Butter. It's that magical ingredient that makes baked goods so delicious, sauces so creamy and bread so addictive for those of us with a carb addiction.
When we go to the supermarket, there are lots of types on offer, with a substantial difference in price. Are the more expensive brands really better? Is "European style" just a marketing ploy? Do they taste better? Are they better for baking?
We're not butter snobs or international foodies. But the type and brand of butter you use can make a difference in your recipes.
American style butter: Most Americans have grown up with grocery store "American style" butter, which usually comes in four, quarter-pound sticks. It is a pale white-yellow color, and usually contains about 80 percent milk fat, 16 to 18 percent water, and 1 to 2 percent milk solids (curd). This is the commodity type butter, and most cookie and cake recipes will be fine with this type of butter. In fact, your nana's recipes probably will turn out best with this type, as this is what she most likely used.
European style butter: This butter has a higher fat content, around 82 percent and up to 84 percent. European butter's lower water content is critical for laminated doughs, like croissants, and other pastries. We also like to use Euro butter for shortbreads and sable's, where butter's flavor is the star of the show. European butters tend to be more yellow, which can be a drawback for icings and other recipes where a whiter color is preferrable.
Salted vs Unsalted: When baking, you should choose unsalted butter for your recipes. If, like us, you shop around for the best price, this is the safest way to guarantee that you are in control of the salt content of your baked goods. Use salted butter on your bread and toast, or in sauces where the level of salt is adjusted along the way.
Whipped or Churned Butter: Use these only for breads. They are not appropriate for baking.
We think Challenge is a good choice in this category. It's readily available, has a good and reliable flavor, is hormone free, and won't break the bank even if you do a lot of baking. The fat content is around 80 percent. We stock up when it goes on sale. Challenge also offers Euro and Danish style butters, but they are not common in our area and we have not tried them. We also like Costco's Kirkland brand butter. It's very affordable (if you have space for a four-pack) and consistently gives us good results in baked goods and frostings.
We love Kerry Gold for its yellow color and delicious flavor. It's made from the milk of grass-fed cows, and is free of antibiotics and hormones. This Irish butter has 82 percent butterfat. It's a little spendy, but check out warehouse clubs for better pricing. (Plus they have great commercials that make you want to move to a farm in Ireland!)
We also like Plugra, a US brand of Euro style butter with 82 percent milk fat. It has good flavor and is antibiotic and hormone free. It is also available in most major supermarkets. The best feature here is its paler color. This makes it more appropriate for frostings and recipes that you are planning to color a specific shade.