Can I use salted butter for baking?

plugra, unsaltedOne question I get asked all the time is whether it is acceptable to use salted butter in baking, since most recipes either don’t specify salted or unsalted, or explicitly recommended unsalted butter.

The simple answer is that yes, it is fine to use salted butter in baking. That being said, there is a reason that bakers – myself included – and just about all other cooks use unsalted butter as their kitchen staple instead of salted.

Salt serves two roles in butter, acting as a preservative and as a flavoring agent. Since refrigeration is so reliable these days, the vast majority of us don’t need to give butter spoilage a second thought (especially if you go through it quickly in baking!), so flavor is paramount. Salted butter tastes great on toast and in other foods because the salt will bring out not only the butter flavor, but the other flavors of whatever you’re eating. In fact, you probably won’t need to add salt at all, if you’re using salted butter in your cooking, and this is exactly why salted butter is not idea for baking.

Baked goods, especially that require some leavening, often count on the inclusion of salt to enhance flavor and to ensure the best rise (from cookies, muffins, breads, etc) possible. But recipes tend to specify a small amount of salt in their ingredients and this is where salted butter falls short: you can’t control the amount of salt that is in the butter. Omitting the salt called for and using salted butter might turn out a result that is just right, but your dish might not have enough salt in that case. The opposite extreme is that your dish might have way too much salt in it, since salted butters can contain anywhere from 1/4-3/4 tsp of salt per half cup.

Odds are, whatever you’re making will probably turn out just fine if you use salted butter, but the risk of getting something a little funky is there – and it isn’t when you stick with unsalted and have absolute control over the amount of salt you use. I’d recommend sticking with unsalted for baking and saving salted for cooking (where flavors are easily forgiven/altered with other spices) or spreading on really good bread.

17 comments

  1. Saw the Plugra in your article. I am a total butter snob and that is the *only* butter I use for baking! Quite pricey though, eh?

  2. American salted butter is usually not very salty at all. I use Land O’Lakes salted for EVERYTHING and have never had any trouble with any recipe. Even Alton Brown on “Good Eats” on the Food Network (my guru) says it really doesn’t matter for most applications which kind of butter you use. I live in a place where designer butters (or imported butters) have not caught on.

  3. I also live in Sweden and I have to admit that I normally use regular salted butter when baking. As Anne writes, there’s only one brand of butter here. The salted butter isn’t very salt and unfortunately the unsalted butter comes in smaller and more expensive packages.

  4. Hmm. I have always used unsalted butter – OK, for the 25 years since I flew the coop. But a few weeks ago at my dad’s I made Toll House cookies (using the recipe on the bad) and they turned out way puffier/chewier than usual. The only difference, besides obviously using his stove (same age as mine), was that all he had was salted butter, so that is what I used. So, did using the salted make them puffier?

  5. thanks for the comments – they have really helped. I’ve been watching several of the Food Network channel on a regular basis and only once did I here someone specific unsalted butter and they the salt was added. When I was younger and baking with my mom, she only used margarine and said never add the requested amount of salt on the recipe because it would make the item too saltly. So, in my adult life, I’ve used salted butter and would only add have the salt requested. I believe it is impossible to fix anything that is too salty (smile).
    THANKS

  6. OMG I just used salted butter for some cookies and they turned out super salty! I’m never doing that again, I’m sticking to unslated butter from now on

  7. I bake bread quite regularly, and I always use unsalted butter. The one time I did have to use salted, the bread came out tasting too salty.

    besides, Salt kills, yeast, and it is better to add it slowly while it is mixing with the flour. It’s a little messy if you get melted butter flung all over the place from the mixer..

  8. My mom owns a bakery, and she uses salted butter for everything. Her bakery is the most popular bakery and breakfast place in town. Everyone loves her stuff.

    And sure, she’s my mom… but I know what good food tastes like. In my opinion, her stuff is better than the rest because of that salted butter.

    And I LOOOOVE the way it makes my chocolate chip cookies taste. I think it’s the perfect amount. Then again… I put sea salt on my dark chocolate candy bars. ;-) I love salt. LOL.

  9. Cooks better smarten up regarding salt (and butter). Salt is a healthy preservative and makes foods digestible–in some cases even life-saving! Peanuts will not digest without salt! Don’t gimme that peanut-allergy stuff–this “allergy” was caused by the over-saturation of soy bean in everything! (and the removal of healthy butter! Salt is what preserved foods for thousands of years, people lived long ages. Butter is not a synthetic like soy– hogs will not eat soymash! Who is the smart one now?

  10. I’m about to make brioche using salted butter though the recipe calls for unsalted. My reason is that I’m extremely lazy and that’s what I have in the house. I’ll probably reduce or completely eliminate the salt called for in the recipe. I live in Canada and our salted butter (varies by brand) can be quite salty. Either way, I’ll report back with my results. My next project is croissants, but I will definitely plan ahead and get unsalted butter before I attempt those because of the large amount of butter called for, and also I’ve read that unsalted butter is “harder” than salted butter, so I imagine that would make a big different for pastry.

  11. Well said every one, I only have slightly salted butter in the house and I need to bake a chocolate cake for my two girls. I shall feedback on the cake once it is done.

  12. I’ve had one recipe fail and the ONLY variable was that I used *unsalted* butter for the first time. It’s a crazy-simple peach cobbler made by melting a stick of butter in a loaf pan, adding a very simple batter of self-rising flour and sugar and milk, and dumping in a can of peaches. It gets wet-bready and rises especially around the edges; the one time I made it with unsalted butter it fell flat. Nothing else was different. Now I’m nervous whenever recipes don’t specify the butter OR specify the flour.

  13. Love the post. It’s the perfect answer! Of course, I always tell people to use unsalted, but its just a tastebud preference.

  14. Norma Quisenberry

    I am making potato soup and the recipe calls for salted butter but all I have is margarine. Can I use my margarine instead of the salted butter?

  15. Yes Norma you can use margerine for the salted butter.

  16. Drawn butter seems to have little salt even from salted butter, but the milk solids are quite salty. So, are the milk solids necessary when unsalted butter is called for?
    dave

  17. Dave – Drawn butter is melted butter – it can be salted or unsalted. True unsalted butter (“sweet cream” butter) should not be salty at all. The milk solids can be important, as can the state of the butter (melted vs softened vs chilled), in any given recipe.

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