Butter is a dairy product made from separating whole milk or cream into fat and buttermilk. The fat is compressed and chilled into blocks of butter. It can be used directly as a condiment or melted for frying or coating. Butter is also used in baking, such as in classic sponges and pastries, or for enriching sauces.
Butter can be bought salted or unsalted. Salt is used for preservation and flavour, but varies according to the breed of cow and its feed.
Butter is around 80 per cent fat and for this reason, many people prefer to use alternatives. Low-fat spreads are generally not suitable for baking so read packaging carefully.
Some cake recipes replace butter with a mild-tasting oil such as sunflower oil, which is ideal for those with a dairy intolerance or allergy. Cakes made in this way tend to be moister and last longer, but don't have the rich, buttery taste.
Choose the best
Butter comes in many brands and packaging. French butter is prized for its superior quality, but can be pricier than others. It's best to buy the right type to suit your needs, most sweet and baking recipes call for unsalted butter, but salted butter is better for spreading onto toast and croissants.
Keep butter wrapped in its foil packaging or a butter dish in the fridge. Keep it away from pungent foods as it has a tendency to pick up the flavours.
For rubbed in cake mixtures, use butter straight from the fridge. For creamed cake mixtures, you'll need to take the butter out of the fridge a few hours before you're planning to use it – it needs to be soft in order to cream together well with the sugar.
Watch this video on how to cream together butter and sugar for a light, fluffy cake
Butter is a wonderful ingredient to cook with. Melt in a warm pan, and cook until gently foaming before adding ingredients such as shallots, mushrooms or whole sage leaves.
To make brown butter, keep cooking the butter until the mik solids (the creamy, pale specks in melted butter) start to turn golden brown and smell nutty, like toasting almonds. Be careful not to cook the butter over too high heat, as the milk solids can burn easily and you will loose the caramel, nutty flavour.
If you're cooking over a high heat, clarified butter, or ghee, has the milk solids removed, and you're left with the pure fat. This means you can cook at higher temperatures and for longer, without burning it.
Try brown butter over little shrimps on toast, drained gnocchi, or roasted cauliflower florets. In a simple pasta dish try a delcious brown butter linguine or chilled as a coating on radishes dipped in brown butter. Experiment with adding flavours to your butter, before using with our collection of flavoured butters.