Q.: I have about seven different recipes for shortbread cookies. They all say to use butter, but none say what kind of butter. Should I use salted or unsalted?
— Mary Michaels Doylestown
A.: When a recipe calls for butter, it always means unsalted butter. The reason for using unsalted butter is because you want to be the one to control the amount of salt used in a recipe. It is difficult to determine how much salt is in salted butter, because the amounts vary sharply between brands.
I get this question a lot from folks who don’t understand why a recipe calls for unsalted butter, but also calls for the addition of salt. This is so that you have the correct amount of salt going in the mix, particularly important in baking, when following the scientific formula is necessary for success.
Many professional chefs will tell you that you should only use unsalted butter. I believe those chefs must not butter their toast, because to me there is nothing worse than unsalted butter on bread. For those of us who don’t cook professionally, I strongly recommend using unsalted butter for all baking. However, unless you are monitoring your sodium closely for health reasons, feel free to use salted butter for jobs like adding to mashed potatoes or melting over sweet corn without fear of poor results.
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