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Butter 101- Part Two

Okay, now that we have basics out of the way, let's cover some interesting facts and questions about butter.


Do you have to store butter in the refrigerator?
Answer: No. There is no solid research that shows that butter must be keep cold. However, that being said let's consider a few common sense points.


Butter is relatively low in water content so that's a good thing in slowing bacterial growth. In addition, some butter has salt in it, so that's a natural preservative. Warmer temps do encourage oxidation, so leaving it out may effect the shelf life. However, it is so much easier to spread when it's left out, so what to do?


If you are going to store your butter out, make sure it's salted butter, and make sure it's covered to avoid any contamination.


Can I substitute unsalted butter for salted butter?
Answer: Yes, however depending on the salt level, you may need to adjust any salt in the recipe. I find this is especially important in baking. Who wants salty cookies?


If a recipe calls for softened butter, isn't this just the same as melted butter?
Answer: No. Once butter has melted it is structurally changed and will not adhere to the flour in the same way and will not incorporate into the mixture. While this butter is still good, it is not ideal for baking.


Can you freeze butter?
Answer: Yes, but make sure to put it into a plastic freezer bag to avoid picking up any off odors, and any freezer burn and use within 3 months.


What is clarified butter?
Answer: Clarified butter is butter which has been heated and has had it's water and milk solids removed. This makes it almost pure butterfat and also makes it's smoking point substantially higher, thus it can stand a higher temperature without burning.


Ghee, which is commonly used in Indian cooking is a similar transformation. However, ghee is heated until the milk solids brown and this imparts a nutty taste to the ghee and allows you to store it for long periods of time. Ghee is so stable that you can even use it for deep frying. I've never tried it, but I can imagine it makes one mean fried chicken.


What is the best butter for baking?
Answer: I think that the cultured butters or at least the higher butterfat butters produce a better final product.


Can I get cultured butter that's made in the US?
Answer: Yes. Thankfully the artisan movement has expanded to include butter and there are some fantastic cultured butters made in the US. Since the key to getting the most from butter is using it promptly, this is a good thing. As with most everything, if you can source it locally, that's better for you and the planet. Most importantly, we need to support our local producers.


Butter is so high in fat and isn't that bad for you?
Answer: Well, certainly everything needs to be consumed in moderation, but I might point out that using margarine is no solution. With a very few notable exceptions, most margarine is made with hydrogenated oils, which are highly unhealthy for you and greatly increase your chances of developing heart disease. Furthermore, butter imparts flavor to your food, so you won't need to add so much extra salt and this is benefit for you as well. So eat butter in moderation and enjoy your food.

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