Let’s talk a little Baking 101 this week! One of the biggest questions I always get asked is, which butter should I use when baking? Unsalted butter or salted butter? So let’s dive into this question and figure out which is the best to use and why!
So believe it or not I wasn’t a big baker growing up. Baking wasn’t a big thing in my family growing up. My mother and grandmother passed on skills like how to ride a horse not how to make a batch of biscuits.
But like every American kid I baked up some classic chocolate chip cookies from the back of the yellow bag. And of course one of the major ingredients chocolate chip cookies calls for is butter. Mm, butter. And butter is butter right? It’s all the same, isn’t it? I would grab whatever was in the fridge. Salted, unsalted, that tub of Country crock – I mean it says butter on the package so it must all behave the same way. Right? Wrong.
In a tub, in a stick, salted, not salted. Well turns out it’s the not the same! So I wanted to dive into the differences between these two types of butter and how to bake with them both. Ok we’re gonna dive into a little more than that, but you love nerding out on things like which butter is better for baking, right? Me too.
Let’s dig in…
What’s The Difference Between Unsalted Butter And Salted Butter?
The big obvious difference between these two types of butter is that salted butter contains salt, and unsalted butter does not.
So you might be wondering if salted butter contains salt, and my recipes needs salt, can’t I just add salted butter and leave out the salt? Here is why I don’t suggest you do that. Not all salted butter contain the same amount of salt.
Using salted butter can make it harder to control the amount of salt in the recipe. I always recommend using unsalted butter, so you can control the amount of salt.
Another big difference between these two types of butter is that salted butter has a longer shelf life. The salt in the butter acts as a preservative and can remains on a shelf for 3-4 months! So yes, unsalted butter has a shorter shelf life. This means that unsalted butter is therefore fresher. And yes, I can taste the difference. Call me picky, but I can!
Salted butter = longer shelf life, not as fresh
Unsalted butter shorter shelf life, fresher
Can I Substitute Salted Butter For Unsalted Butter In A Recipe?
As much as I preach to use unsalted butter, I get it life happens. Sometimes salted butter is all you have! Or you pick up the wrong box at store (ahem, me! I’ve done this!). And I hate to waste things (especially food) so yes I have used salted butter in my recipes in a pinch. (See what I did there with that pun?) 😉
So can you substitute? Yes you can!
For every 1/2 cup (1 stick, 113 g) of unsalted butter = use the equal amounts salted butter + reduce the salt by 1/4 teaspoon
And the same goes for using unsalted butter when salted butter is called for in the recipe:
For every 1/2 cup (1 stick, 113 g) of salted butter = use the equal amounts unsalted butter + increase the salt by 1/4 teaspoon
So Which Butter Is Best For Baking?
When it comes to baking, it’s best to use unsalted butter or what’s specified in the recipe.
And again as mentioned earlier, I prefer unsalted over salted butter due to its freshness and taste. But salted butter does serve a purpose! Save that salted butter for after your baked goods are done. Slather on some salted butter on to your dinner rolls, pancakes, or a slice of homemade bread.
Margarine Vs. Butter -What’s Best?
Unsalted butter gives you the best control and you get the best sweet creamy fresh flavor of butter. However that being said, you may not be able to use butter, due to allergies, lifestyle preferences (veganism), or just due to the increased cost.
So what about those buttery tubs or margarine? Butter spreads, or margarine, do not react the same way in your recipe and will affect your results. You may need to use margarine for a friend who is vegan or has an allergy. But just be aware, that swapping your butter sticks for the margarine kind will result in textural differences.
Swapping out the butter and using margarine or buttery spreads will result in cookies that spread out more and are less crisp and cakes that aren’t as tender.
Margarine also contains salt so you will also need to reduce the salt in your recipe. Use the same rule of thumb as mentioned above for salted butter (reduce by 1/4 tsp. for ever 1/2 cup of butter).
Here’s a great article of seeing the side by side difference of margarine vs. butter from Food 52. And as you can see in the article, some people preferred margarine over butter! Me? I’ll take butter all day long.
And to prove myself right I decided to a little test. I tested two different batches of the same cookie recipe. Everything was the same except one batch used maragarine, and one used unsalted butter. I did reduce the salt in the margarine recipe. Everything else was the same. I measured the ingredients by weight to ensure the best accuracy. I mixed them the same amount of time, used a cookie scoop and baked them on two small baking sheets side by side in the oven. And the results?! Well here you go….
Here is are the results of the two batches of these small batch chocolate chip cookies that I tested with margarine vs. butter.
The Results: As you can see the cookies did spread a bit more on the butter version. I expected that since butter contains water and margarine doesn’t. The butter cookies had crispier edges, but a softer chew. The margarine cookies didn’t spread as much, and at first glance were the cookie I might have grabbed first on appearance alone. But they were a tad chewy for me. And of course were missing that buttery goodness, and had a bit of greasy mouthfeel.
So my personal preference? Butter! I also gave them to fiancé as a fun blind taste test. What did he prefer? “I think I prefer the first one” again not what he was expecting based on appearance either! And the first one…(drumroll please)…butter!! Yes we are a butter household, friends.
So what did we learn today? Unsalted butter for baking for the win!
Let’s Bake With Some Butter!
Here are some wonderful ways to start baking with butter!
- Homemade butter: Try making a batch homemade flavored butter for all breads. Try this 5-minute, 3 ingredient homemade honey butter or cinnamon honey butter to spread on all your biscuits and rolls.
- Cookies: Make a batch of Andes mint cookies, brown sugar chocolate chip cookies, or lemon cookies.
- Cakes: Whip up my perfect sour cream pound cake or my vanilla layer cake recipe.
- Frosting: Mix up a batch of vanilla buttercream frosting, chocolate buttercream frosting, or my easy cream cheese frosting.
More Baking 101 Posts To Nerd Out On
- Baking 101: Getting To Know Your Oven
- How and Why You Need To Measure Your Flour Accurately
- What Are The Different Flours and How To Use Them
- How To Soften Butter (3 Easy Ways!)
- What Does Butter Do In Cookies?
- 10 Reasons Your Cookies Spread Too Much
- Which Flour Is Best For Cookies?
If you want to become a better baker then be sure to check out my Ultimate Baking Bootcamp online class!