What Role Does Butter Have in Baking?

What Role Does Butter Have in Baking?

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As much as I strive to keep my ingredient costs as low as possible, butter is one item I know I can never save on in baking.

Butter provides flavor, smoothness, and moisture to baked goods. It also aids in the rising and preservation of baked products. A quality stick of butter may make all the difference when it comes to creating pastries, cakes, cookies, or brownies!

I’m Angie, and I’ve been baking for over 10 years. I’ve established a little baking company from home. Growing up in China, where butter is not considered a basic, it was not only difficult to get butter, but I was also completely unaware of how butter worked.

My lack of understanding of what butter does in baking and the affects it has on my baked goods led in some fairly terrible bakes. But don’t worry, this is why you’re here: to avoid making the same errors I did.

In this essay, I’ll describe what butter does in baking, how it does it, and at what temperatures it does it, as well as address some often asked questions regarding the subject.

Let’s get this party started!

What is Butter?

Simply said, butter is a concentrated fat made by churning cow’s milk or cream. When milk is churned, or vigorously agitated or beaten, the solid and liquid components separate. The solid product of this process is butter, and the liquid that remains is known as buttermilk.

Although butter is considered fat, it is vital to understand that it is not entirely fat. Commercial butter, which is widely used in baking, has more than 80% fat, with the remainder being water emulsified into the fat.

What Does Butter Do in Baking?

Let us now examine the several roles of butter in baking.

1. Adds Flavor

Butter, like other fats, doesn’t taste very good. It has a subtle creamy and delicious taste with a milky undertone from the milk solids in it.

But, as humans, our bodies detect fat and are driven to it since fat is essential for life and provides a feeling of fulfillment.

This is why most of us find butter to be intrinsically delicious. Read this article to understand more about the science behind this.

The high fat content of butter also enables diverse tastes to melt into it and helps bond them together easily. It brings out the taste of the other components with which it is blended, increasing the overall flavor.

2. Adds Softness

emulsified with sugar until the mixture is entirely uniform, pale, and has increased in volume somewhat. Butter contributes to the softness and tenderness of pastries and muffins. Butter is creamed to get this effect.

The emulsification process introduces air into the batter. The trapped air bubbles expand and help your cake rise while it bakes. The end result? A fluffier and more spongy cake that won’t shrink.

To make bread more soft, butter is often added to the dough. Consider the French baguette; its lack of fat results in a somewhat dry and crusty bread. But, butter-enriched bread, such as burger buns and brioche, has a significantly softer texture.

3. Adds Moisture

Adding butter to bread dough might help it retain moisture more readily, keeping it soft for longer. This is obvious in bread with a high fat content, such as brioche.

While making cakes and muffins, combining flour and butter helps the flour get coated in fat, which generates separate crumbs and provides moisture to the cakes.

4. Aids in Leavening

Butter is essential in the leavening of baked foods. As previously stated, butter is composed of around 80% fat and 15% water. During the baking process, the water part of the butter evaporates and turns into steam. The steam elevates the dough or batter, causing it to rise.

Butter is laminated in each individual layer of dough in pastries like croissants, giving them their iconic flaky quality.

5. Lengthens Shelf Life 

Returning to the baguette vs. brioche comparison, the lack of moisture and tougher texture of lean bread causes it to go stale more faster.

Baguettes, in my experience, don’t survive more than two days. Butter-enriched bread, on the other hand, may be stored at room temperature for up to four days.

Butter at Different Temperature

When butter is used at various temperatures, it has an entirely distinct influence on your baked products. I’ll explain how below.

Cold Butter

Cold butter is most often used in pastries and cookies. As the infused butter chunks in your dough are exposed to heat, they melt and the water in the butter evaporates. Water evaporates, lifting the pastry, creating layers in the dough, and making it flaky.

Using cold butter ensures that the butter does not get totally combined with the rest of your ingredients or become a homogeneous mixture, which is required for the different layers in your pastries. I prefer to use cold butter for my chocolate chip cookies because I want them thick and full of substance.

Softened Butter

For baking, use room temperature or softened butter. You want to keep your butter at room temperature until it is soft but not too soft, at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and slightly yielding to your touch.

This stage of butter readily emulsifies with sugar and enables air to be absorbed into the batter. The air bubbles in your butter aid in the expansion of baked items and make your cakes light, supple, and soft. It also prevents your cakes from shrinking too much when they come out of the oven.

Melted Butter

Melted or liquified butter, unlike softened or cold butter, does not aerate. This results in a denser, chewier texture. Melted butter is often used in the preparation of brownies and chocolate cakes because it aids in the binding of other components.

Some people prefer to go a step further and heat the butter until it is brown. Browning the butter adds even more flavor to it and transforms everything it is cooked with, adding depth and richness.


The following are some frequently asked questions about the use of butter in baking.

Do you need butter for baking?

This is dependent on what you’re baking. Unless you are really concerned with authenticity, butter can usually be readily substituted with other fats such as oil and margarine.

What butter should I use for baking?

Most bakers choose unsalted butter because it allows us to better regulate the amount of salt we want in our baked products. It is readily found in any supermarket’s dairy aisle.

Is butter or margarine better for baking?

Although the answer depends on what you’re preparing, I’d say you can never go wrong with butter over margarine in baking.

Is butter a carb?

To all Mean Girls fans, including myself, the answer to this classic question is that butter is NOT a carb. Butter is a kind of fat.

Final Thoughts

Butter is the baking’s secret ingredient. People can taste the difference when butter is used correctly. Now that you know all there is to know about butter in baking, I hope you can utilize it to modify all of your recipes and play with it more.

If you have any further questions about the function of butter in baking, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them as soon as I can!

Angie’s Bio


What is the role of butter in baking?

It permits steam and carbon dioxide to be trapped in the batter when baking, causing your cake to rise. The butter also contributes to the light and soft texture of the cake batter. The all-in-one approach involves combining liquid butter and other liquid components with dry ingredients in a single step.

What are 2 major advantages of using butter in baking?

Unsalted butter adds a deeper taste to cakes, cookies, and pastries. (After all, it starts with cream, and margarine is created from vegetable oil.) The high fat content of butter also contributes to the texture of baked items.

What happens if you don’t use butter in baking?

Butter is essential for the structure of the cookie; without it, you’d likely end up with a strange dry combination of flour and other dry ingredients, along with potentially a few clumps of egg, that doesn’t even form into a dough that can be baked.

Is it better to bake with oil or butter?

In general, the texture of cakes produced using oil is better than that of cakes made with butter. Oil cakes bake up loftier with a more equal crumb and keep moist and soft for far longer than butter cakes.

What does adding more butter to cookies do?

Butter also plays an important part in cookie structure; the fat and moisture in butter may either encourage or prevent gluten production, affecting the shape, spread, and feel of your cookies. If you want to know how to bake a good cookie, read this.

What does butter do for flavor?

Since many tastes dissolve in fats, fatty meals are typically more delicious. Spices, vanilla, and other fat-soluble substances work well with butter as a flavor carrier. When you sauté an onion in butter before adding the basic components, the taste of the onions is conveyed into the dish by the butter.

What makes a cake more moist oil or butter?

Since oil stays liquid at room temperature whereas butter hardens, vegetable oil delivers moisture significantly more consistently. Since liquid adds to the impression of moistness, cakes produced with oil frequently seem moister than their butter-based equivalents.

Why use both butter and oil?

By combining oil and butter, you may raise the smoke point and taste. It really represents the finest of both worlds. The fat in the butter will ultimately burn, but the oil will assist to lessen the unpleasant burned flavor that we do not want in our cuisine (via Serious Eats).

Does butter make a difference in cooking?

When used as a cooking medium, such as when sautéing vegetables, butter complements and enhances the tastes of the dish. It also adds richness to sauce flavors. It improves the taste and texture of baked foods. Butter may be cooked in a variety of ways.

Can you leave butter out of a recipe?

To summarize, if your cookie recipe asks for room temperature butter, don’t freak out. And if you prefer to leave the butter out to keep it soft and spreadable, that’s great as long as you cover it and use it within a few days.

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