If you've been experimenting with baking, you've probably come across either salted butter or unsalted butter on your ingredient list for a recipe. You also might have just had butter listed and were faced with that dreadful decision when you arrived at the grocery store.
Margarine? Butter? Unsalted? Salted?
Trust me, I've been there. That momentary freak out in the dairy section while you're starring at two types of butter, unsure of which one your recipe calls for. Then finally making your decision and second guessing yourself until your cookies come out of the oven and you can take that huge sigh of relief. Look no further because your questions are about to be answered. I had been baking for a few years at this point and I had stumbled upon a girl who was making these fantastic cookies- to shorten the story, her recipe specifically called for salted butter. Myself strictly being an unsalted butter girl, wondered why? Why would someone specifically call for salted butter knowing the cons? Some of you might be laughing to yourself, thinking ok... butter is butter? WRONG. To finish my story-- I replaced the butter in her recipe with unsalted butter, and we have a good laugh about the sensitive butter topic everytime we see each other. Let's get down to business.
Butter is one of the key ingredients in baking recipes. Depending on your end result- butter will add flakiness for pies, creamy and richness to your cookies, and adds a ton of flavor overall. When you're cooking, butter is butter- your intuition as a cook plays a huge role in the outcome of your food. Unless you are on a low sodium diet, salt is usually a main source of flavor and is welcomed with open arms. Especially because you can easily modify for taste preferences, dietary restrictions, etc. Baking is a science and everything needs to be properly measured for an accurate outcome. From taste, chewiness, rise, crunch, texture, etc. Everything could be ruined by inaccurate measuring.
That being said, let me ask you a question. How much salt is in salted butter? If you have a puzzled look on your face, it's ok. There is no accurate measurement of salted butter. There are no magic numbers that each company has to follow and depending on the brand you buy, the sodium content can drastically change. Boxes of butter are also a little steep, especially when one recipe can use 2-3 sticks of butter. Typically, I buy whatever brand is on sale when I do my grocery shopping. This makes it even harder to accurately measure the salt content due to the varying brands that are stacked up in my freezer. Who knows exactly what you are putting into your food when there is no industry standard that butter companies have to follow?? Secondly, what happens when you use salted butter in your recipe and then the recipe calls for MORE. ADDED. SALT. You will have one batch of salty cookies, I'll tell you that much.
Salt is also a preservative. Therefore, it will last longer and who knows how old the salted butter actually is? Unsalted butter is fresher and has a shorter shelf life in your fridge, but it will result in a fresher baked product and who will argue with that?? Why UNSALTED Butter?? 1. More control over the flavor outcome 2. Control over the added salt content in your recipe 3. Fresher product If you only have salted butter available, what to do? No need to panic! We can work with this. I tend to decrease my added salt content based on how many sticks of butter I am using for the recipe. In my kitchen, as a general rule, I remove 1/4 tsp of added salt per stick of salted butter I use. Each stick of butter should measure out to 8 tablespoons of butter = 1/2 cup of butter. Usually cookie recipes, brownie recipes, etc. list for a 1/2 tsp of salt. If you are adding salted butter in your recipe, my suggestion would be not to add any salt at all. This is how I tend to operate within my own kitchen, while also using some in the moment intuition.
Another little tip- taste your batter. I ALWAYS taste my batter before placing baked goods in the oven. If my batter isn't tasty, I usually do not proceed (I am an extremist & a perfectionist, I do not recommend throwing away batches of *most likely* perfectly good cookie dough). If your batter is salty, there is too much salt. Cookies should not be salty- unless you're creating a special salted caramel treat.
In this blonde's opinion, unsalted is the way to go. You have full control over the flavor and the salt content in your baked goods and produce a fresher product, It's a win, win situation. Unsalted butter is a safer bet and is my top reccomendation. BUT, if you are a person that enjoys a saltier food base, then more power to you! Use it. Just be careful not to change the balance in your recipe.