Beginner’s guide to baking: Butter – why temperature matters

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This post is part of our beginner’s guide to baking series – catch up on the other post here.

Ever wonder why some recipes call for room temperature butter, while others need cold? Or what to do when a recipe doesn’t specify a temperature at all? I know it’s tempting just to grab a block of butter and start using it, but the temperature of your butter really does matter.  

Why do some recipes ask for room temperature butter?
Most recipes that call for butter to be room temperature have one of two things going on – you’re either going to cream it with sugar, or combine it with something liquid like milk or eggs.

Let’s start with creaming butter and sugar. Just like pretty crystals in a shop, sugar crystals have jagged edges – and that’s actually really important. As you cream room temperature butter and sugar, the sugar is busy digging out little air pockets in the butter. Leave them mixing away for a few minutes in this sweet spot and the mixture becomes smooth, pale and creamy – that’s how you know your creaming is done!

If your butter’s too cold, the sugar isn’t able to dig through the butter the way it should. Too warm? Then the sugar will just scratch around, rather than digging out little airy pockets.

When you’re adding milk or eggs to butter, you want them to combine together beautifully – and to do that, you need room temperature butter (and other ingredients!) If your butter’s cold, it’ll contract together into cold little pieces which stops it from blending together the way you need it to. That’s why you might end up with a curdled or grainy looking batter – not great!

When you bake, the little air pockets you’ve created in the nice room temperature butter give the mixture room to rise – the bubbles from your baking soda and powder fill the space and puff it up.

Psst – find more info about how baking soda and powder work here.

How can I tell if it’s room temperature?
This is easy – you should be able to press your finger into it and easily leave an indent, without your finger sliding around or the whole block caving in.

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I’m in a hurry – how can I warm my butter quickly?
While leaving your butter on the counter for an hour really is the best way to bring it to room temperature, that’s not always practical. Luckily there are a few other things you can try in a pinch:

  • Cube your butter into small pieces and line them up in a sunny spot to warm up. The increased surface area of the butter means it’ll get warmer, faster.
  • Cut the amount of butter you need and pop it on a plate. Fill a glass with hot water and wait until the outside of the glass becomes warm to touch. Pour out the water, quickly dry the glass and invert it over the butter like a dome. The butter will warm up in a couple of minutes – keep an eye on it!
  • You can always use a microwave! Cut the butter you need, place it on a plate and microwave on high for 5 seconds. Open the door, turn the butter and heat for another 5 seconds. Repeat for about 20 seconds until your butter is at room temperature – check by pressing your finger into it gently at each turn.

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Why do some recipes need cold butter?
Many doughs call for cold butter. This is so the butter doesn’t completely blend into the flour when you mix them together. This means that as you roll or press out your dough, the butter gets stretched out and you’re left with long, flat sheets of butter in the dough. Butter contains a lot of water, and this water turns into steam when baked – that helps create layers in your dough. Flaky pastry is the perfect example.

Not all recipes say what temperature it needs to be – what do I do then?
Just have a think about what else is happening in the recipe and go from there. Are you making a dough? Then the butter should almost always be cold. Mixing in liquids, creaming, or trying to make something that needs to rise up nice and fluffy? Then room temperature butter will be the way to go.

The more you learn about the ins and outs of baking the more you realise that it really is a science – every ingredient and instruction is there for a reason. It’s all about striking the perfect balance!

With so much to keep focussed on when you’re baking, it’s really useful to have knowledge and tools on hand to help take the guesswork out of the equation.

That’s why Fisher & Paykel have created a range of intuitive ovens with pre-set functions, which eliminates most of the guesswork when it comes to setting the temperature. This means that the oven sets the most common temperature for whatever you’re cooking –  It’s crazy how clever it is! These ovens come with a recipe menu and digital temperature control so you have exactly what you need to get perfect results every time.

To help Kiwi bakers and cooks get the most out of their time in the kitchen, Fisher & Paykel have created eight different cooking styles – if you know why you cook the way you do, you’re more likely to get the best results. Pop over to the Fisher & Paykel website and do their ‘What’s Your Cooking Style’ quiz – you might be surprised!

Now that you know the science behind baking with butter, it’s time to make the perfect buttercream. Here’s my absolute favourite recipe – I hope you like it!

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Perfect buttercream

Ingredients

  • 200g butter, room temperature
  • 3 – 3 ½ cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1-2 Tbsp milk, room temperature, to thin

Method

  1. Cube butter and place in a large mixing bowl. Beat with a paddle attachment until smooth, pale and creamy (approx. five minutes)
  2. Add 3 cups icing sugar and 1 Tbsp milk. Mix on low until just combined, then increase to medium and mix for a further 1-2 minutes until well combined.
  3. Add vanilla bean paste and mix for a further 1 minute.
  4. If icing is too thick, add 1 Tbsp milk. If icing is too thin, add additional ½ cup icing sugar.

This post was made possible thanks to Fisher & Paykel. All words and images are, and always will be, my own.



Salted caramel buttercream

salted-caramel-buttercream

Some people celebrate life events with champagne, but around here we celebrate with cake. For each of our big life moment celebrations there was a special cake perched on a stand somewhere just waiting to be enjoyed – like this ombré rose cake for our engagement, and of course, our fabulous wedding cake.

So when it came to marking the milestone of buying our first home, a cake was at the top of the list of things to organise for our house warming. As I unpacked my baking supplies last week my mind was abuzz with ideas of what to make – what size, how many layers, what flavours, and (of course) how to decorate it.

After realising just how little free time we had ahead of having friends over on Saturday, I decided to keep it simple and layer together a couple of chocolate cakes. The interesting part came with the icing – my favourite vanilla bean buttercream went out the window in favour of a beautifully creamy salted caramel buttercream which was used both as a filling and a topping. Yum.

Read More »

Vanilla bean buttercream

vanilla-bean-buttercream

Makes enough to fill and decorate a 9″ cake

Ingredients

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 3 – 4 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 – 3 Tbsp milk to thin

Method

  1. Beat butter with paddle attachment or wooden spoon until smooth.
  2. Add 3 cups of icing sugar, one cup at a time. Mix until well combined and smooth.
  • If icing is too thin, incrementally add remaining icing sugar until reach desired consistency.
  • If icing is too thick, add milk by the tablespoon until reach desired consistency
  1. Once happy with the consistency, scoop out approx. ½ cup of buttercream and place in small bowl. Add vanilla bean paste and mix until well combined. Spread across bottom cake before sandwiching them together.
  2. Tint the remaining buttercream to your desired shade, then decorate cake as desired.

Milk chocolate buttercream

milk-choc-buttercream

Ingredients

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 200g milk chocolate
  • 2/12 – 3 cups icing sugar, sifted

Method

  1. Break chocolate into pieces and melt in microwave in 30 second bursts, mixing between each.
  2. Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until pale and creamy. Add 2 cups of icing sugar and beat until smooth.
  3. Add melted chocolate and mix until well combined. Add more icing sugar until you reach your desired consistency. Beat until light and fluffy.

Mascarpone icing

marscapone-icing

Ingredients

  • 200g mascarpone cheese
  • 3 – 4 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • ½ tsp vanilla bean paste (optional)

Method

  1. Place mascarpone in a large bowl and beat until smooth and creamy
  2. Add 2 cups of icing sugar and mix well combined. Add 1 more cup of icing sugar and mix well
  3. Add vanilla bean paste and mix until well combined
  4. Continue adding icing sugar ¼ cup at a time until the icing reaches your desired consistency

Note: I brightened up the colour of my icing using a little whitening paste