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Butter is an emulsion of water, fat, and dairy solids, so the trick to successfully using butter in baking is keeping the emulsion intact.

  • Don’t defrost frozen butter in a microwave, as this will destroy the emulsion. Instead, cut it into chunks and leave it out until it’s cold but malleable.
  • You know that butter is the right temperature if the cube easily bends without cracking or breaking, and unwrapping it leaves a bit of residue on the wrapper.
  • When creaming butter in a mixer, it’s ideal to keep butter at around 65 degrees, or a consistency that’s spreadable.
  • If the mixing bowl begins to warm, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to keep butter’s emulsion intact.
  • To get cookies to hold their shape and edge, chill or freeze the dough before baking.
  • For flakier pastries, pre-chill your utensils and use a cold marble surface for rolling.
  • Using your fingers to cut butter into flour can cause the butter to melt. Instead, use a food processor. If you don’t own one, use a box cheese grater to shred the butter, and then a pastry blender or two flatware knives to combine the butter and flour.

Butter contributes to the texture of baked goods through the aeration process.

  • When a recipe calls for creaming butter, let your mixer whip the butter for three minutes.
  • During the creaming process, keep your mixer at a relatively low speed; mixing at high speed increases the possibility that the butter will heat up and lose its emulsion.
  • If butter is too hard, it won’t aerate properly, so make sure it’s soft enough to be malleable.

The variety of butter you use sometimes – but not always – produces different results in baking.

  • Although American butters, European butters, and artisanal butters often have inherently different flavors, those distinctions usually fade away when butter is used as an ingredient in baking.
  • American butter must have a fat content of at least 80%, while French butter must contain a minimum of 82% fat. Some butters strive for 85% fat. The higher the fat content, the less water the butter contains, making pastries flakier.

See also quick tips for sauces, compound butters, general cooking, and clarified butter.

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