When it comes to baking, you’ll find that most recipes call for unsalted butter. You’ve probably wondered why these recipes/bakers are so stringent about using unsalted butter instead of the salted variety, after all, does it really matter?
We use unsalted butter in baking because salted butter can interfere with the final taste of baked goods. Salt is also a preservative, so salted butter has a longer shelf life than unsalted butter, making the unsalted variety typically fresher than salted butter.
This article will dive further into why we use unsalted butter in baking and how using salted butter can alter the final product. Keep reading to find out why unsalted butter is the better option for most pastries!
Reasons Why We Use Unsalted Butter in Baking
Unsalted Butter Gives You Control Over the Dessert’s Flavor
Think of unsalted butter as a blank canvas you get to work with! The unsalted variety is generally preferred for baking because its salted counterpart tends to affect the actual flavor of the pastry.
Most recipes also require you to add salt into the batter, so using salted butter on top of adding salt later on might be overkill. Using unsalted butter gives you complete control over the pastry, making it easier to manipulate the flavor to how you want it.
Unsalted Butter Is Fresher Than Salted Butter
Salt acts as a preservative that extends the shelf life of salted butter. Since unsalted butter doesn’t contain preservatives such as salt, it’s generally far fresher than its counterpart (and, thus, has a shorter shelf life).
If you’re baking something where the sweet creamy butter flavor is the star of the show (e.g., butter cookies, croissants, pound cake), you’ll want to use the unsalted kind. Using fresh ingredients ensures your baked goods taste heavenly, and unsalted butter allows you to enhance the scrumptious creamy flavor you’re after.
You Can’t Tell How Much Salt Is in Salted Butter
Unless the butter packaging states how much salt was used, there isn’t really a way to tell how much salt is in every gram/stick of butter. Using unsalted butter allows you to decide how much salt you want to use if salt is included in the recipe at all.
Blindly adding salted butter to your mix when the recipe states to use unsalted butter will hinder the final product’s taste, so it’s best to stick to unsalted butter and add as much salt as you please later on.
Salted Butter Can Affect Your Pastry’s Texture
According to Bob’s Red Mill, water can impact how the gluten within your dough develops. Gluten holds the structure of your baked goods, so too much water can cause your pastry not to have the correct consistency or texture, as the dough will become incredibly sticky.
Since salted butter tends to have a higher water content than the unsalted variety (10-18% water), the excess water can inhibit gluten development. The excess water can result in your baked goods being pasty, so it’s best to stick to what the recipe calls for.
Reasons Why You Should Bake With Unsalted Butter
Unsalted butter proves far better than its salted counterpart when it comes to baking for multiple reasons. Most recipes clearly state that unsalted butter is preferred, and plenty of professional bakers swear by unsalted butter for their baked goods.
Here are the reasons you should bake with unsalted butter:
- Freshness. Since unsalted butter doesn’t contain salt (the preservative added to salted butter to extend the shelf life), it’s fresher than salted butter but has a shorter shelf life. The fresher your ingredients, the better your final product will be.
- Control over the flavor of your pastry. Salt has more effect on your pastry’s taste than you may think. Unsalted butter gives you a blank foundation to work with and build on, so none of your ingredients clash.
- Water content. Although water content in butter varies from brand to brand, unsalted butter generally has less water than salted butter. Using unsalted butter ensures the gluten in your pastry develops appropriately and has the right texture and shape.
You’ll notice that most cookbooks/recipes for baked goods call for unsalted butter for the most part, and for a good reason! The recipes have been tried and tested by many cooks/bakers, so trust that unsalted butter is the way to go for most desserts.
Salted or Unsalted Butter for Baking Cookies?
If you’re anything like me, you probably like a slightly salty flavor in your cookies. When it comes to these baked goods, whether it’s a chocolate chip or salted caramel cookies, you may wonder whether it’s best to use salted or unsalted butter (especially if you want them to be slightly salty).
Unsalted butter is better for baking cookies. It’s often not stated on the butter label how much salt it contains, so you don’t want to add it blindly and end up with a flopped batch of cookies.
It may seem easier just to use salted butter if you want a batch of sweet and salty cookies, but the reality is that unsalted butter is best for baking. Using unsalted butter is the safest way to ensure your cookies taste exactly how you want them to!
Why Use Unsalted Butter Then Add Salt?
Using unsalted butter and adding salt later on might seem like unnecessary extra labor. You might question why you can’t just use salted butter if the recipe calls for salt later, but there is a method to the madness!
You should use unsalted butter and then add salt because you don’t know how much salt is in the butter you’re using. Using salted butter, then adding more salt later, can ruin your baked goods. You also don’t want excess water in your dough, which can interfere with gluten development.
When you look up a recipe and see that it calls for unsalted butter and table salt separately, the extra step might seem unnecessary. However, there are valid reasons why unsalted butter is favored in baking.
Unsalted butter is always a safe bet, as it gives you security in knowing that your baked goods will turn out the way you want them to since excess water won’t hinder gluten development!
There are many reasons why we use unsalted butter in baking, and they’ve all been proven to be helpful time and time again. When it comes to your baked goods, it’s best to err on the side of safety and use unsalted butter.
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