Butter 101

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Learn everything you need to know about butter, including how to make, store, and cook with it plus nutritional information and recipes! Butter 101.

A line of sliced butter.


Butter needs no introduction, but I love to give it one. Butter is a pale to golden yellow solid emulsion made primarily of fat and a small percentage of water. Heavy cream is churned until the fat separates from the buttermilk and solidifies.

It’s a well-loved, versatile ingredient that adorns the perfect steak, makes the silkiest buttercream, and gives cookies that perfect chew. Bakers swear by it. Chefs live for it.

Here’s everything you need to know about butter. Butter 101!

6 sticks of butter of different brands and one butter is unwrapped.

American vs. European Butter:

I know more than one person who swears by European butter. They would stake their left pinky on its superior taste and texture. But what exactly is it, and is it truly better? The short answer is it depends on what you’re looking for. Let’s review.

American Butter:

American butter is regulated by the USDA, which means you can’t sell any creamy, pale yellow dairy mixture and call it butter. It must contain 80 percent butterfat. American butter isn’t cultured, which gives it a mild, neutral, and creamy taste.

European Butter:

European butter is regulated in, you guessed it, Europe and requires at least 82 percent butterfat in unsalted varieties. It’s typically been cultured (fermented with live cultures), which gives it a tangy and rich flavor profile.

Which one is better?

While higher fat may seem like the clear choice, sometimes water works in our favor. It creates steam to produce flaky layers and a soft texture, which is essential in croissants, scones, and biscuits. European style butter is a good choice when you want a rich, bold taste like slathered on toast or swirled into a pan sauce.

Salted and unsalted butter sticks.

Salted vs. Unsalted Butter:

The main difference here is salt, but the less obvious question is why that’s so important. Unsalted butter is just cream, while salted butter features cream and salt.

Unsalted butter allows you to control the amount and quality of salt in your recipes. Nobody wants a salty cake, unless it’s drizzled in caramel.

Salted butter is a great option as a flavorful spread or finishing touch, think steamed veggies, morning toast, buttered popcorn, or corn on the cob!

How to make butter:

You don’t need a butter churn or specialty equipment to make homemade butter. It’s super simple, and bonus – it’s just one ingredient! Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place two cups of cold heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip until the mixture thickens, then turns to whipped cream, and lastly curdles.
  2. Keep whipping until the fat solids separate from the liquid and clumps of yellow butter form.
  3. Place a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl and pour the butter mixture into the sieve to drain the liquid.
  4. Squeeze the butter to remove all the excess buttermilk, then store in the refrigerator. Use in all your favorite recipes!

How to soften butter:

Recipes often call for softened butter or room temperature butter. Softened butter is easier to whip and thus force air into the mixture, important for recipes like cakes and cookies.

Here are two simple ways to soften butter:

  • Let the butter sit on the counter for at least an hour. The butter’s temperature will drop as it sits.
  • If you forget to soften it on the counter, use the microwave. The most important thing to remember is not to microwave it too long! Microwave in 5-second increments until it gives slightly when you press into it.
  • If you stick in in the microwave, turn it on, and walk away, the butter will melt!
A line of sliced butter.

How to store butter:

  • Homemade butter lasts about two weeks in the refrigerator. Store-bought butter lasts up to three months.
  • To lengthen it’s shelf life, store butter in the freezer in a freezer-safe container for up to one year.
  • Store butter in its original packing or if opened in an airtight container or Ziplock baggie.
  • If you plan to use butter within a day or two and want it soft or spreadable, store it on the counter in a butter dish.

How to cook with butter:

Butter is an easy way to elevate any recipe! Try one of these tips and techniques next time you cook.

  • If a recipe calls for a certain temperature of butter, it’s for a reason! Melted, softened, and cold butter produce different results.
  • Add a tablespoon or two to a pan sauce just before serving!
  • Butter tastes bitter when it burns, plus it has a lower smoke point than vegetable oil. Avoid high-heat cooking or use clarified butter instead!
  • Butter’s rich flavor is highlighted when it’s paired with bright, acidic ingredients. If your dish feels a bit flat, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Nutritional Information:

Since butter is primarily made of fat, it’s high in calories.

Per tablespoon of unsalted butter:

  • Calories: 102
  • Fat: 11 grams
  • Saturated fat: 7 grams
  • Cholesterol: 30 mg
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Carbs: 0 mg
  • Protein: 0 mg

Hi, I’m Shinee!

Welcome! I’m so happy you’re here! I believe anyone can cook restaurant-quality food at home! And my goal is to help you to become a confident cook with my easy-to-follow recipes with lots of tips and step-by-step photos.

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