Sunday Session #6: Introducing My Kids to Apple Fritters!

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We are a donut family.

Doughnut. Donut. Does not matter. We love fried yeast donuts in this house. Especially the ones with a good sticky glaze that adheres to our fingers and faces.

My children ask for donuts almost every weekend, but I constantly avoid making them because they’re always gone in sixty seconds when I do make them. My mom guilt won’t allow me to make them on a regular basis.

This past Sunday, I decided to surprise them with donuts.

But not just any donuts.

I made my absolute-favorite-donut-of-all-time, the glorious apple fritter. I found this great recipe from Seasons and Suppers, adapted it, and got to work in the wee hours of the morning so that I could surprise my kiddos when they woke up.

This apple fritter is a spiced donut with a hardened glaze and a yummy, chunky, sugary apple filling. It’s rustic and messy and delicious. If you’re up for cheat day, and you want to make it absolutely worth it (but then get right back to it, of course), then an apple fritter is it. It is IT!

Want to see how mine turned out? Keep reading!

In This Post:

The Prep

This recipe starts with a basic enriched dough. Family, an enriched dough is simply a yeast dough that contains fat. In this enriched dough, the fat comes from eggs and shortening. The shortening gives these donuts the delicious, light but chewy texture that makes this donut worth the cheat.

As you can see from the beautiful, bubbly brown mess in my measuring cup, above, I started by proofing my yeast before starting a recipe. It’s one simple step at the beginning of a recipe that can help you avoid unrecoverable disaster after your first rise.

You see, if you’re working with dead yeast, and you dump it in with your dry ingredients without first activating it in warm liquid, you likely won’t know that it’s dead until you remove the tea towel after the first rise an hour later. I’d hate to see that happen to you, so I always recommend taking 8-10 minutes to proof yeast before you do anything else, regardless of what kind of yeast you’re using.

Cheat code: you can proof yeast while you double check all of your equipment and ingredients!

Not sure how to prep for a great bake? Check my mise en place post here!

By the time you have everything else gathered, you’ll know whether you’re working with viable yeast or not.

You’re welcome!

In the Mix

I started these apple fritters by adding the yeast mixture, egg and shortening to my stand mixer and mixing it together with my paddle attachment on low speed for about thirty seconds.

Next, I added about half of the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and mixed on low speed, just until the flour was absorbed by the liquid.

As you can see, it’s a shaggy, lumpy mess. But that’s okay! It’s supposed to look like that!

Time for the dough hook and the rest of the flour! I mixed the rest of the flour and let my mixer go on low speed (never exceeding level 2 on my mixer) for about four minutes.

I don’t add additional flour until I’ve mixed with the dough hook for at least 2-3 minutes, because I’ve found that the longer the dough hook works, the more that gluten bonds form on their own, and the less flour I ultimately have to add.

Beloveds, the kneading process is what causes flour, water, salt and yeast to become bread. You’ll be surprised at how much it will come together on its own, without extra flour. Your patience will pay off!

If you begin adding flour too soon during the kneading process, the dough gets over-floured in a hurry and you’ll have to do that “add some liquid, now add some flour, now add some liquid” dance that is…not my favorite.

In the video, below, I hadn’t added any flour other than what the recipe called for. You can see that, after about four minutes of mixing, it is already clearing the sides of the bowl.

At this point, I began adding flour one tablespoon at a time and letting it mix for at least 30-45 seconds. After another three tablespoons, it was ready to go! The dough was smooth and tacky, but not sticky to the touch.

Once the dough was done, I shaped it into a ball and let it rest for an hour.

Fill ‘Er Up

While the dough did its first rest, I prepped the apple filling. The ingredients are SO EASY:

I know the granny smith is the “It” apple for baking, y’all, but my sweet tooth demands that it be mixed with something just s touch less tart. So I threw a honeycrisp in there to shake things up.

Anyway, onto the filling! It’s a cooked filling, so I got to work immediately after the dough started its first rest period by peeling and dicing the apples. Once this step was done, I added the apples, sugar, and a pinch of salt to a saucepan and and cooked until absolutely no liquid remained. I removed the mix from the heat because I didn’t want the filling to be too hot when I put it on the dough.

Once the dough finished resting, I rolled it into a “rough” square.

Fam, don’t make fun of my square. I did my best and it was very early!

I added the apple filling to the bottom half of the rolled dough, then sprinkled cinnamon and more flour on top. The flour helps absorb any remaining moisture that might remain after cooking. Fruit can be tricky like that.

Taking Shape

A quick foldover and the apples, cinnamon and flour disappeared under the second half of the dough.

Poof

Then I got to slicing…

And dicing…

And roughly shaping into something resembling a log. I know it looks a mess. You don’t have to tell me.

I’d be lying if I said I wan’t kind of worried at this point. But I pressed on, determined to have this batch ready in time for my children’s arrival downstairs.

No really. I literally cut the log into what I thought were 12 pieces and pressed each one between my palms. It…was eleven pieces.

The Make

The “shaped” fritters rested for another 40 minutes while I heated vegetable oil to 360 degrees Fahrenheit in my deepest cast iron pan and made the final glaze. My oil got a little hot so the first one got a little burnt. #ItHappens

Family, I love you, so I’m going to ask that you never ever leave your kitchen while you have oil on the stove. Hot oil can quickly become a fiery menace and can cause irreparable harm to a kitchen. Also, when deep frying, you want a heavy, deep pot. I love fried dough, but I love kitchen safety even more.

I cooked each fritter for about a minute and fifteen seconds per side, then flipped to the other side. You’re looking for a deep, deep golden brown. It’s the color right before burnt.

I ate the burnt one though. It wasn’t that bad.

The Fritters

Once the fritters are out of the oil, they quickly go into the glaze. Like, as soon as you’re comfortable touching them, they should be glazed and set on a cooling rack so that the glaze can harden.

I might have slightly scorched my fingers during this process.

Et voilà!

My son took one look at these fritters and started to run for the hills. But then, his angel of a sister said she’d try one bite. This story ends with me snatching the tray of still-warm fritters from them before they each took a third one!

As usual, the fritters slowly dwindled during the day when I wasn’t watching, and there were loud complaints when I took two of them next door. TWO. I’ve added these adapted fritters to my family’s donut menu and I am looking forward to making them again!

Until next time!


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Sunday Session #5: My Fave All-In-One Vanilla Cupcakes!

Home » Featured Recipes » baking with kids

Sometimes you just want a good, quick vanilla cupcake.

Welcome to this week’s installment of BwB Sunday Sessions! Since our science-y lesson this week was about bowls, I wanted to showcase a basic, all-in-one cupcake that new bakers could use to help build their kitchen confidence!

I…was also short on time. #MomLife

The recipe that I used is the Moist Vanilla Cupcakes recipe from one of my favorite baking blogs, Life Love and Sugar. This recipe comes together incredibly quickly and feeds a crowd (it yields 24-26 cupcakes). I highly recommend it for anyone learning to bake. It’s a true confidence builder!

In this post:

The Prep

Before I even started pulling ingredients, I set my oven for 350° and made sure that my oven thermometer was nice and cozy on the baking rack. Turning on my oven first meant that I wouldn’t have to wait for my oven to heat once my cupcakes were ready to bake. I also lined a cupcake pan with cupcake liners.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

Onto the ingredients!

The ingredients in this recipe are really easy, and are probably something that you have at home. As usual, I always recommend prepping your ingredients beforehand. That way, you’ll be ready to add ingredients at the appropriate time:

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

The good news is that a well-stocked savory kitchen will have most, if not all of these ingredients.

The Technique

This batter uses an all-in-one technique, which simply means that the wet ingredients and dry ingredients are mixed together.

No mixer needed.

While you can use your mixer (and the original recipe actually calls for you to use your mixer), for those of you without a mixer, you can confidently make this recipe without one, and nobody will ever know the difference.

For those of you with a mixer who are just feeling plumb lazy that day, this technique works too.

As you can see in the photo above, the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar are already together in one large bowl. I just gave them a quick stir with my whisk to combine them and set them aside.

Next, I simply put the egg, oil, milk and vanilla (the water comes later) in a medium bowl and mixed with a whisk until all four were fully combined.

Once the wet ingredients and dry ingredients were separately combined, I added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mixed until smooth. My whisk did a great job with this.

Finally, I added the water in three different pours, combining the water completely between each addition. The batter was very watery when I finished, but that’s how it’s supposed to be!

Seriously. This recipe rocks.

The Bake

Before I put the batter into the cupcake liners, I checked my oven again to make sure that the temperature was correct. Once that’s done, I got busy filling cupcake liners! I filled them to about the halfway mark, trying to stay as consistent as possible so that they would bake evenly.

These cupcakes baked for about 22 minutes in a 350° oven. I removed the cupcakes from the oven and let them cool on a cooling rack for five minutes, then removed the cupcakes from the cupcake pan and put them directly onto the cooling rack to cool completely.

I made my tried and true vanilla buttercream and went crazy with sprinkles, but you can frost the cupcakes with buttercream or your favorite whipped cream topping. The sky is the limit for this great cupcake!

The Finish

These cupcakes come together in two bowls. One with wet ingredients and one with dry ingredients. This is the cupcake I make when my kids need cupcakes for a school event and they tell me the morning of the event. This recipe makes plenty of cupcakes and they can be done in an hour.

But I should really talk to my kids about telling me about stuff at the last minute…

Anyway, here they are!

I hope you enjoyed this Sunday Session! If you loved reading this as much as I loved writing it, be sure to subscribe so that you can get the weekly update so that you can be the first to know everything BwB!

Until next time!

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The Five Flours I Keep Handy in my Kitchen

Home » Featured Recipes » baking with kids

Friends. When I say I’ve been waiting for this day.

Today we’re getting into flour.

Well, not literally getting into flour. That would truly be messy and awful, since flour is more invasive than sand. But we’re going to talk about flour.

First, I’m going to do just the teeniest tiniest discussion about the science of flour, and then I’m going to tell you about the five (yes, FIVE!) types of flour that I keep in my kitchen at all times. For ease of reference, I’ll even hyperlink to specific sections in this article, in case there’s specific information that you seek!

person using brown wooden rolling pin
Photo by Malidate Van on Pexels.com

In this Post:

Let’s get busy.

*quick note: I’m going to mention specific brands of flour that I use in my kitchen. I’m not paid to mention them: I just think their products are the bees’ knees.*

What Does Flour Do?

Think of the cake you’re baking as a house.

Hear me out. This will end up making a lot of sense.

Like I said, the cake that you’re baking is a house. The flour isn’t the bricks and mortar, it’s the invisible, interior wooden framing that keeps everything upright. Flour is the thing inside your cake that gives it shape and structure, much like the wooden framing creates the internal structure for your home.

Photo by Kristiana Pinne on Unsplash

Without framing, your home would collapse inward because there’s nothing inside to give it structure. Flour does the same thing. Except, you know, in cake. And cupcakes. And bread. And pizza.

You get the point.

What is Gluten?

When flour meets its best friend, liquid, the combination of the two begins to make a gluey, sticky mess. That mess is the beginning of gluten development. It’s the foundation of your cake or bread.

Gluten development simply means that combination of flour and liquid have begun to form a honeycomb-like structure in your batter or dough. The purpose of that structure is to create tiny cellular “walls” to trap the carbon dioxide that’s been created by your leavening. The gas forces the honeycomb to open, which is what causes baked goods to rise.

Once the delicious pastry or bread in the oven reaches a certain internal temperature, the gas…goes away. It just evaporates. But the inflated holes created by the gas remain.

For information about carbon dioxide and why it’s LITERALLY NO BIG DEAL in your baking, click here to learn about leavening.

TL;DR version: leavening creates gas that fills the gluten honeycomb and makes your baked goods rise. This gas is not nefarious. It is your friend.

Protein (Not the Lean Meat Kind)

The strength of the gluten network (or honeycomb, because I like that foodie visual), is determined by the protein content in your flour. That, in a nutshell, is why there are different types of flour for different types of baked goods.

Flour with a higher protein content is created from “hard wheat” (in the U.S., this is typically grown in the Midwest) and creates a stronger gluten network, which allows for a higher rise in your baked goods. However, a stronger gluten network means a more chewy finished product. That’s why high protein flour is typically used for things like bread and pizza dough.

Higher protein flour encourages gorgeous, huge holes that you see in your favorite artisan bread because the strong gluten network holds onto the leavening (yeast or starter) longer, so the leavening can do more work and create more rise in the dough. The stronger gluten network that’s created by the high protein flour also creates a beautiful chew for your breads and pizza doughs. Typically, high protein flour has a protein content of anywhere between 12 and 15 percent.

Photo by laura adai on Unsplash

Low protein flours do the exact opposite. Low protein flour is created from “soft wheat” (in the U.S., this is typically grown in the South). This type of flour creates a more delicate, crumbly texture for whatever it is that you are baking. For this reason, low protein flours are the choice for cakes, pie crusts, and pastry; these have a protein content of anywhere between 5 and 9 percent.

Middle-of-the-road protein content flours can play both above and below their weight class. Which is to say, they can make good bread and also good cakes, and are good for “all” purposes (see what I did there?). The versatility of all purpose flour is the reason why it is so popular; because flour is a perishable ingredient, it’s not always practical to stock your kitchen with multiple types of flour, unless you bake very frequently and are want to make every product the absolute best it could ever be.

It truly is. But it’s still not cost-effective.

All purpose flours typically have a protein content between 9 to 12 percent.

Onto the fun part! Next, we’ll look at the five types of flour that are always present in my kitchen.

Flour #1: Cake Flour

Cake flour is just delightful. Coming in at the lowest protein content (usually 5 to 8 %), it makes the most spectacularly delicate cakes and cupcakes. Some people even use it for cookies, although I haven’t tried that yet.

{runs to Begin with Butter “Bits and Bobs” notebook to write down experiment idea}

Anyway…

Things made with cake flour have the most delightful, light crumb. That gluten network is not strong, which leads to the most tender crumb of the bunch and the cake won’t rise as high. For a yellow cake or lemon pound cake that’s just a little more special, or that divine coconut meringue cake of your dreams, cake flour is your best friend.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

I currently use King Arthur Baking’s Cake Flour (coming in a little higher at 10% protein content), and I’ve been super happy with it!

Cake flour is an expensive ingredient, and it might not be worth the purchase if you’re only going to use it once and forget about it. But it’s a luxurious treat every once in a while, even if you’re just making a mug cake (please don’t judge me; sometimes I just NEED cake).

Flour #2: Pastry Flour

Some people like perfume and jewelry.

Give me a croissant that shatters and makes a mess. Seriously.

Pastry flour is typically a very low protein flour (between 8 and 9 percent). Because of the lower protein amount, the gluten bonds that form are not as strong. This means that the pastry will be much more tender and much much less chewy. It also means that you won’t get as high of a rise from it either, since the weaker gluten network won’t be able to contain the gas from the leavening as well.

I use pastry flour for pie crusts mostly, but this stuff is THE BOSS for croissants and most French pastry.

Photo by Kavita Joshi Rai on Unsplash

I equally love King Arthur Baking’s Pastry Flour (8% protein content) and Bob’s Red Mill White Fine Flour (8-9% protein content). Bob’s is easier to find on store shelves in my area, so I tend to use it more. They both do an exceptional job when I’m making pie crust.

Flour #3: All Purpose Flour

All purpose flour might not have the star power of the other flours, but it is the most solid performer of the bunch. If I am out of a specialty flour and I need a substitute, I can use it for just about anything.

Even here, in this blog post, it’s literally…in the middle of the flours.

It really is amazing when you think about it. A good all-purpose flour could make a very good bread or a very good cake. It’s the best sixth man in the business.

All purpose flour creates a stronger gluten network (the honeycomb) than cake flour and pastry flour, so baked goods made with all purpose flour will be a touch more chewy than baked goods made with cake flour and pastry flour. Again, though, it won’t be enough for most people to notice the difference!

And I’ll take a homemade cake with all purpose flour over any stale thing on a store shelf with cake flour. #RealTalk.

I am an unrepentant King Arthur Baking All Purpose Flour fanatic. Because I also own a cottage bakery, I have also used King Arthur Baking’s Sir Galahad Flour.

Family. While I agree that “Sir Galahad” is a fancy name, I have it on good authority (the good people at the King Arthur Baking’s very official Baker’s Hotline) that these flours are the same, except for the fact that the Sir Galahad flour is enriched and that it comes off of a commercial line that’s designed to make 50-pound bags of flour instead of 5-pound bags of flour.

Both the All-Purpose and the Sir Galahad flours have an 11.7% protein content. Despite being on the very high end of the all-purpose scale, they both make surprisingly delicate pie crusts and sponge cakes. With a protein content that high, you can imagine that they make very good bread as well. For fans of The Gloria Bakery, all purpose flour is actually my favorite for my famous milk and honey rolls.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

There it is. The first and only trade secret from The Gloria Bakery that I will ever share.

Yay for all purpose!

Flour #4: Bread Flour

I talk about cake and cookies a lot, but I have an equal crush on bread. There’s something both very primal and loving about making bread for people that you love.

Bread flour is a staple in my kitchen because I make a LOT of bread and pizza dough. The King Arthur Baking Unbleached Bread Flour that I use is just…*chef’s kiss*.

I love love love a good chewy pizza crust on Friday night and a sturdy artisan boule on Saturday with giant holes in the middle to dip in soups, stews, and sautéed mushrooms in butter. Bread flour, with its wonderfully high protein content, will help you achieve both of those things. And bonus: bread made with bread flour holds its texture extremely well in those soups, stews, and sautéed mushrooms. So sop away!

Photo by Vicky Ng on Unsplash

One caveat: when using bread flour, be sure to be careful about how much you add during the kneading process. There’s a very thin line between delightfully chewy and inedibly tough. Bread is a time investment and I’d hate to see you get frustrated!

No worries, Saints! We will be talking bread techniques soon.

Flour #5: White Whole Wheat Flour

Though I don’t tend to use it all that often, white whole wheat flour is an amazing addition to my flour lineup. It’s a nice middleman between bread flour and whole wheat flour, which I cannot cajole threaten beg encourage my children to eat.

White whole wheat flour is a whole wheat flour, but it’s made from a different, milder type of wheat than traditional whole wheat flour. The difference is a milder taste; it’s more earthy than all purpose flour, but definitely less hearty than a whole wheat flour.

I use King Arthur Baking’s White Whole Wheat flour, and it’s been an amazing addition to my repertoire. It comes in at 12.2% protein, so I wouldn’t bake anything but bread or pizza crust with this one.

What kind of flour do you keep in your kitchen and what are you making? I’d love to know!

I hope you found this tutorial useful. If you love what you see, feel free to subscribe so that you don’t miss a “beet”!

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Sunday Session #3: Spontaneous Blueberry Muffins

Home » Featured Recipes » baking with kids

Spring. Hate the pollen (OMG the sneezing). Love the start of berry season.

Friends. I woke up at 4:10 this fine Sunday morning (don’t judge) with blueberries on my mind. While a more healthy person might have put those blueberries in some Greek yogurt and moved on with their day, I decided that blueberries on the brain could only mean one thing:

Blueberry muffins.

While I did have a desire to bake blueberry muffins, because this was a spontaneous decision, what I did not have was fresh blueberries or the desire to go to anybody’s grocery store at 5:00 in the morning. Fear not, Family! There is ALWAYS a big box store-sized bag of frozen blueberries in my poorly-organized deep freezer. Crisis averted and onto the bake!

Note: this is why I tend not to be spontaneous. LOL.

While I have my own tried and true blueberry muffin recipe, I figured that today was just a good a day as any to try a new recipe. This morning, that was quite possibly my delirious mind at work.

I do, however, generally believe that trying new recipes, even when we have Old Faithful recipes in our repertoire, keeps things fresh and can introduce us to flavor profiles that we can incorporate into our favorites.

Or we can find new faves!

Honestly, Saints, I have no idea what got into me with all this spontaneity!

I hope it’s not catching.

The Recipe

I landed on the “Best Blueberry Muffins” recipe from Once Upon a Chef with Jenn Segal. This recipe offers Metric measurements for its ingredients, and if you read my most recent post, you’ll know that Metric is my primary love language when it comes to baking.

I read the recipe from start to finish to determine the level of difficulty, and to see if I had all of the ingredients on hand. Aside from the fresh blueberries and almond extract (my baking is nut and nut-extract free), I had everything else. The recipe looked very simple so I was good to go!

The Prep

Of course I started by prepping my mise en place before I got started. Pro tip: when it’s early in the morning and you don’t want to prep your ingredients, that’s when you need to prep your ingredients the most!

Intrigued about mise en place and what it means to actually prep your ingredients before you bake? No worries! You can check here for helpful tips that will help you become a more efficient, calm, and controlled baker in your home kitchen. Because nobody wants to be a frazzled mess during a baking session.

The Method

There are a few categories of muffin: the ones that use the creaming method and the ones that use an all-in-one method. The “creaming” method simply means that you mix your room temperature butter and sugar at high speed until the mixture is well blended. This method creates lovely air pockets that allow your leavening to do its work and create rise.

Creamed butter and sugar look like this:

I used Plugra for today’s muffins. Plugra is a great cultured butter that appeals to a lot of different palettes, so I knew I wouldn’t go wrong with it!

The other common muffin type is the all-in-one muffin. In traditional baking, this usually means that the dry ingredients come together in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another, then the two are married and barely mixed before the batter goes into muffin cups. The fat in an all-in-one muffin can either be oil or melted butter.

Each type of muffin has its own pros, and honestly I don’t prefer one over another. When I want a muffin, I want a great muffin, and both methods can deliver a great muffin.

This recipe uses the creaming method, and it came together so quickly! Before I knew it, I was ready to take the batter off of the mixer stand and fold in the fruit by hand.

Fun fact: fruit muffins (like this one) mostly come together without the fruit. Fruit typically gets folded into the batter at the end of the mixing phase, when there are still a few streaks of unincorporated flour. That’s what I did here.

Sorry. No pictures of that! BUT if you want to see an example of what a completed batter with “unincorporated” flour looks like, as well as a technique for folding ingredients into a batter, take a look at this literally-totally-unrelated-but-totally-relevant-on-this-point video about pancakes (around the 2:45 mark):

Prepping the Pan (and a Surprise Technique!)

Batter finished, I prepped my muffin pan for the bake. For fruit muffins, this means using both paper muffin cups and nonstick spray.

I mean, unless you like scraping muffins from a pan and toasting the muffin carcasses to make parfait…forget that cooking spray, Saints, and that is exactly what you’ll be doing.

No hate! I like parfait too! (Let me write that down, though, for the next time I stick muffins to the pan.)

Tip: when making blueberry muffins, I carefully fold three quarters of the blueberries into the batter itself and save the other quarter to drop on top of each muffin right before I bake them. This gives me glorious blueberry color and texture throughout the entire muffin!

That’s exactly what I did here:

Before I put these in the oven at 350, I sprinkled some demerara sugar (I used Sugar in the Raw) over the top of each muffin for additional texture.

The Bake

I am…not patient. This was a long 35-minute bake. But it was totally worth it when these came out of the oven:

I burned my mouth eating that half of a muffin! But listen, Family. it was SO WORTH IT. These muffins are delicious and so easy to make. Including the time for mise en place, I spent a total of 25 minutes of active time working on them. The rest was waiting, and waiting, and UGH waiting…

So much waiting.

I hope you enjoyed this Sunday Session! Don’t forget to subscribe and tell me what your favorite muffins are to eat!

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The Basics of Butter

Home » Featured Recipes » baking with kids

Friends. I am the bona fide owner of a site called Begin with Butter, and I haven’t discussed butter. At all.

Let’s go ahead and chalk that up to being a rookie mistake. But it’s a rookie mistake that’s going to get fixed tuh-day.

Time for a deep dive into butter.

That actually sounds fun and delicious.

Isn’t it Just Butter? Why is This Important?

Excuse me while I curl into a fetal position and sob.

Butter is one of the most important elements in all of baking! It is one of the primary ingredients in almost all conventional pastry baking (and also in a huge number of savory baking recipes). It has an enormous ability to impact flavor, texture, and color in almost anything you bake.

If flavor, texture and color don’t matter to you, then I guess this isn’t for you (but I…have questions). If you want to improve those three elements of your baking, think of this post as your entrée into the rare air of exceptional home bakers and professionals the world over.

But no big deal. Totally your choice.

What, Exactly, is Butter?

Well, to start, butter is a fat. But it is SO. MUCH. MORE.

It’s commonly known that butter is a fat that adds a whole lot of flavor to whatever dish you’re making. But, in the baking world, butter is actually dissected all the way to its bare elements in order to decide which kind of butter is best for a specific recipe.

I can hear you now. “Sorry Shani, what?!”

Here’s the thing. Not all butter is created equal for baking use. Whether you’re making a flaky pie crust or a luscious lemon pound cake, the components of your butter make an enormous difference in your final product. Sometimes the butter itself is as important as any technique.

Let me say that again: there are times when an ingredient (in this case, the butter) is as important as any technique that you’re using in a recipe. In other words, you really want to have both of them in order to help a recipe reach its maximum potential.

So, what is butter? It’s a semi-solid emulsion, made from milk or cream, that contains butterfat, water, and some milk solids.

Saints. Saying that butter is an “semi-solid emulsion” is just a fancy way of saying that butter is not quite liquid and not quite solid. It’s somewhere in between and it’s composed of fat and liquid that can be separated from one another.

The fat content is key in butter. In the U.S., in order to even qualify as “butter”, a product has to have at least 80% butterfat.

TL;DR version: Butter is a fat. So it contains a lot of fat.

American Butter and European/ “European-Style” Butter.

American butter is most commonly known as “sweet cream butter” or “unsalted butter”, and most American butters weigh in right at that 80% butterfat mark. Land O’ Lakes, a name that is synonymous with butter in the United States, sits exactly at 80%. Land O’ Lakes is the standard bearer of American butters; it’s actually the one that my mother used when I was growing up.

European or “European-style” butters typically range from 82-83% butterfat, which leads to a much more distinct buttery flavor.

**note: when I say “European-style”, that just means that these are butters with at least 82% butterfat content that are not actually produced in Europe. A couple of examples of “European-style” butters are Plugra (American) or Vermont Creamery (American).**

Some European/European-style butters can get as high as 86% butterfat. This next-level butterfat content leads to the glorious, gluttonous holy grail of butters that’s meant to be slathered on warm, fresh artisan bread. This butter can be extremely hard to come by, but it’s worth the exorbitant price tag for a special occasion.

The true distinction between American and European/European-style butter, though, is that European/European-style butter is usually “cultured”. This does not mean that European/European-style butter has better manners and observes afternoon tea. This does mean that the milk or cream is infused with active cultures (bacteria) and left to ferment before churning, leading to a distinctly tangy flavor in the finished product.

Chile. That tang is IT.

Butterfat?

Yes! Butterfat!

When milk or cream are churned, they separate into two main parts. Butterfat is the semi-solid element that separates from the liquid and is the main component in any butter.

The total difference between 80% butterfat Land O’ Lakes and 82% butterfat Kerrygold Irish butter is actually much more than you’d think. Yes, baked goods with an 82% butterfat butter will be noticeably more buttery.

In addition, butter with a 2% higher butterfat content creates a softer texture for your cakes and adds a very noticeable golden color to your cookies (this is especially true for my boo thang Kerrygold, which is an Irish butter that is known for its gorgeous golden hue).

Butter with a higher butterfat content also comes to room temperature more quickly for baking, since higher butterfat content means less water and that equals faster melt (this is a blessing for cakes and an absolute, soul-crushing, demoralizing curse for pies; you can overcome this with practice though.)

This is some delicious 82% butterfat butter in a blueberry pie crust. This…is an experience.

In short, when baking, less water and 82% butterfat takes your baked goods to the next level.

What is Cultured Butter?

Two major types of butter are sweet cream butter and cultured butter. Sweet cream butter is butter made from milk or cream and churned shortly after milking. Cultured butter is still butter from milk or cream, but with one distinctive difference: active cultures and time.

Active cultures are live bacteria that are added to milk and allowed to sit, or ferment, for a period of time (typically 12-36 hours or so). After that fermentation is done, then the milk is churned into butter. Since cultured butter is usually European/European-style butter, it’s typically churned longer than American butter in order to separate more fat from the water and achieve that higher butterfat content, in addition to that tangy je ne sais quois from the fermentation process.

My mouth is watering.

Salted vs. Unsalted?

To salt or not to salt…THAT, friends, is the question.

Salted butter is butter that has salt added during the churning process. The salt adds a bit of flavor and also serves as a preservative for the butter.

“Preservative” just means that natural salt helps butter last longer in the refrigerator case of your local grocer and in your refrigerator, y’all. I’m not talking about those preservatives that none of us can spell or say.

Unsalted butter is…butter without salt. Because it lacks salt, it doesn’t last as long on store shelves or in your refrigerator. Butter can be frozen in its original packaging, though, so if you find yourself doing bulk butter shopping, you won’t have to worry about this as much.

I cannot be the only person who does bulk butter shopping.

Which One Should I Use for Baking?

Like many things with baking, which butter you use is a personal preference. It’s my opinion that baked goods made with cultured, higher-butterfat butter taste noticeably better than baked goods made with sweet cream butter.

These are some examples.

BUT

If the only thing available is sweet cream butter, by all means use it! I would never encourage someone to avoid the experience of baking because they didn’t have the right butter. That’s neither the purpose of this post nor is it the purpose of this blog. There are so many beautiful experiences that you can have during the baking process; I would never discourage anyone from baking because they didn’t have cultured European butter at their disposal.

We don’t do elitism here.

Plus, anything you make at home is going to taste much, much better than just about anything you can buy. I believe in you.

My Favorite Things.

This is the point where I get to wax poetic about my journey to my favorite butter.

I’ve tried a bunch of them since I really got started in 2013. Of course I began with what I knew (Land O’ Lakes), and then bounced around with some other brands before I discovered cultured European-style butter.

I have never looked back. I tried Plugra first, since my sister recommended it.

BUT THEN…

I stumbled onto Trader Joe’s “Trader Jacques” brand and Saints I was changed. Trader Jacques doesn’t get the credit it deserves but that’s only because of the fact that it’s not widely available at other stores. If you are in Trader Joe’s and you have the opportunity to stock up on their butter, BUY IT ALL.

Unless, you know, they tell you that you can’t. Otherwise this is a strong buy. The looks from other patrons at checkout would totally be them appreciating your knowledge of fine French butter.

Trader Joe’s is pretty far from me, and I wanted something more accessible for my Cupcakes and Cocktails birthday party a few years ago (or at least something that could be delivered so I could avoid looking like a butter creep in the store). So, I went on a search to find another perfect butter.

After lots of internet research and a couple of trials, I found Kerrygold and folks I CANNOT. I am at a total loss for words about how much I love this butter. It delivers a perfect crumb every single time. The color is so vibrant that it can actually look filtered in pictures. When I cut into a lemon pound cake, I get the most luscious and perfect aroma of butter.

I can actually smell butter right now.

Currently, I prefer salted Kerrygold butter. In my experience, cultured and salted butter adds an unidentifiable umami to baking when it’s done correctly. It’s what my kids and I used in our first Sunday Session, and it performed unbelievably well on the cookies that we made. This does take trial and error, though, so if you’re new to baking, I would recommend using an unsalted, cultured butter until you have developed your baking taste.

Baking with salted butter can be very rewarding, but it can quickly go wrong if you don’t remember to adjust the amount of salt in your recipe to accommodate for the salt in your butter. For beginners, this can be a lot to remember and a very frustrating experience.

Whatever butter you choose, may you have incredible baking experiences and may you form many memories of laughing, hugging, and baking with your loved ones.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting! Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re here so that you can get notified with more helpful baking science tips!

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