Butter: salted v unsalted
It seems every baking recipe calls for unsalted butter, yet sometimes salt is added to the recipe. Unsalted butter is never on special and I wondered if it makes such a big difference in baking?
Many thanks, Maxine King
Many people feel salt is in butter to save them adding it in a recipe - but salt is actually a preservative, so butter will last longer the more that has been added. I've heard it said unsalted butter is best eaten within two to three months, whereas the salted variety will last up to six or seven months. Obviously this is great for the manufacturer, as a longer shelf life means it's a little easier to make profit without wastage. In a world more and more interested in sustainability, these things are important (believe it or not, you don't make fortunes with most food products as they have a limited life - soft drinks aside as they seem to last an ice age). However, you can also easily freeze butter, so it might be you'd prefer to buy top quality unsalted and then simply freeze it. It'll still be fine 10 months or so later.
American style cookies are a good example of where you add salt to a recipe already using a lot of butter. In this case, using salted butter instead of unsalted makes perfect sense. Using salted butter to cook your scrambled eggs in, or fry fish is also perfectly good and fine.
However, there aren't many recipes I've seen where you're told to add salt to a lemon curd or a Victoria sponge - so in this case use the unsalted version. However, and there's always a "however", if you like the taste of salt then just use salted butter in everything. As a keen cake and biscuit baker as a child, all I ever had to cook with was salted butter and I'm pretty sure my baking was good. Mind you, as all baking back in New Zealand in the 1970's would have likely been made from salted butter it would have been hard to know how French or Italian pastries would have compared to us all back then. I'd like to think my melting moments would have stood the test against a Left Bank millefeuille - but we'll never know.
In Frankfurt the other week I ate several versions of Handkase mit Musik (hand cheese with music) - so called because it is a hand formed slightly pungent cheese served with raw white onions (sometimes mixed with a little vinegar) and usually caraway seeds. At night as you're sleeping, the cheese creates "music" - flatulence! It is much loved, and frequently eaten, throughout most of Southern Hesse. I was told every time I had it - and I tried three differing versions - that the rule of thumb was to eat it with rye bread thickly buttered with salted butter. It must be salted butter. In the pursuit of knowledge (and I'm greedy), I also tried it with unsalted butter and it just wasn't the same. It wasn't any better when I sprinkled salt over the unsalted version either. Which goes to show that butter is actually quite complex and comes in many shapes and forms, and prices.
If you want to try what I consider to be the best butter in New Zealand - then search out Lewis Road Creamery. It ain't cheap, but it is the sort of butter you eat and think of as an ingredient, not just as something to moisten your toast.
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