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6 Things You Should Only Make with Butter (and 4 You Shouldn’t)

Without butter, cakes wouldn't be as rich and it'd be impossible to make tender, flaky croissants. But does butter really make everything better?

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Fresh sliced butter on the wooden plate.greenazya/Shutterstock

What’s the big deal with butter?

Some people swear by baking with margarine, lard, or vegetable shortening, but there’s no substitute for the flavor and texture of butter. While there are more than a few foods that NEED butter to turn out well, there are also a couple where it’s better to give butter a pass.

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Winter citrus pound bundt cake with orange zest maple cirup; Shutterstock ID 1012626319; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHElena Veselova/Shutterstock

Works well: Baking

When it comes to baking, butter is the only way to go. It has a richer flavor and gives the cookies and cakes a luxurious mouthfeel. Baked goods made with margarine have a softer texture, thanks to all the added water. Make sure you don’t make any of these baking mistakes while you’re at it.

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Quick Picante SauceTaste of Home

Works well: Swirling into sauces

In classical French cooking, swirling a pat of cold butter into a sauce or soup is called monter au beurre. It gives any sauce a glossy finish and a rich mouthfeel, amping up its flavor with little to no effort at all. Give it a try the next time you make tomato sauce.

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Fresh Croissants on rustic wooden background.JulijaDmitrijeva/Shutterstock

Works well: Creating flaky layers in pastries

Have you ever noticed how croissants have thousands of flaky layers? You can thank butter for that! Butter is mostly fat, but it also contains water. If the butter is cold when it hits the oven, that water will quickly evaporate, creating steam that gets trapped inside the dough. Voila: flaky croissants and biscuits! And that’s why chilling cookie dough is the one step you should never skip!

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Easy vanilla buttercream frostingTaste of Home

Works well: Buttercream

Technically, anything called frosting is made with shortening or cream cheese, whereas buttercream is made with (you guessed it) butter. If it’s up to us, we’ll choose the latter every day of the week. It’s richer, smoother and more full-flavored, so skip the store-bought stuff and make your own in less than ten minutes. You’ll need softened butter to make this recipe work, but luckily we know how to soften butter quickly.

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Sage and browned butter ravioliTaste of Home

Works well: Brown butter

Just typing the word makes me drool! Brown butter is the easiest sauce to make: simply heat butter over medium-high heat until the milk solids start to brown and the water evaporates. Since margarine and shortening don’t contain any milk solids, this one just won’t work without butter! Use your brown butter in almost any recipe that calls for regular butter, or serve it over ravioli or pasta for a savory treat.

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Grilled Medium rare steak Ribeye with herb butter on cutting board serving sizeLisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock

Works well: Topping steaks

I’m not the type to cover up an expensive cut of meat with sauce, but I do love a pat of butter on top of a perfectly cooked steak! Here’s how to master the technique. Whip up a compound butter recipe to give steaks an extra boost of flavor. You can slather any leftover butter onto dinner rolls or use it to dress vegetables, too. Find out more butter hacks you didn’t know you needed.

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Seared scallops with citrus herb sauceTaste of Home

Doesn’t work so well: High-temperature searing

Every type of cooking oil has a smoke point—the temperature at which it starts to smoke and taste scorched. Since butter’s smoke point is relatively low (350ºF), it’s best to use another type of oil for searing steaks, pork chops, or chicken breasts. Here are the cooking oils we recommend.

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Stack of homemade whole wheat flour tortilla on plateAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Doesn’t work so well: Tortillas and tamales

If there’s one reason to have a tub of lard in the fridge, it’s for flour tortillas and tamales. I’ve tried making these with butter, but its moisture content ruins the batch every time. Lard has the perfect consistency and neutral flavor to make the best tamales and tortillas.

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Vegan mini cheesecakes with blueberry and white chocolate layer with adding of cashews, cacao butter and coconut milk, and base made of almonds, shredded coconut and medjool dates Zju4ka/Shutterstock

Doesn’t work so well: Vegan desserts

If you’re trying to make plant-based desserts, you can’t exactly use butter—it’s an animal product! In those cases, it’s better to use vegetable shortening or margarine for baking. You can also use creative swaps, like using avocado in fudge recipes.

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Sweet Potato Pancakes with Cinnamon CreamTaste of Home

Doesn’t work so well: Breakfast potatoes

I love the way butter flavors scrambled eggs and omelets, but it makes breakfast potatoes soggy. There’s a trick to making crispy hash brown potatoes, but if you cook them in butter it won’t matter. So skip the butter on this one and use oil instead—and don’t miss these other cooking mistakes that are ruining your food.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home

Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and a food writer. After graduating from Cascade Culinary school, Lindsay became the Executive Chef at Jackson's Corner in Bend, OR, from 2013 to 2016. Her genuine passion for food and sustainable food practices led her to find the farmer in herself. She lives in Durango, CO, where she enjoys the trials and errors of small plot farming. Lindsay is currently working on a cookbook that teaches home cooks how to craft beautiful meals without a recipe, tentatively titled "The Art of Bricolage: Cultivating Confidence and Creativity in the Kitchen."