A Few Words About Butter

Biscuit with Butter Syrup A Few Words About Butter

Saturday night, and my thoughts are turning to butter. Seriously… my brain has melted into a lovely warm pool.

Sara asked a question last week – “why don’t you bake with unsalted butter? I never bake with salted butter, should I change it up?”

Great question. And because I know a lot of people wonder the same – should I buy unsalted butter for a recipe that calls for it? I thought a more detailed answer was in order.

In short, unsalted butter is often called for in recipes so that the cook can have complete control over the salt in a recipe. But in reality you’d rarely make anything – particularly baked goods – without adding at least a pinch of salt. So I don’t see much point in buying unsalted butter – which is more expensive and doesn’t keep as well (salt is a preservative) when you’re going to add salt anyway.

My two cents.

PEI butter A Few Words About Butter

On the other hand, I do love unsalted – also known as sweet – butter. It’s creamy and sweet and fresh tasting spread on bread (or crackers), straight-up or with a sprinkle of coarse salt on top. But the fact is, regular salted butter is far more common, and so I default to it. (Ditto all-purpose flour – I generally don’t do recipes that won’t work without cake and pastry or bread flour, because most people just don’t have it in their cupboards.) The average pound of salted butter contains a teaspoon and a half of salt, just to give you an idea – and most recipes call for somewhere in the vicinity of a teaspoon of salt, but I rarely use as much. You do need some, though – salt enhances the flavours of the other ingredients, ties them all together and keeps the whole thing from tasting flat. If you ate a slice of bread in which they forgot the salt, it would be noticeable – it’s not that regular bread tastes salty, it’s that if it didn’t have any salt, it would taste as if they left something out.

Buttered crackers A Few Words About Butter

Some argue that they can tell the difference when baking with different varieties of butter, which is true; you’ll more likely notice when making more delicate or finicky things like pastry (especially puff pastry) or shortbread, and it most likely has more to do with a difference in butterfat content. The butter we have access to in Canada, made simply of cream and salt (or not), must by law be 80% butterfat; in comparison, high-end and European butters range from 84%-88% butterfat. You’ll sometimes see “creamery” butter on store shelves, or “European-style”, and sometimes they actually list the butterfat content. Unfortunately, fancy butters are often twice the cost of the basic store brand – I’d suggest the cheaper stuff for baking, and the pricey stuff when it’s going directly into your mouth, by way of a really great loaf of bread.

And remember: you can always make your own.

Yours in butter,
Julie

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March 10 2013 10:39 am | leftovers

26 Responses to “A Few Words About Butter”

  1. Nancy on 10 Mar 2013 at 11:06 am #

    FYI – You can buy unsalted butter @ Costco for 3.87 a pound and now I see Superstore selling it for roughly the same price.

  2. Marilynn on 10 Mar 2013 at 11:13 am #

    thank you for info on unsalted butter – it does not keep well at all, as we do not use much, so maybe seasalted butter would be the best…will see where a person can buy that (PEI only?)

  3. Sara on 10 Mar 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Thanks Julie! Considering salted butter is less expensive I will definitely be switching for my baking. I think it was one of those ‘rules’ I was taught when learning to bake so I never really questioned it, but when you break it down, it makes sense to use salted.
    Thank you again for your answer…and for saving me a few dollars here and there :)

  4. Avery on 10 Mar 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I’ve always used unsalted – I think it’s just what I grew up on. When it’s on sale I’ll often buy more than one package (I buy it in sticks of 4) and store them in the freezer… although it seems it’s never in there long as we go through A LOT of butter! I’ve yet to have butter go rancid on me, but again, our consumption levels might have something to do with that ; )

  5. Sue/the view from great island on 10 Mar 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    I just picked up some (pricey) Irish butter in honor of St Paddy’s Day, I don’t plan to bake with it, I’ll just slather it on a scone and enjoy!

  6. Jocelyn on 10 Mar 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    I read this with GREAT interest. I recently discovered butter, which sounds ridiculous. I grew up eating margarine, and as an adult wasn’t too interested in butter for anything except baking.

    Then one day I accidently bought organic butter and, holy smokes, my world changed. THIS IS SO GOOD. I’ve eaten more butter in the last 3 months than in my whole life prior.

    What’s your favourite brand? And why aren’t there any locally produced butters?

  7. Aga on 10 Mar 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Unlikely as it may seem, Shoppers Drug Mart often has deals on butter ($2.99 a pound, including unsalted).

  8. Vivian on 10 Mar 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    Walmart Supercentres also sell unsalted at the same price ($3.27 I think) as salted. I once took a cooking class wherein the instructor said that unsalted is fresher, as the dairies pick up out-dated unsalted from the grocery stores and transform it into salted to extend its life. Salt will mask any off flavours for a time. Personally, I love nothing better than French Breakfast radishes with unsalted butter and a pinch of sea salt! I wrap them in lettuce leaves now instead of baguette as I have gone grain-free.

  9. Mikey F. on 11 Mar 2013 at 3:29 am #

    I find it so interesting that this is such a big deal in the States. Here, is the other way around. Everybody uses unsalted butter, but it’s weird those who use it normally in their baking.

    Interesting topic.

    :)

  10. Scarlet on 11 Mar 2013 at 6:30 am #

    Interesting. Here in France the normal, everyday cheap butter is unsalted. Butter with salt is usually fancy, expensive & harder to find.

    While it’s true that you’re going to add salt, anyway, I prefer to be in control of the amount & quality that’s in y food.

  11. Carol S-B on 11 Mar 2013 at 7:42 am #

    Butter.
    I love eating good butter… or cooking with it. Margarine can be an economic save for me, but butter is my true love.
    Salted vs. unsalted: I thought salted butter had a higher moisture content than unsalted, but I see from your information here that isn’t the case. I guess, in my observation, salted BEHAVES (in baking) like it has a higher moisture content. For cookie-making, I’ve definitely noticed a difference I attributed to moisture: identical recipes/ process, but the spread of the cookie, or the form (e.g. cookies pressed down with a cookie stamp) of the finished cookie… acts like there’s higher moisture from salted butter.
    Same with candy making (almond roca style/ hard candy): I notice less precipitate, and (I would’ve sworn) less moisture with unsalted.
    I wonder why the different butters behave this way. Always so much more to learn.

  12. Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) on 11 Mar 2013 at 7:56 am #

    Thanks for writing this. Actually a fascinating read when you sit back and really think about it. Thinking about butter.. mmmm!

  13. Julie on 11 Mar 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Carol – so interesting, I was always under the assumption that unsalted butter had a slightly higher fat content (that is, a lower moisture content), but I haven’t found any evidence of such. If you took the same candy/cookie recipe and used different brands of butter, and salted vs. unsalted, you’d likely notice a difference between batches. But the same can be said for flours, too!

  14. Julie on 11 Mar 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Where are you Mikey? I’m actually in Canada, not the US!

  15. Julie on 11 Mar 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Wow, I never would have thought to look at Wal-Mart and Shoppers Drug Mart for deals on unsalted butter! Thanks for the tips, guys!

  16. Julie on 11 Mar 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    Good question, Jocelyn! Imported butters are hard to come by; according to a story last year in the Globe & Mail, the Dairy Commission only allows 3274 metric tonnes in to the country annually – less than 4% of what Canadians consume. So it’s tough to find, and expensive when you do!

  17. Julie on 11 Mar 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    Avery – yes, storing unsalted butter in the freezer is a great idea! I’d do it if mine wasn’t so overloaded I had to hold it closed with tape….

  18. Kathy on 11 Mar 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    How do you tell if butter is off? How long can you store it on the counter? I bought one of those butter bells (butterbell.com) and have been using it but I’m not sure if we go thru it fast enough for the butterbell to keep it fresh. I can’t remember if I bought salted or unsalted.

  19. Kathy on 11 Mar 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    (newbie butter user here – usually margarine)

  20. Rebecca on 14 Mar 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Have you noticed that unsalted butter usually contains “natural butter flavor”? Salted butter does not have that. Probably, fresh-from-the-farm butter does not have butter flavor, but I now use salted butter which does not have “natural butter flavor.” It tastes funny to me.

  21. Julie on 14 Mar 2013 at 9:57 am #

    Rebecca – ew! Where do you live? I’ve never seen that. In fact I just rushed to my freezer and checked two separate packages just to be sure – nothing. That sounds like it would taste funny/awful! Especially in unsalted butter.

  22. Laurie from Burnaby on 15 Mar 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    I only use unsalted butter, and have for more than 45 years. I had a toxic pregnancy and the doctor prescribed a salt free diet. By the time the baby was born and I was allowed home again (when he was a month old) I could taste the salt in everything, and preferred my salt free diet. I buy a half a pound of cultured unsalted butter 3 or 4 times a year. I love heated hot cross buns with butter, but I don’t really use it much.
    I never use margarine. It’s a fake ‘food’ with fake flavourings and colourings to fool us it’s butter. Ick
    I use good quality olive oil if I want something on toast, but I don’t eat grain products, so I don’t use it very often.
    I find unsalted butter works best in baking because you can control your salt very finely then.

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