Food & Drinks

A Highly Opinionated Guide to the Best Butter for Baking

Photograph by Isa Zapata, Food Styling by Thu Buser

Best European-Style Butter: Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter

It’s rare that my fridge is without at least one shiny, silver-wrapped bar of Kerrygold, with its distinct, sunny yellow color. With 82% butterfat, the difference from American butters is immediately obvious. It’s pliable even straight out of the fridge (a property of fats and oils called plasticity) and it softens and becomes spreadable quickly at room temperature because there’s less water, which takes longer to warm up than fat. The higher butterfat content of European-style butter doesn’t always lend itself well to recipes developed and written in North America. The higher fat content can weigh down cakes and cookies, making them too rich. It is, however, an obvious choice in French pastries like gâteau breton, pâte sucrée, and kouign-amann.

Where its buttery flavor really shines is in laminated treats like croissants (for the overachiever who is making those at home) and—my favorite use—buttercream. A buttercream made with Kerrygold is thick and noticeably creamier than one made with American-style butter.

And yes, it tickles me no end to think this type of butter came from a cow called Saoirse or Clodagh, gently romping around in a green field of swaying grass. (Also yes, I’m aware that Kerrygold butter isn’t from 100% grass-fed cows. Just let me live.)

Photograph by Isa Zapata, Food Styling by Thu Buser

A Special Mention

I would be failing dairy duty if I didn’t mention Costco’s Kirkland Unsalted Butter as a worthy contender in my top favorite butters. Like everything else at Costco, it is an exaggerated amount, a four-story tower of shrink-wrapped 1-lb. butter bricks. It has served me well over the years, especially during the pandemic when my husband and I were basically running a bakery out of our 800-square-foot apartment and going through at least nine pounds of butter every week. Should you also be moving mountains of butter on a regular basis, consider getting a membership. (The hot dogs are actually great.)

An Admission

At home when I bake for myself, I switch freely between salted and unsalted butter. And I don’t adjust the amount of salt in the recipe either. I know! I’m sorry. Don’t yell at me. This only works because I consistently use the same brands of butter and I’m familiar enough with their level of salt so I can play around confidently. The USDA says salted butter contains about 0.6% salt (sea salt if it’s fancy) but I swear some brands are wildly, deliciously salty, like Kate’s Creamery and Vermont Creamery. That’s why, as a recipe developer, I always scrupulously call for unsalted butter in a bid to decrease the variables in a recipe. But just know that if you have salted butter on hand and need to bake with it—whispers—it’s fine. (And for folks who aren’t bakers, this garlic butter spread shines with high-quality salted butter.)

An Omission

I love the taste of cultured butter, but not for baking. The subtleties are lost and sometimes those cheesy, tangy, grassy flavors aren’t what you’re looking for in a sweet treat. Save it for toast.

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