Muddy’s Journal

ask a baker: just how soft should my butter be?

Greetings, my fellow baked good lovers! I know many customers come to Muddy's because they don't have the time or inclination to bake the yummy treats they crave and want to share with their friends. BUT I have talked to quite a few of you who like to get into the kitchen from time to time yourselves, and one or two of you have had the idea that I, Janine, a professional baker of the past three years, might be able to give you a tip or two to help you out there. While I don't have every answer at the tip of my tongue, I do know a thing or two from experience, and I have the resources to figure out the things I don't know offhand.

So, starting today, I will be posting a new weekly column on our Muddy's Journal entitled 'Ask a Baker,' where you can ask Muddy's baker anything you like! That is, anything within reason of course! No, I will not give you our chocolate cake recipe, and no, you cannot know my shoe size. But if you have questions about tips, tricks, and techniques in the kitchen ('How do I know when my cake is done?'), ingredients ('What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?'), or how we make it happen in the Muddy's kitchen ('How many quarts of icing do you use a day?'), then I am your gal!

So for a question and answer today, I thought I would talk about one of the first things a new trainee baker is taught here at the Muddy's Underground Kitchen.

How soft should butter be when mixing a cake batter? Why does it matter?

A room temperature butter is fine should you have a powerful stand mixer to break it down, but we have found that a softer butter is required when you use a hand mixer as we do at Muddy's. Ideally (and usually after a short trip in the microwave), the butter should be too soft to pick up in one piece, but it should still hold its shape

Here's why: your butter and sugar must be properly creamed to create fluffy, delicious cake or cupcakes. Creaming butter and sugar pushes each individual grain of sugar through the butter, leaving tiny holes which eventually become the tiny pockets of air in your finished product that are so important for creating a great texture and taste. If your butter is too soft, it won't be able to hold any of those magical tiny holes. The end result is a sad, dense cake that was never able to rise to its full potential.

Meanwhile, if your butter is too hard, the hand mixer will chop it into tiny pieces rather than creaming it, and the sugar will never have a chance to really intermingle with the butter and make those all-important holes. These cakes tend to turn out even worse than those made with overly melted butter: at least those have a consistent texture. A cake make with butter that was too hard will have a lumpy texture with pockets of gooiness where the tiny pats of butter melted. If your batter is very thin, the butter may even sink to the bottom where you will be left with an icky, sticky mess.

So if you have ever made cake that turned out like this, try softening your butter a bit more. And remember, even if your butter is the perfect consistency, you must, as the recipes say, 'Cream the butter and sugar well,' or it's all for naught.

Good luck, my fellow bakers!