Julia Child once said, “With enough butter, everything is good.” But good butter makes everything better, says Rinske de Jong, co-owner of Working Farms Dairy, which uses a 75-year-old Danish steel churn to convert the cream from her cows’ organic, grass-fed milk into rich, edible milk. . spreadable gold. Read on to find out what makes it so good — and answers to all your other pressing questions about butter.
What the hell is butter made from?
Short answer: Mostly fat. The process starts with separating the high-fat cream from fresh milk. The cream is then churned, which changes the membranes around the milk fat droplets, causing them to stick together and form a semi-solid (butter) as the liquid (buttermilk) drains out. More specifically, butter is made up of about 80 to 90 percent fat, plus some liquid and milk solids.
What is the difference between different types of butter?
Think butter like orange juice; there’s pulpy, low-pulp, no-pulp, concentrate, fresh-pressed, etc. Deciding what’s best for you comes down to personal preference, what you’re using it for and, oftentimes, budget. Here’s an overview:
• Unsalted or sweet cream
This is standard, no-frills, workhorse butter that you can use for anything. That said, there are big differences in taste and quality. For example, butter in small batches from the milk of grass-fed cows, such as at Working Cows Dairy, has a healthier ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids and other nutrients that give it a deeper taste and rich color, says de Jong. (Her butter is almost orange because of the high levels of beta-carotene that come from the cows’ grass-fed diet). It may also contain a little more butterfat, giving it a richer flavor. Supermarket sticks, on the other hand, are paler and milder and contain about 80 percent butterfat.
• Salt butter
Just like unsalted, but with salt added for flavor. If you like butter on toast—or anything that puts butter at the center—salted could be your jam. That said, there is no set standard for the amount of salt added, so some brands can taste very salty and others less. For that reason, stick to unsalted for cooking and baking (unless a recipe specifies otherwise). But you can definitely use them interchangeably, especially if you’re not someone who micromanages flavor. “There really isn’t enough salt to make a big difference in a dish,” says Kelsey Barnard Clark, chef and owner of KBC restaurant in Dothan, Alabama. “I’ve had people ask in cooking classes if salted is okay, and I said, ‘Girl, we’re going to add about 20 tablespoons of salt to this dish, so that little bit won’t matter.'” If you’re sensitive, let your taste buds guide you and reduce any other added salt.
• European butter
Churned longer to achieve a minimum butterfat of 82 percent, this is your favorite or gourmet butter; it tastes richer and spreads more easily. It’s more expensive than standard sticks, so if you’re on a budget, save it for any use where butter plays a major role (e.g., butter biscuits, on bread, etc.). American brands have started selling “European-style” products, offering a more affordable option.
Live, good-for-you bacteria are added to the cream to ferment it (similar to yogurt) before churning. The resulting flavor is spicier and developed. European butter is often farmed, but you can also find cultured American butter.
Should I keep my butter in the fridge?
New. As long as your house doesn’t get sweaty (say, over 75 or so), butter can live under a lid on a butter dish on the counter or in a cupboard. Ideally, it should be firm, not mushy, but still soft and spreadable. If you don’t have air conditioning or want to turn up the heat in the winter, consider a buttercup. It’s a small ceramic cup that you mash or spoon butter into and then place upside down in a matching cup with water in the bottom, keeping the butter fresh and cool. Store sticks not currently in use in the refrigerator or freezer.
How important is it to follow a recipe that calls for cold or soft butter?
Pretty important. Ice cold butter makes cookies, scones, and other pastries flaky. (Use a food processor or grater to make it workable.) Soft butter is best for soft cookies and cakes.
Can I soften butter in the microwave?
Yes. Just be sure to cut it into tablespoon-sized pieces and heat in 10-second increments, stirring in between so it softens evenly, says Barnard Clark.
What’s the best way to grease a pan?
Most people just rub the end of a hard stick of butter around and stop. For best results, Barnard Clark recommends using warm or room temperature butter and painting it on with a pastry brush.