The most common mistakes made by home bakers, professionals say, have to do with the care and handling of one ingredient: butter. Creaming butter correctly, keeping butter doughs cold, and starting with fresh, good-tasting butter are vital details that professionals take for granted, and home bakers often miss.
Butter is basically an emulsion of water in fat, with some dairy solids that help hold them together. But food scientists, chefs and dairy professionals stress butter’s unique and sensitive nature the way helicopter parents dote on a gifted child.
“Butter has that razor melting point,” said Shirley O. Corriher, a food scientist and author of the recently published BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking.
For mixing and creaming, butter should be about 65 degrees: cold to the touch but warm enough to spread. Just three degrees warmer, at 68 degrees, it begins to melt.
“Once butter is melted, it’s gone,” said Jennifer McLagan, author of the new book “Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes”.
Warm butter can be rechilled and refrozen, but once the butterfat gets warm, the emulsion breaks, never to return.
For clean edges on cookies and for even baking, doughs and batters should stay cold — place them in the freezer when the mixing bowl seems to be warming up. And just before baking, cookies should be very well chilled, or even frozen hard.
Cold butter’s ability to hold air is vital to creating what pastry chefs call structure — the framework of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and leavening that makes up most baked goods.
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