Cornmeal cookies

Helpful Tips for Holiday Baking, Cooking with Butter

Many holiday cookie recipes call for butter. Butter is produced essentially the same way it was thousands of years ago. Made by churning fresh cream until the fats separate from the liquid (buttermilk), butter is one of the most highly concentrated forms of fluid milk.

Did you know it takes 21 pounds of fresh cow’s milk to make each pound of butter? The United States produces more than 1.2 billion pounds of butter every year. Butter contains no trans fatty acids, which, according to recent studies, are associated with increased LDL (“bad”) and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

Butter is graded by letter code, AA, A or B, according to flavor, texture, aroma and body, with AA being the supreme quality. Most butter sold in supermarkets is AA. For the best tasting results this holiday season, follow these helpful tips when using butter:

  • Keep it Fresh — Store butter in its original packaging or in a sealed container in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the refrigerator door. Keep butter away from foods with strong odors or distinct flavors.
  • How the Cookie Crumbles — For melt-in-your-mouth cookies, use slightly softened, unsalted butter. With its low melting point, butter helps make cookies soft and chewy on the inside, but crisp and golden on the outside.
  • The Upper Crust — For flakier pie crusts and puff pastries, keep butter as hard and cold as possible prior to use. The flaky texture is produced when cold pieces of butter, trapped between thin layers of dough, melt during baking, creating small air pockets.
  • The Scoop on Sauces — Butter makes sauces smooth and creamy, and creates a cohesive consistency by helping mix both fat- and water-based ingredients.  For the best consistency and flavor, use cold, hard butter.
  • Quality Candy — Butter is a key contributor to the rich flavor that makes caramels, pralines and toffee richly delicious, and it prevents excessive stickiness. Unsalted butter is best for candy-making.
  • Flavor Enhancer — Adding butter along with savory or sweet spices helps retain the flavor of the spices and works to integrate the flavor throughout the entire dish.

Source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Which butter is better?
Choosing the best butter type for your culinary needs

Salted or Unsalted?
Salted butter enhances flavor and has a longer shelf life. Use salted butter as table butter and for general cooking.

Unsalted butter contains no preservatives and has a shorter shelf life than salted butter. Use unsalted butter for baked goods such as crusts and sweets.

Other butter varieties
Clarified Butter – Butter that has been melted and made clear by separating and discarding the milk solids and water. It is ideal for cooking or as a base for sauces because it will not burn at high temperatures.

  • To make one pound of clarified butter, melt 1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter over medium heat. Stir without allowing it to boil. Butter will form three layers: milk solids on top, clarified butter in the middle and milk solids on the bottom. As butter continues to warm, skim off top layer and discard; carefully pour off the clear, melted butter into a separate container and discard remaining milk solids.

Cultured Butter – Made from cultured sour cream with a rich, complex flavor. It is ideal for baking because the lower moisture content produces flakier pastries and fluffier cakes.

European-style Butter – Made from cream that is churned more slowly and for a longer time. It has higher butterfat content than standard butter, producing a more flavorful butter that is beneficial for cooking and baking and can be used at higher temperatures without burning to produce a lighter, flakier pastry.