12 Common Mistakes You're Making When Baking With Butter

The best-baked goods start with knowing what to do with a stick of butter.

Vintage Boy and Girl Baking with Butter.jpg
Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts / ClassicStock / Getty Images

Even expert bakers screw up now and then in the kitchen, and often you can trace those disastrous baking results, including sunken cakes and flat, chewy cookies, back to the incorrect use of butter. If baking is truly a science, butter is the essential transformative element that adds richness and a heavenly depth of flavor to your pastries and desserts. But, because of its unique properties, if you use the wrong kind of butter or mix it with the wrong ingredients, your baking experiment can end in total failure. Make sure you're not committing these 12 baking and butter errors for the perfect texture and rise every time. Trust us, those pie crusts, brownies, and pound cakes are guaranteed to come out of the oven more moist and delicious.

1. Using Butter at the Wrong Temperature

Always use room-temperature ingredients unless the recipe calls for cold or melted butter. If the butter is too cold, it won't cream properly with sugar, which can impact the softness and fluffiness of your cake or cookies. Be cautious when putting butter in the microwave to quicken the softening process. You don't want it to become too soft. However, you would use cold butter when baking pastries and pie dough.

2. You Didn't Follow the Recipe

About that whole science thing, there's not a lot of wiggle room when baking. If the recipe suggests waiting for butter to cool before adding the mixture, then, by all means, wait—Master flop-free cakes by sticking to the ingredient list, and don't rely on your scratch-baking techniques.

3. Not Adding Anything Else to Butter

Adding spices or seasoning to butter is an easy way to increase the flavor palette of your dish. Cinnamon and sugar make butter sweeter, making it the perfect addition to sweet bread or breakfast pastries. Alternatively, garlic and herbs such as parsley or rosemary make a savory combination.

4. Don't Burn the Butter

Use a light-colored pan to help make sure you don't burn the butter. Cook butter at a low temperature and keep it moving. When the butter begins to smoke, that is a signal that the butter is starting to burn.

5. Not Knowing When to Use Salted vs. Unsalted

Most professional chefs and bakers use unsalted butter to gauge the amount of salt that goes into a recipe. Butter is salted to keep it fresher longer. If you're watching your salt intake and the recipe calls for salted butter, you can either adjust the amount or use unsalted butter. Remember, salt should be the supporting actor, not the star of your baked goods.

6. Choosing the Wrong Butter Substitute

Many people mistake substituting oil for butter because they're both fats. The problem, though, is that they're not the same. For example, oil makes cakes moister, whereas butter makes them more dense and flavorful. Since you can't measure butter the same way you would oil, even when melted, it's best to use appropriate ingredients in every recipe.

7. You Didn't Butter and Line the Pan or Baking Dish

Ever attempted to remove a cake from the pan after cooling, but it sticks to the pan? We've all been there. The time you just spent mixing and baking does not need to be in vain. To ensure your cakes slide easily out of the pan, we recommend swapping the cooking spray for butter. First, grease cake pans with unsalted butter. Then layer circular parchment paper on top, apply butter to the parchment and coat the pan with flour. Voila! Stuck layers and crumbly cake crisis averted.

8. You Didn't Cream the Butterly Properly

Make sure you're creaming butter and sugar together long enough for light and fluffy cakes. For even creaming, use an electric mixer to cream softened butter with sugar for at least five minutes.

9. Forgetting to Complement Butter with Acid

When cooking, fats and acids complement each other and bring out the flavor in a dish. Butter helps create rich, moist, creamy dishes, but acids help to proper leavening in baking.

10. Melting Instead of Softening Butter

Softened butter is not the same thing as melted butter. When a baking recipe calls for softened butter, the immediate reaction is to place the stick in the microwave for a few seconds to remove some cold, hardy structure. While this might work in some cases, often, you are left with a pool of melted butter that is useless for your recipe. Cut or grate the butter into smaller pieces to speed the softening process.

11. Using the Wrong Equipment

For browning butter, it is essential to use a light-colored pan. Dark pans make it more challenging to see if butter is browning.

12. Overmixing

Overmixing any ingredient will impact how a recipe turns out, but in a butter, sugar, and flour mixture, this process introduces too much air into the mix. Too much air is what causes things like cookies to fall flat. Overworking butter will also make it too small in the mixture, resulting in too warm butter—This is especially the case for pie crust and biscuits.

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