Sweet, creamy butter, oozing over my baked potato. No, wait – spread all over my morning toast. That’s it – pure heaven! I don’t care what anyone says, I will not eat margarine. I know the downside of butter: It’s a saturated fat, which is known to increase cholesterol and contribute to heart disease and some cancers.
But I also know butter’s lovable side: It contains vitamins A, D and E and the minerals selenium and iodine (both necessary to good health, in small amounts). And unlike margarine, butter contains no trans fatty acids, which are associated with raising LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowering HDL (the good stuff).
So, maybe that bagel with butter isn’t so bad after all.
Everything in Moderation
The Mayo Clinic suggests no more than 10 percent of your daily diet should come from saturated fats – the kind found in meat and dairy products. That’s not much butter;10 percent of a 2,000-calorie diet comes to about 20 grams of saturated fat, or a little less than 3 tablespoons of butter.
Meditation on Margarine
If you are under orders to avoid butter in favor of margarine, you have my condolences – and a few words of caution.
Margarine is based on vegetable oils rather than cream. It contains no cholesterol and less saturated fat than butter – but many varieties are high in trans fatty acids, which are known for raising cholesterol.
When looking for margarine, try to find one that says “no trans fats” on the packaging. here also are a couple of varieties that claim to help lower cholesterol; they’re made from palm, soybean, canola and olive oil. Baking with margarine does not provide the same results as with butter, but sometimes we must sacrifice for the sake of our health.
A Butter Choice
The butter aisle seems endless – there’s salted, unsalted, sweet cream, whipped. How do you know which kind is right for your needs? Here are the varieties you may find at your grocery store:
UNSALTED: The freshest butter available. It lasts about 2 weeks, and should therefore be stored in a freezer. Bakers use unsalted butter for this reason, plus too much salt in baked goods yields tougher dough. If you are in search of a good baking cookbook, note whether the recipes call for butter or unsalted butter. A knowledgeable baker will know unsalted butter is best.
SALTED: The only reason to add salt to butter is to maintain its freshness.
This butter is best used as a “table butter” or for cooking. It can be kept safely in the refrigerator for one month, and in the freezer for six months.
WHIPPED: This is simply butter that is whipped in a blender to create a smoother, more spreadable texture. A lot of air is added in the whipping process – it can be as much as 30 percent to 45 percent air – so it is not the best choice for baking, unless you weigh it. Whipped butter also comes salted or unsalted. To save money, it’s easy enough to buy stick butter and whip it yourself. Because it’s so airy, whipped butter has less fat and calories than stick butter.
LIGHT/REDUCED CALORIE: This butter is made with half the fat of regular butter, with the addition of water, skim milk and gelatin.
CULTURED: Made from cultured sour cream, it’s a favorite with bakers. It has a low moisture content and produces flakier crusts and moister cakes.
CLARIFIED: Excellent as a base for sauces. Because its milk solids have been removed, it can be heated to high temperatures without burning.
EUROPEAN-STYLE: Made from cream that is churned more slowly and for a longer time, it has higher butterfat
content than standard butter, making it more flavorful. It is good for cooking and baking and can be used at higher temperatures without burning
to produce a lighter, flakier pastry.
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, soft insides scraped out
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
- all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup apricot, raspberry or another
- jam of your choice
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with butter.
2. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment
(or using a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy.
3. Add vanilla scrapings and salt and mix until incorporated. Add the flour and mix at low speed until incorporated.
4. Using your hands, roll the dough into golf-ball-size balls and arrange them
2 inches apart on the cookie sheet,
flattening them out a bit as you go.
Using your thumb, press the top of each cookie to make a shallow well. Roll your thumb back and forth to widen the well. Using a small spoon, fill the wells with jam.
5. Bake until lightly browned around the edges, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on the pan. Store in an airtight container.
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1. Place the butter in a heavy saucepan and melt slowly over low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
2. Skim the foam from the top, and slowly pour liquid into a container, discarding the milky solids in the bottom of pan. What makes clarified butter so great is its higher smoke point. This means you can cook meats and fish at a higher temperature than you can with regular butter, making it ideal for pan-frying. By clarifying the butter, you’re able to strain out the milk solids that burn quickly as well as the water and salt. You’ll lose about one-quarter of your original butter amount during the process, and the clarified butter will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for about 1 month.
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground white pepper
- Mix all ingredients. Store in an airtight container.
Flower or herb butter
- 1 cup dried or fresh edible flower
- petals or herbs (try lavender, lilac, rose, marigolds, chives or dill)
- 1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1. Finely chop the petals (or herbs) and mix into the butter.
2. Allow the butter to stand at room temperature for several hours to help bring out the flavors. Then chill. Use on breads or in sugar cookie or pound cake recipes. Butter can be frozen up to two months.