The Science Behind Our Favorite Spread: Butter

Butter, one of the world’s most popular fats (for good reason!), has been around for quite a while. You’ll find it in virtually every American household because of its versatility, familiarity and, most importantly, its overall irresistible flavor.

The butter we’re familiar with today comes from cows, and is made by churning cream to separate the butter fat from the buttermilk. You can also find butter made from sheep and goats, as well as a few vegan, soy-based options. In the United States, the FDA specifies that butter should contain 80% milk fat (the other 20% of butter is mostly water). European butters contain up to 85% fat, making them more desirable for baking, while also being undeniably delicious. Regardless of whether you go for a U.S. or European variety, always go for the unsalted variety. Salted butter can ruin the seasoning of your baked good and offers much less versatility than its unsalted friend.

When it comes to why butter is used over ingredients, it’s all about the benefits. Butter improves the texture and flavor of many of our favorite foods. When incorporated into a baked good—biscuits, cakes, and cookies—the fat in the butter makes the dough or batter extra tender. The water in butter produces steam while baking, and, as that steam evaporates, dough becomes flakey and fluffy. Next time you’re cooking up a batch of your favorite cookies, try creaming your butter by whipping together butter and sugar until it’s lightly colored and fluffy. Creaming butter this way will also tenderize your cookies by building small air bubbles within.

If you love butter as much as we do, you’ve probably also heard of (or even used) clarified butter, also known as ghee. Clarified butter is formed when you completely remove all water from butter, making it 100% fat. By gently heating butter and skimming off the foam (milk solids), you are left with all that good, delicious fat. Ghee is ideal to use in sauces and sautés because it’s more stable than butter. It also has a higher smoke point and longer shelf than regular butter.

Now, equipped with the fascinating science behind the ever-necessary, pretty-much-perfect food that is butter, you need to go make some biscuits. With some butter spread, clearly.

Basic Biscuit Recipe

0.5 cup butter
0.5 cup milk
0.25 cup cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 425. Using a standard box grater, grate butter into a small bowl. Refrigerate butter until very cold and ready to use, at least 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. When butter is cold, mix it into the dry ingredients. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour milk and cream into the well and gently stir to bring the dough together. On a floured board, roll out the dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut out 3-4 inch rounds.

Butter the bottom of a skillet and place biscuits inside. Bake for 10-15 minutes.


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