Cookies are the ultimate treat. They’re soft, chewy, chunky, gooey, buttery and completely irresistible. There are all sorts of different types of cookies; from chocolate chip cookies and cut out cookies, to sandwich cookies and everything in between. Yet they all have one special ingredient. Butter. Butter is what gives cookies their soft, buttery and chewy texture. As well as having a great mixer, your cookies will definitely benefit from using the correct butter.
Butter is a dairy product which has become a staple in every household. You can use it for cooking, for baking cakes or simply for spreading it on a slice of toast. Butter is typically made from cow’s milk as it’s high in fat and therefore easier to churn. After churning the milk or cream, it is cooled down until a solid block of butter is produced.
It plays a huge role in the taste and texture of cookies, so altering it or substituting it can change the composition of your bake. But with so many different ways of using butter and with so many alternatives to it, you may be wondering, what kind of butter should you use for cookies?
Melted Butter vs Room Temperature
Some cookie recipes call for melted butter, other recipes call for room temperature butter. So which one should you use?
Well, that really depends on what sort of texture you would like your cookies to have. Butter melts in the oven which is what makes cookies spread and flatten out. If you have already melted the butter beforehand and mixed it in with your cookie dough, then that butter will expand even more while it is being baked. This will result in a thinner, toffee-like cookie with a chewy to crispy bite (depending on how long you bake them for).
Room temperature butter, on the other hand, produces a completely different textured cookie. With room temperature butter, you tend to cream the softened butter with the sugar. This creaming method allows air pockets to form within the mixture. These air pockets expand in the oven, resulting in a fluffy, soft and cake-like cookie. Since the butter is more solid compared to its melted counterpart, it tends to keep its shape more and will not flatten out as much in the oven. So you will get a nice and fluffy biscuit.
Top baking tip: If you are like me and enjoy a cake-like cookie, use self-rising flour instead of plain. It will add to the height and make for a softer, fluffier cookie.
Salted Butter vs Unsalted Butter
Both salted and unsalted butter are still produced in the same way but salted butter just has added salt to it (okay that was probably pretty obvious.)
You have probably noticed lot of baking recipes will specify for unsalted butter to be used and there is a reason for this. Since salted butter contains salt, it is difficult to control how much of it is actually going into your bakes. The salt content also varies between different brands, so there is really no way of knowing how much salt is being added to your desserts. By using unsalted butter, you are in full control of your flavours.
Having said that, you can definitely use salted and unsalted butter interchangeably, if you wish. But be aware, salted butter might change the taste of your cookies.
Top baking tip: Since salt is a preservative, salted butter has a longer shelf life. If you want guaranteed fresh butter, go for unsalted butter.
Are there butter alternatives for cookies?
Butter is made with a high percentage of fat and therefore, it is very rich in flavour and texture. There are no other alternatives that can compete with the richness of butter, but that’s not to say they can’t be used in your cookie recipe. Margarine is commonly made of vegetable oil and water and is the closest alternative to butter.
Margarine can work well with cookies if you use the right type. For it to have a similar effect as butter in cookies, margarine needs to have a high-fat content, ideally something above 80%. Otherwise, the cookies will turn out very flat with no texture and will even burn in the oven. You certainly won’t get a buttery taste with margarine but it is a very suitable alternative for cookies and can be used the same way as butter; melted or softened.
Shortening is a solid block of 100% fat and is usually made out of vegetable oil and is completely dairy-free. It is popular amongst bakers who like a flaky, crumbly texture to their bakes and pastries. When it comes to cookies, shortening brings a completely different texture to them than butter does. Since shortening does not contain any water, there is no steam being produced in the oven, resulting in a very soft and tender cookie. Shortening also has a higher melting point than butter, which means your cookies will maintain a nice, tall structure in the oven without spreading out much.
Top baking tip: Using half shortening and half room temperature butter in your cookie recipe will ensure you get both a flaky and soft texture with a rich buttery flavour. Yum!
Olive oil is another popular alternative to butter and it is mainly used because it produces healthier cookies (if you can even call cookies healthy…).
You do need to be careful how much oil you substitute butter with. Generally, you want to use around ¾ of a cup of oil for every cup of butter. If you use too much oil, your cookies will come out looking very greasy and flat. Olive oil also has a strong flavour and works better with savoury bakes rather than sweet ones. Too much oil in a cookie and the taste will be completely different to what your friends and family would expect.
You would think that since oil is already a liquid, it would act similarly to melted butter, in that it will spread in the oven, resulting in a flat, chewy cookie. However, since olive oil is already a liquid at room temperature and does not require to be heated up or melted, it will keep its shape in the oven and your cookies will come out feeling soft and cake-like.
Coconut oil is a great healthy alternative to butter. It is very similar to butter in that coconut oil is solid at room temperature and melts when heated. Therefore, it has the same effect in cookies as melted and room temperature butter would have. If you want soft, fluffy cookies that keep their shape in the oven, cream room temperature coconut oil with the sugar. If you want your cookies to be flat, with a chewy texture, melt the coconut oil before you mix it with your cookie ingredients.
Top baking tip: Use the exact same measurements of butter to substitute it with coconut oil.
Now, you should have a better idea of what kind of butter you should use for cookies and what alternatives are available.
Whether you want to use margarine, coconut oil or shortening as an alternative, it really comes down to how you like your cookies. Do you like them crisp and chewy or soft and tender? You decide.
Truth be said, no alternative will give you that rich flavour and buttery aroma – an irresistible trait of a warm, buttery cookie fresh out of the oven.
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