peasy.
How do I cream butter? And Why?
To cream butter, first start off with cubed butter that has been softened to room temperature. Place in a deep mixing bowl (so that it doesn’t spit everywhere) & using the mixer, beat it till it is ‘creamy’, soft, smooth & light from incorporating the air. Use immediately.
Typically, many sponge recipes require you to whip the butter to a cream texture before you add the sugar. Once sugar is added to correctly creamed butter, it has incorporated the air in to it which would then cause a foaming action in sponge cakes. (when the cake batter is in the oven, the incorporated air is like a bubble, trapped, & it eventually ‘sets’, leaving tiny holes in your soft sponge).
Why do baking recipes call for ”unsalted’ butter’?
Salted butter is tasty for spreading on your morning toast, & its shelf-life is a lot longer than unsalted. But for baking, the taste of salt gets in the way, & besides, salted butter browns faster. So even if a baking recipe such as madelaines, pies, and buttercakes call for salt, you’d use unsalted butter and then sprinkle in the salt separately to control its saltness.
How do I make home-made butter?
Please follow this link for an online recipe I found.
One tablespoon of butter (14 grams) contains 100 calories, of which 7 grams are saturated fat, and 30 milligrams of cholesterol. In other words, butter consists mostly of saturated fat and is a significant source of dietary cholesterol. For these reasons, butter has been generally considered to be a contributor to health problems, especially heart disease.
Also, people with milk allergy need to watch out.
Can I substitute butter with margarine?
In principle yes – they are both fats. But if you are doing it for health-conscious reasons, you’d have to be aware that there are loop-holes. Some margarine contain trans fats (the main dietary culprit in raising blood cholesterol) so please read the back carefully. The water content is slightly different between the two, & because of this, the careful balance of the recipe will be mucked about & the result will not be perfect. Also the melt point is different (butter melts at body temperature, while margarine melts at higher than 98.6 degrees) which can only get you further away from what the recipe had originally been planned to do.
I personally never will substitute my butter. Margarine lacks flavour & is greasy on the palate. Butter is a natural ingredient, & is in these baking recipes for a purpose, for such examples as giving a rich buttery flavour & to enhance the other ingredients.
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After last Saturday’s successful return to the market after my 1 month break, I’ve cranked up my energy & work-volume to Max & am buzier than ever with making n’ baking!