6 Things You Should Only Make with Butter (and 4 You Shouldn’t)
Without butter, cakes wouldn't be as rich and it'd be impossible to make tender, flaky croissants. But does butter really make everything better?
What’s the big deal with butter?
Some people swear by baking with margarine, lard, or vegetable shortening, but there’s no substitute for the flavor and texture of butter. While there are more than a few foods that NEED butter to turn out well, there are also a couple where it’s better to give butter a pass.
Works well: Baking
When it comes to baking, butter is the only way to go. It has a richer flavor and gives the cookies and cakes a luxurious mouthfeel. Baked goods made with margarine have a softer texture, thanks to all the added water. Make sure you don’t make any of these baking mistakes while you’re at it.
Works well: Swirling into sauces
In classical French cooking, swirling a pat of cold butter into a sauce or soup is called monter au beurre. It gives any sauce a glossy finish and a rich mouthfeel, amping up its flavor with little to no effort at all. Give it a try the next time you make tomato sauce.
Works well: Creating flaky layers in pastries
Have you ever noticed how croissants have thousands of flaky layers? You can thank butter for that! Butter is mostly fat, but it also contains water. If the butter is cold when it hits the oven, that water will quickly evaporate, creating steam that gets trapped inside the dough. Voila: flaky croissants and biscuits! And that’s why chilling cookie dough is the one step you should never skip!
Works well: Buttercream
Technically, anything called frosting is made with shortening or cream cheese, whereas buttercream is made with (you guessed it) butter. If it’s up to us, we’ll choose the latter every day of the week. It’s richer, smoother and more full-flavored, so skip the store-bought stuff and make your own in less than ten minutes. You’ll need softened butter to make this recipe work, but luckily we know how to soften butter quickly.
Works well: Brown butter
Just typing the word makes me drool! Brown butter is the easiest sauce to make: simply heat butter over medium-high heat until the milk solids start to brown and the water evaporates. Since margarine and shortening don’t contain any milk solids, this one just won’t work without butter! Use your brown butter in almost any recipe that calls for regular butter, or serve it over ravioli or pasta for a savory treat.
Works well: Topping steaks
I’m not the type to cover up an expensive cut of meat with sauce, but I do love a pat of butter on top of a perfectly cooked steak! Here’s how to master the technique. Whip up a compound butter recipe to give steaks an extra boost of flavor. You can slather any leftover butter onto dinner rolls or use it to dress vegetables, too. Find out more butter hacks you didn’t know you needed.
Doesn’t work so well: High-temperature searing
Every type of cooking oil has a smoke point—the temperature at which it starts to smoke and taste scorched. Since butter’s smoke point is relatively low (350ºF), it’s best to use another type of oil for searing steaks, pork chops, or chicken breasts. Here are the cooking oils we recommend.
Doesn’t work so well: Tortillas and tamales
If there’s one reason to have a tub of lard in the fridge, it’s for flour tortillas and tamales. I’ve tried making these with butter, but its moisture content ruins the batch every time. Lard has the perfect consistency and neutral flavor to make the best tamales and tortillas.
Doesn’t work so well: Vegan desserts
If you’re trying to make plant-based desserts, you can’t exactly use butter—it’s an animal product! In those cases, it’s better to use vegetable shortening or margarine for baking. You can also use creative swaps, like using avocado in fudge recipes.
Doesn’t work so well: Breakfast potatoes
I love the way butter flavors scrambled eggs and omelets, but it makes breakfast potatoes soggy. There’s a trick to making crispy hash brown potatoes, but if you cook them in butter it won’t matter. So skip the butter on this one and use oil instead—and don’t miss these other cooking mistakes that are ruining your food.