Michelle Darmody: Baking with butter in its different guises

When baking you will notice that recipes are often very specific when it comes to butter, calling for soft or hard butter and sometimes for the butter to be melted. This is because butter behaves differently at different temperatures.

When soft butter is specified, it means butter at room temperature, thus soft to the touch. This texture is best for cakes and smooth, spongy buns as it creates tenderness and lift in the final product. Most recipes that call for soft butter will ask you to cream the butter with the sugar to add extra air bubbles into the ingredients. Air literally lifts a cake as it bakes allowing for the lightness of a sponge or the softness of a bun.

Melted butter is used for denser baking such as brownies, much of the trapped water content that naturally resides in butter is released when melted, so steam will not permeate through the batter or dough when baking, which will allow for a chewier texture. Mostly when you are using melted butter you will not be attempting to add any air to the recipe as the desired result is a dense, squidgy bake.

Fridge cold butter works extremely well in scones and pastry. When using it I generally cut it into small cubes and incorporate it quickly with the other ingredients. You want the butter to hold its firm texture and not become greasy or oily in any way. If you are fearful that you have over-worked the dough and the butter has become too soft, simply place it in the fridge for a half hour or so to firm up.

Butter is a wonderfully tasty and rich ingredient that has no true comparison when it comes to achieving optimum baking results. Here in Ireland we are lucky to have such wonderful local butter. Once used in its correct form, it will help create an enjoyable and delicious treat.

Date and nutmeg scones

Michelle Darmody: Baking with butter in its different guises

  • 450g of plain flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • a generous pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 very level tsp of baking soda
  • 4 very level tsp of cream of tartar
  • 80g of cold butter, cubed
  • 75g of golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp of vanilla essence
  • enough buttermilk to make 300mls when added to the egg
  • a handful of soft dates, de stoned and chopped

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.

Mix flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda and cream of tartar together and rub in the cold butter until it resembles rough breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

Lightly mix the egg, vanilla and milk together, they should add to 300 mls when combined.

Add them to rest of the ingredients and stir in the chopped dates.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat to about an inch and a half in thickness.

Cut about 12 scones with a round cutter and place them apart on baking tray.

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until risen and golden on top.

Squidgy pear cake

Michelle Darmody: Baking with butter in its different guises

  • 450g of ripe pears, cored, peeled and sliced thinly
  • Zest and juice of a lemon
  • 75g of plain flour
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 50g of butter, melted
  • 70g of golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees and grease and line a 9in round tin.

Coat the pear slices in the lemon juice and lay them on the base of the lined cake tin.

Mix the flour, salt, ginger, lemon zest, baking powder, and sugar.

Stir the butter and eggs together.

Combine the two mixture until a smooth batter is formed. Scoop it into the tin and smooth out the top. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Orange butter sponge

  • 110g of soft butter
  • 180g of caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp of vanilla essence
  • the zest of 4 oranges
  • 225g of plain flour
  • 2 tsp of baking powder
  • 125ml of milk

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line an 8 inch round spring form or loose base tin.

Cream the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Add the eggs slowly and combine them with the butter and sugar.

Add the vanilla and orange zest.

Sieve the baking powder and flour together. Add a third of the flour to the batter and then add a third of the milk. Stirring until combined. Continue this until all of the ingredients form a smooth batter.

Scoop into the prepared tin and bake for approximately 35 minutes, until golden on top or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.


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