The Basics of Butter

The New York Times has published an article about butter's role in your cookie baking:

“Butter is like the concrete you use to pour the foundation of a building,” she said. “So it’s very important to get it right: the temperature, the texture, the aeration.”

Ms. Chu says that butter should be creamed — beaten to soften it and to incorporate air — for at least three minutes. “When you cream butter, you’re not just waiting for it to get soft, you’re beating air bubbles into it,” Ms. Chu said. When sugar is added, it makes more air pockets, she said.

And those air bubbles are all that cookies or cakes will get, Ms. Corriher said. “Baking soda and baking powder can’t make air bubbles,” she said. “They only expand the ones that are already there.”

The article is full of instructions, much like a recipe. And much like a recipe, you should follow the instructions.

The article suggests that people who don't have success with home baking often are not following their directions. If you do have trouble baking, take time to reflect: Are you using level measurements? Are you creaming the butter and sugar until they've lightened in color and turned fluffy? Are you chilling your dough at least as long as the recipe says?

I've been softening my butter regularly this year because I'm using a hand mixer to make doughs here at my grandmother's house. If the butter is cold, the hand mixer has a hard time mashing it so that it can be properly creamed. When I have access to a stand mixer, though, I know I can just cut the butter into pats and pummel it with the paddle attachment for a minute before adding the sugar to warm it up.

I'm glad the article mentions microwave softening is a crock. I've always ended up with partially melted butter when trying that "trick." Don't do it!

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