It’s way too hot out here today. I mean sun scorching heat that makes it nearly unbearable to turn the oven on and add to the blistering temperature. Even with the AC on, it still is a bit too warm (as its triple digits outside) to contemplate baking something right now.
So I figured it would be a good time to make a discussion post about an issue related baking that commonly plagues most beginning bakers (myself included): salted or unsalted butter….
Most of us don’t know what the real difference, beyond the obvious answer, so I figured why not investigate into the answer and enlighten us all. After all, its kind of important to us the right butter in a recipe right?
Butter is essentially the foundation of every baking recipe. Whether you’re making cookies, cupcakes, pies, etc, butter will eventually be involved at one point of the process. Despite how essential it is, butter can also be the most frustrating ingredient on the table.
Sometimes its creamed, sometimes its left whole. Sometimes its cubed, sometimes its soften or sometimes its melted. Butter can be so temperamental that if its too soft or too warm, your cookies will turn out to be nice flat disks.
Same can be said of unsalted versus salted. Each has its own properties that benefit the recipe over the other, but the main difference does lie right within the name: SALT!!!
Both unsalted and salted butters have essentially the same properties and same effects on baking. I read a great article while researching into this in which Good Housekeeping actually conducted the experiment that I would have liked to try (if the sun wasn’t trying to vacation in my kitchen at the moment). They baking the same batch of cupcakes, with the same exact recipe minus the butter. They made three types of cupcakes using:
- unsalted butter with added salt.
- salted butter with no added salt.
- salted butter with added salt.
The overall theory behind unsalted butter vs salted is the salt content. Salted butter contains higher amounts of salted present within the butter for several reasons. Salt is by nature a preservative. Salted butter is intended to keep longer and helps to mask some of the other flavors in foods that may not be as appealing. Hence why you can keep a stick of salted butter for up to three months in the fridge while unsalted usually only lasts around a month.
Additionally, due to the high salt content, salted butters tend to vary among brands making it harder to control the salt content in the recipe. With unsalted butter, the baker is given complete control over the overall flavors of the recipe as they can choose the amount of salt to add.
This is especially important in certain baked goods where the pure, sweet cream flavor of the butter is key such as pound cakes. With items such as butter cookies or biscuits, it is important to not overload the intended flavor of the butter with too much salt. With salted butter, it is intended as an all-purpose item that can be versatile from baked goods to veggies, to pasta. Using salted butter is intended for recipes in which salt is not an issue or needs to be controlled/measured.
Just in case you’re thinking, “Hey, I don’t think my butter can be that bad. How much can it possibly have?”, I’ve included a link that shows all the popular brands and their salt contents. It’s quite amazing how much some of these brands have as well as how many recipes I have that say to add salt on top of that to that.
Can you imagine the mounds of salt you’re ingesting with each slice of pie….
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you prefer salted versus unsalted butter in your cooking unless you have a preference in the overall taste. If taste is an issue, it’s crucial to control the salt in baked recipes unless you’re really edging for salty pound cake.
Now after all of this rambling, I bet most of you are saying, “So how can I just adjust the recipe instead of changing the butter?” Well my friends, I have provided the answer courtesy of Sally’s Baking Addiction.
However, before I give you this secret, I would advise this: its always better if you follow the recipe and what it is called for rather than altering it. But, if your heart in set on changing it up, here is the general rule: reduce or add 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup (1/4 lb; 115g; 1 stick) of butter.
In laymen’s terms: “If you come across a recipe that calls for salted butter and all you have is unsalted butter, use unsalted butter and increase the salt in the recipe by 1/4 teaspoon for every 1/2 cup of butter. So if a recipe calls for 1 cup of salted butter and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, you will use 1 cup of unsalted butter and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. And if you come across a recipe that calls for unsalted butter and all you have is salted butter, simply decrease the salt in the recipe by the same ratio above– 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup of butter. If you’re making a recipe that calls for 1/2 cup of unsalted butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, you can use 1/2 cup of salted butter and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.”
Bottom line, if you like salt, use salted butter. If you’re trying to be healthy or want your flavors to come out better, use unsalted butter and add salt if necessary.
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