Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Baking Made Easy - Which Butter Makes the Best Cookies?

From the Kitchens of Cheesecake Farms
www.CheesecakeFarms.com

Brown Sugar Shortbread -
a holiday favorite at
Cheesecake Farms!

Having trouble with your tried and true holiday cookie recipes?

Cookies spread too much?

Mis-shapen?

Burn quickly and stick to the pans?

The problem's not you.  
The problem is your butter.

Butter used to be consistent and reliable.   No more.

We baked with every brand of butter we could lay our hands on.
Here's the highlights:


National Brands
Land
O Lakes (salted)
The gold standard for cookie baking. Produced a cookie that held its shape. Color of the finished cookies were uniform and not browner at the edge.

A little saltier than it used to be so you might experiment with your first batch and cut back on the salt in your recipe.

About $5.00 a pound but often goes on sale at the holidays so it's a good all around butter for experienced and novice cookie bakers alike.

Chewy Molasses Crinkles



Store Brands
As a rule, we found store brand butters OK for baking but they varied widely in their water content which made baking inconsistent. 

If you bake only one or two batches of cookies during the holidays, you'll do OK.

If you're a dedicated cookie baker you'll find store brands frustrating because even within a store brand, the manufacturers can vary from batch to batch. 

Prices averaged about $4.00 per pound.


Artisan Butter
Kerry's Gold   (salted, imported Irish butter)
So yellow it almost looks like cheese.
Our cookies never got really crisp (you could bend them), were irregularly shaped and bland.
Sold by the half pound for $3.89 (that's $7.78 per pound).
In our opinion, not worth the money.

Plugra European Style Butter   (unsalted - made in the USA)
Equally disappointing. 
Very pale in color - almost white.
Comes unsalted and has that slight tang typical of European style butters.
Our cookies spread a lot and baked unevenly.
Sold in half pound packages at $4.29. ($8.58 per pound).
Old Fashioned Raisin Bars


Organic Butter
Both Organic Valley Salted Butter (a national brand) and Nature's Promise (Giant's store brand organic butter) baked pretty much the same.

Store brands are produced by major manufacturers so it's a safe bet these might be the same butter.

Both produced a crisp, slightly greasy, slightly chewy cookie that spread a little more than we'd like. 
Edges of cookies browned more than the center.
The fact that the butter was organic had no bearing on its baking qualities.
Around $5.00 per pound.

Small Dairy
Trickling Springs Dairy (Chambersburg, PA - available in Remington, VA at the Farmer's Wife, at Lee Highway Nursery in Warrenton and lots of other places so look around at your favorite store).

We loved this butter!
Cookies were uniform, crispy and didn't spread much.
The heights of the finished cookies were even, not high in the middle and thin at the ends typical of cookies made with butter that contains excess water.
Least salty taste of all brands even when the label said "lightly salted". (Unsalted is available, too.)

Comes in a tub instead of sticks but easy to measure for baking. 
Just pop the butter out of the one pound tub and cut into four chunks making them as even as you can.

Softens very quickly and will almost melt like ice cream.

Cookies baked an even color throughout - not browner at the edges. 
About $5.85 per pound.

Espressos
Don't waste these on the kiddies!

So what's our advice?
When it comes to cookie baking, it's the quality of the butter that's important.

Trickling Springs tub butter is our pick for this year's holiday cookies with Land O Lakes a close second.

But no matter what the butter, we've never met a cookie we didn't like.

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