“Butter makes it better”

Butter is a fundamental ingredient for most cakes alhough a lot of cake recipes use cooking oil as well these days. But what kind of butter do you use? 

What is butter?

If you look at the ingredients list on a package of butter it generally says the ingredient is cream and maybe salt.

Traditionally, butter is made from the thick layer of cream skimmed off the top of milk.  This cream contains both butterfat and buttermilk. The churning action used in making butter separates the butterfat from the buttermilk.  The butterfat clumps together into balls of butter. The buttermilk is poured out and the remaining butterfat patted into shape.

You can  make butter at home by taking heavy cream and mixing it using a beater until it hardens to butter consistency.  And if you do, you know for sure your butter is made from  cream which is also called “sweet” cream.

But the commerical butter we buy today in the USA  is not always made only from sweet cream.  Today butter manufacturers may add “whey cream”, a by-product of cheese making, to the mix to lessen costs. Adding whey cream can effect the taste of the butter so not very much can be used.

So when you buy butter and it says cream you don’t know for sure if there is some whey cream in there.  If it says sweet cream then you know there’s not.

What is grade?

Butter is graded. There are three possible grades:  AA, A and B.  All are OK to eat but ideally you should use AA when baking things like cakes. Why? Because high grade butter has more fat and for cakes fat is a good thing.

The butter in most supermarkets is at least Grade A but it is not always easy to know.  The USDA states that the butter grade should be displayed on the packaging.  And some manufacturers do and some manufacturers don’t. 

Looking at Breakstone, one of the most expensive butters in our local supermarket, we could not find the official grade. We found a Kosher symbol but no Grade. So what gives? We looked at the Breakstone website to find out what Grade it is but it does not say.  But we saw that Breakstone is made by the same people who make lots of butter brands including Hotel Bar. All their other brands say they are Kosher certified and Grade AA.  So we’re guessing that Kosher certification also means AA and Breakstone is Grade AA.

So does more expensive mean better butter?  What if you want to use generic store brand? Our local store brand, White Rose, also is Grade AA with exactly the same ingredients and Nutrition Facts: 17% fat, 37% Saturated Fat, 4% Sodium as other more expensive butters.  But they all taste different. For baking you are looking for a bland taste as you don’t want it to interfere with the overall taste of the cake.

So get a few Grade AA butters and do a taste test!

What does a butter add to cake making?

Butter adds volume to the batter, makes it tender and it also adds to the taste. 

Creaming butter and sugar adds to the “aeration” of the cake meaning it adds air to the batter to help make the cake light and fluffy.  The higher grade butter you use the more fat it has and the more air bubbles get made. But always start out at a low speed when creaming. Going too  fast too soon will actually destroy the air bubbles.

If you don’t cream the butter and the sugar then you will need to add that air another way like adding more “raising agents” like baking powder.

Salted versus Unsalted

Some cooks are advocates of unsalted butter at all times so they can control the salt content.  This is probably true for commerical bakers handling huge vats of cake batter; after all the recipe for 3000 cupcakes is vastly different to one for 30. It is not just a mulitple by 100 conversion! But for 30 cupcakes, salted butter is probably OK.  

One advantage of salted butter is that the salt is mixed evenly througout the butter for you already.

If your recipe calls for salted butter and you want to use unsalted butter then add 1/4 teaspoon for each 4 oz butter.  

More Information

For cake making, you should weigh it without the wrapping to make sure you have the correct amount. Not that the wrapping weighs that much.

Butter should be at room temperature when you start to work with it which means 63-75  F / 19-23 C. Don’t even think about putting it in the microwave to soften it. That’s OK for in a hurry school sandwiches but not OK for cake making!

When replacing butter with oil you don’t use as much. For every 1 cup of butter you would use only 7/8 cup of oil.

One good thing about butter is that you can freeze it for several months.  So next time your favorite Grade AA butter on sale, snap it up and freeze it. Just make sure you wrap it up snugly in plastic wrap so it does not abosrb any odors from other items in the freezer.

For more information about butter have a a look at

Butter Through the Ages

Make Your Own Butter

How to Buy Butter

Butter Spreads the Wrong Whey

Posted by Annushka's Mum in
  1. Annushka says:

    I created this website. (with the help of my mum)

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