Baking For Beginners: How Butter Works In A Cake

Butter is one of the most used ingredient when it comes to baking. So why not talk more about it and learn more about what exactly butter does when baking a cake?  Here we go!

What Does Butter Do In Cake?

What butter does in cake is it contributes to the texture and moist level of the cake. Butter is a fat and tends to have a strong flavor depending on the brand used and is reflected in the cake that is baked. That’s why you would usually see that some cakes don’t use butter and use oil instead as it can overpower the cake depending on the type of cake that you make.

To give perspective, where oil is a 100% fat,  butter is about 16% water and 84% in solids would that being 82% fat and 2% in non-fat milk solids, and that will vary based on the butter brand that you choose. Butter has many forms because depending on how you choose to add the butter to your batter it can make all the difference in the way it affects your batter.  

Butter tends to be heavier and denser. Just changing the temperature of your butter and adding liquid butter as opposed to room temperature butter can make all the difference in the way your batter will come out and the way the gluten forms within your batter.

 The general science is adding butter to your cake will lead to having a less moist cake but a more solid cake especially if you were to leave it at room temperature or put it in the fridge. If you were to cut into a butter-based cake it would usually have more of a crumble to it rather than it being super tender and moist. 

If you were to serve a butter-based cake cold it would feel dry and dense as opposed to if you served it at room temperature it would appear soft and moister. 

Most cakes that have butter is commonly creamed with sugar creating a creamy base which that leads to an airy and a cake full of volume. When you coat the flour with butter it allows the gluten to develop without drying the flour because of the protection of the butter and that’s what keeps it moist.

The way you mix a cake can make all the difference in the way that your cake comes out. Using a different method every time will change the texture of the cake.

We will talk more about butter and how you can make it and share some of the best butter to use when baking including a chart to make it east for you.

How Is Butter Made?

Butter is made using heavy cream. It needs to have at least 40% fat. Butter is very easy to make and it is as simple as mixing it with a hand mixer, automatic mixer, or food processor. It needs to be mixed until it starts to become solid and builds structure and looks like butter with liquid which is buttermilk.

If you want to have salted butter you can add salt as per your preference in your butter as the butter you make will be unsalted. 

Here are the exact steps on how to make butter

  1. Grab a bowl that can fit a good amount of liquid and be mixed comfortably without anything spilling out. (You need a big mixing bowl )
  1. Decide what type of mixer you’re going to use, hand mixer, automatic mixer or food processor. Add four cups of heavy cream to the Bowl. (Feel free to adjust the amount depending on how much butter you need)
  1. Start mixing the butter slowly and gradually increase the speed enough that it’s not splashing everywhere this is going to take a few minutes before it starts to develop shape.
  1.  You’ll know when to stop once you start to see the butter developing from the heavy cream and it’s starting to stick to your attachment and at this point, it going to look like butter with extra liquid and that’s the buttermilk that has been developed.
  1. Once it’s done you’re going to take it out of the bowl and squeeze the butter and grab a container that you can put the butter in so you can then shape it 
  1. Put it in the freezer to get solid for a couple of minutes until it’s solid enough that if you were to take it out of the container you can then cut slices. 

Depending on what you’re using it for you may need it to be room temperature so you can decide on how solid you need it to be.

Different Types Of Butter To Bake Cake 

Real butter will have a range of butter fat between 80% to 86%. The higher the percentage the better the quality of the butter and the more bendable the butter is. This also means it will have better flavor that you will taste in your baking. Butter that are of lower quality may not have a noticeable flavor.

Some kinds of butter depending on the quality is more softer than others. It will really come down to testing different kinds of butter to see which one you like baking best with. The chart below is the common butter I noticed most bakers use and love. 

There has been talk about European butter tasting and melting way better than American-made Butter but that’s going to really come down to preference of the type of butter that you like. 

Some say that they can taste a difference based on the percentage of the butter and quality and some say that they don’t taste a difference and just use any butter that’s on sale or available to them. 

This chart includes European butter as well as American-style butter and of course, there are many other Butters that are made locally but I decided to just show the most common butter that we’re spoken highly of. 

Here’s a chart on the different types of butter you can make a cake with based on the percentage of fat.

Butter Brand 

Butter Details

Butter Fat %

Land O Lakesis known to be pricier and has 84% butter fat content- American-based butterNot specified but butter usually should be at about 80% or it isn’t butter$5.23
Nellie’sIs known to be pricier and has 84% butter fat content- American-based butter84%$4.99
Vermont CreameryCultured butter82%$3.86
Challenge Known as sweet butter. Same category as one of the “cheaper butter” along Land O LakesNot specified but butter usually should be at about 80% or it isn’t butter$5.22
kerrygoldSofter and richer and way easier to mix and whip up (How many times you couldn’t bake because the butter was too hard?) This butter is loved by many and raved about. Expensive European-style butterButter is known to have a higher fat count. $4.18
Vital FarmsKerrygold85%$4.18
Plugra Tends to be harder in some temperatures82%$3.18

What Happens If You Don’t Put Butter In A Cake?

If you don’t put butter in your cake you risk the cake being dry and dense. The cake can potentially be flavorless especially if the cake calls for adding butter. Adding butter to your batter is used as a wet ingredient if melted and it gives the cake flavor as well as structure.

 For example, if you added melted butter to make cookies it will help the cookies to be way more chewier than if you didn’t. Butter as a water component or a solid is considered a fat.

Is Butter Better For Cakes?

Butter is what helps create a creamy batter using the creaming method. This results in having a very fluffy and light batter that results in a light, airy and a not so dry cake. The good thing about adding a fat to your cake is there’s some flexibility and adding more butter only increases the flavor of the cake without jeopardizing the cake.

There have been instances of people putting too much butter or even halving the butter and oil and the cake coming out just as good and if not even more delicious and extra moist. Adding more fat may result in the cake being a little bit oily or a little bit denser but still a great cake.

Depending on the cake that you are making it is not always required to add butter especially if you are baking a sponge cake for example it usually doesn’t require adding a fat. So adding butter will really depend on the type of cake you’re making and if you prefer to have butter in your cake and prefer it.

Is Unsalted Butter Better In Cakes?

Unsalted butter is used in cakes for the main reason that most don’t really know how much salt is in salted butter. Choosing to use unsalted butter in cakes allows you to control the amount of salt that will be in your recipe. As a result, if salt is called for in a recipe as a baker you can control how much salt is added.

Using salted butter doesn’t really become an issue if you are just baking at home for a small number of people it will become more of an issue if it’s done on a larger scale. 

If you’re using unsalted butter in your cakes it’s not a matter of if it’s better it really comes down to what you prefer to use. The benefit of using unsalted butter is you can choose and control the amount of salt you want in your recipe.

Is Salted Butter Better In Cakes?

Choosing to use salted butter in cakes is quite common among bakers. Most use it and didn’t notice a difference in their cake and didn’t mind the extra salt in the cake. Using salted butter can be a great combination with cakes that are very sweet. It can be a great contrast to even out the taste.

If using salted butter you do not have to add any salt to your cake batter.

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