I recently posted about the science behind butter. If you missed that post, no worries! You can catch it again right here.
The reason why I wanted to post about the science behind butter was because I already had this fun project planned for a follow-up. Because cake. Seriously.
For this Sunday Session, I put my absolute-favorite-in-the-whole-wide-world Kerrygold to the test against three other butters, to see if Kerrygold would stay at the top of the butter hierarchy.
Let me lead today with this: any and all of the butters I tested this weekend yielded cakes that are spectacularly better than anything you could buy in a store. That is to say, I did not test a “bad” butter.
I did have a clear favorite though.
For this particular taste test, I chose Land O’ Lakes (The Classic), Vermont Creamery (The New-to-Me Kid), Plugra (My Sister’s Choice) and Kerrygold (my favorite). I used all salted butter for this experiment.
You can immediately see that the Kerrygold butter has a richer, deeper yellow color than all of the others. It looks luxe right out of the packaging. I wondered if that gorgeous color would translate to a deeper color in the finished product.
Butter chosen and prepped, I got right to work.
Initially, I looked at the butter and tested the texture between my fingers. I also checked the smell of the butter, since cultured butter typically has a more prominent smell than sweet cream butter.
The Land O’ Lakes butter was firm to the touch, even after coming to room temperature for a much longer time than any of the other butters. The smell was neutral; it didn’t excite me but it didn’t turn me off either. The color was a pretty, barely-there yellow that reminded me of Gerbera Daisies. (Note: I love yellow flowers, so I’m going to wear this analogy out).
The Vermont Creamery Butter passed this initial test with flying colors. This butter feels velvety even right out of the refrigerator, and it has an amazing tangy smell that tells you right way that it’s a cultured butter. The color had a more golden hue that made me think of daffodils.
The Plugra butter also has a rich texture right out of the refrigerator; the higher butterfat content means that it will melt right in your fingers. The smell is fairly neutral, even though it is a cultured butter, but that could have been because my nose was still recovering from the wonderful shock and awe campaign waged by the Vermont Creamery butter. I did notice a slight tang to the butter, but it was still more neutral than tangy. Color-wise, the Plugra butter reminded me of the soft yellow hyacinth.
When I say that my camera had a hard time capturing the color of the Kerrygold…
Y’all. It kept sending my lens out of focus. I finally got a shot but boy is it aggressively golden, almost like one of the pansies in my garden:
The Kerrygold smell fell somewhere between the Plugra’s hint-of-tanginess and Vermont Creamery’s out-of-this-stratosphere tanginess. Which is to say that it was pleasantly tangy, but the smell is very balanced with the other sensory elements. Texture-wise, this butter was about the same as the Plugra and it was soft right out of the refrigerator.
Each of them was impressive in its own way during initial impressions. I was prepared for how Kerrygold would perform because I’ve used it for years and years. The Vermont Creamery butter made an unbelievable first impression though and my interest was piqued!
Most people test butter by baking one loaf of really good bread, slicing it as soon as it’s warm-but-done, and spreading butter over the warm bread.
This is an amazing way to test butter. If I’m being honest, it’s probably the best way to test butter because it’s easier.
I decided to bake four cakes. Because apparently the hard way is in my DNA. But honestly, I wanted to see how each butter performed in baking, so I actually needed to bake something (and why not cake?). Eating butter and baking with butter can be very different experiences.
Each cake used exactly the same techniques and ingredients. The only difference between the four was the butter. That way, I could be sure that any difference in each cake was the result of the butter that I used.
Onto the fun!
In the Mix
I started by creaming each butter with sugar. Creaming is the process of basically whipping butter and sugar together, right at the beginning of baking, in order to create wonderful air pockets that aid in the rising process. During creaming, you’re looking for the butter to become lighter in color and create a creamy mixture with the sugar.
As much as I tried to cream the Land O’ Lakes butter on high speed, it would not come together like the other three butters. I have to admit, this made me kind of skeptical. But I grew up with Land O’ Lakes and it has a very special place in my heart, so I wasn’t ready to discount it.
Texture-wise at this stage, the Vermont Creamery butter won the day by far. It creamed beautifully and easily in about eight minutes on medium-high speed. My second favorite was the Kerrygold butter, though Plugra did a great job as well.
I wanted to compare texture and color of each batter once it was ready for the oven. Here’s are my findings:
From left to right: Vermont Creamery, Land O’ Lakes, Kerrygold, Plugra.
Honestly, aside from the Vermont Creamery, color-wise they all landed in about the same place. This was surprise number one for me during this process.
The Vermont Creamery butter performed amazingly well in this part of the challenge. The color and texture of the batter were simply spectacular. While the tanginess of the butter was tamed by the other ingredients, the batter had a decidedly sharp taste to it.
Look at me, out here risking salmonella poisoning for science.
(please don’t try this at home. I trained for this moment by licking many beaters as a child.)
Kerrygold and Plugra tied, because they both created the expected, silky texture that I’m used to working with in my kitchen. The Kerrygold had decidedly more butter-forward flavor, but the Plugra delivered an expected, pleasant flavor as well.
The Land O’ Lakes batter was noticeably thicker than the other three, and was the most grainy of the four cake batters. It was not aggressively buttery when I tasted it.
I’m happy to report that I’m writing this blog 48 hours after this test, and that no Butter Ambassadors (me) were harmed during this experiment.
Onto the bake!
Out of the Oven
There are three smells that get me every time.
My favorite food smell of all time is diced onions going into hot oil.
A very close second is lemon pound cake coming out of the oven.
Third (not that it matters but I wanted to do a gold/silver/bronze kinda thing here) is fresh bread baking. I mean holy…
I say all that to say that this entire experiment almost went down the tubes when these cakes finished because my willpower was S T R U G G L I N G.
Here they are!
Vermont Creamery won this by a landslide. I mean come on! That color is poetic! I did take a huge chunk out of the Kerrygold cake while trying to get it out of the pan, but it otherwise carmelized very nicely. It achieved a very nice golden brown color, and as an added bonus, you can see the golden inside of the cake because I removed it from the pan too quickly and…that happened.
Between the Land O’ Lakes and Plugra cakes, I liked the Land O’ Lakes color better. That was surprise number two!
The Taste Test
For my “very scientific experiment,” I enlisted the help of my darling neighbors, one of my best friends, and my TTT’s (Tiny Taste Testers…aka my kids). Here’s what the “tasting portions” looked like:
A was Vermont Creamery.
B was Plugra.
C was Land O’ Lakes.
D was Kerrygold.
I let everyone vote for their top two and tabulated the votes (I did not vote). The winner, with three first place votes, was VERMONT CREAMERY! Some of the comments were that the cake “had the best lemon flavor”, that there was “a really special taste that I couldn’t quite place” in this cake, and that “the buttermilk and lemon were really balanced”.
I clearly have some advanced testers for friends and neighbors.
I also have a new butter for lemon pound cake because I could not agree more with their assessment. And that was the biggest surprise of the day for me!
Kerrygold was a very strong second with two first place votes.
Land O’ Lakes and Plugra tied for third with one first place vote each. My daughter devoured the Land O’ Lakes cake, which triggered a food memory for me as a young girl.
I should note that almost everyone (adults and children alike) in the experiment picked Plugra as their second fave. Plugra did deliver a truly delicious cake. It’s a smooth, creamy butter with a note of tanginess that definitely earned its place at the top of the butter hierarchy. Of the four butters, I would say that the Plugra butter was the most universally liked.
Let me be very clear, Saints: any and all of the butters in this fun experiment delivered exceptional lemon pound cakes. I believe in home bakers and while I have my favorites, I will absolutely use Plugra and Land O’ Lakes again.
If you’ve read this entire post, THANK YOU. I’ll be brief at this point.
I’m choosing Vermont Creamery from this point forward. It’s an exceptional butter and it does a tremendous job emphasizing the citrus notes in this cake. The slight tang from the buttermilk is an amazing contrast to the sharp, acidic lemon, leaving a cake with perfect balance. I can’t wait to work more with this butter and I’m excited to have a new favorite!
Also, I’m slathering Vermont Creamery butter on all the bread. ALL OF IT. For research of course.
Thanks so much for going on this journey with me! I hope you’re inspired to go forth and bake!