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Apr 9, 2009 01:22 PM

Measuring Melted Butter

This may sound silly and basic, but I need an answer to this question. When a recipe calls for ie: 1/2 cup of butter, melted - does that mean that you measure the hard butter, or melt it and then measure? Or ... is the amount the same, hard or melted? This has always confused me - but then a lot of things do.

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  1. it's not silly...but word order and punctuation (e.g. comma placement) are key.

    in this particular case, you want to measure 1/2 cup of butter and THEN melt it, because the direction to melt comes after the ingredient. if it had said "1/2 cup of melted butter," you would want to melt the butter first, and then measure out 1/2 cup.

    the same thing goes for ingredients that are chopped, diced, etc...

    for example, "1/2 cup chopped walnuts" means that you chop the walnuts and then measure. but "1/2 cup walnuts, chopped" means measure the walnuts first, then chop them.

    does that make sense?

    11 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      Thank you, thank you, thank you... this has bothered me for years. I was going to ask about other ingredients - but you answered that for me. Yes, it makes sense.

      1. re: Canthespam

        It does make a world of sense. Thanks for asking and answering both of you.

      2. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Very well said. And it wasn't a "silly" question at all. I agree, it can be very confusing.

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          Yes, the rules of grammar and punctuation are actually very helpful when used correctly. Of course, these days so many people can't be bothered, which leads to a lot of unnecessary confusion.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            But does it make a big difference, for butter? Does butter have a different volume when solid vs. melted?

            1. re: DeppityDawg

              I was wondering that as well. My initial thought was yes, but it would be hard to prove. Of course, if we were sensible and went to weights instead of volumes, then there wouldn't be any question (not to mention it's easier to measure solids by weight than by volume).

              1. re: DeppityDawg

                it depends on the temperature at which the butter is melted, but typically, you will lose at least a minimal amount of water to evaporation.

                this is a timely question - i needed "2 Tbsp of butter, melted" for a cheesecake crust the other day, and out of curiosity i weighed & measured the melted butter to see what i ended up with. it was about a ml shy of one ounce, so i did lose a bit of water to evaporation.

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Your example illustrates how unimportant some measurements can be in a recipe. 2 tablespoons of butter doesn't have to be scientifically accurate. Measurements using a tablespoon can vary quite a bit. Some manufacturers of measuring spoons don't subject their cooking utensils to a high degree of quality control. They realize that cooking doesn't need to be that precise. Another variable is that surface tension allows liquids to extend ever so slightly above the rim of any container. If two people fill a measuring spoon, one will inevitably fill their spoon slightly more than the other. A gram of butter should weight the same when is melted as it did when it was solid. But, as previously stated, don't worry about the small stuff.
                  That said, because you're dealing with volume and not weight, the advice you received about the difference between a tablespoon of melted vs a tablespoon of butter melted is sound.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I'm confused -- you said weighed and measured, and then said "a ml shy" -- so did you weigh and measure, melt, and then remeasure (as opposed to reweigh)? The melting point of butter is so much lower than the boiling point of water that it doesn't seem you'd lose that much to evaporation. On the other hand, every time you remeasure something (as opposed to weighing it in the same container) you lose some to the inside of the measuring implement and container. In other words, if you measure something, pour it into a container, and then pour it back in to a measuring spoon, you're not going to get exactly the same amount.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

             clarify, i measured it out into a bowl, weighed it, zapped it in the MW, and re-weighed. i didn't re-measure because the recipe called for "2 Tbsp butter, melted" not 2 Tbsp melted butter ;)

              2. I found this an interesting question and did a bit of research. The research led to even more confusion! Some sources said, measure as solid and then melt regardless. Some said to melt and then measure. One source said that 1 stick, 8 tablespoons when solid would melt to 10 tablespoons!

                I guess I could experiment in my kitchen / science lab, but I don't want to waste the butter!

                I would agree with the majority here and melt and measure according to the way the recipe is written. Or as Todao said, maybe it's not really that critical.

                When I'm making a crumb crust, if I add the melted butter and the crumbs seem to moist, I just throw in more crumbs!

                1 Reply
                1. re: janetms383

                  I originally asked the question because I am increasing a cookie recipe and it calls for 2.5 cups of butter, melted and I wanted to get it as close to the recipe as possible. Thanks for taking it as far as you did.

                  There must be a lot of questions that we hesitate to ask because they don't come up often and we think that we (ME) are the only ones that don't know the answer.

                2. You measure the butter when it is solid and then you melt it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Kelli2006

                    Let's hope that the recipe writing gods remember to put the comma in the right place :-)

                  2. There was a thread in which the poster wondered what the UK (metric) equivalent was to 8T of butter (for a chow recipe). One thing that I learned from that discussion is that since butter is less dense than water, 8 oz of butter takes up more volume than 8 oz of water, something like 9T instead of 8.

                    The common stick of butter (in the US) weighs 8oz, 1/4 lb, but is labeled as being 1/2 cup, and marked for 8T, not 9. Why? Because, when a recipe calls for 1T of butter, it expects you to cut it off a stick, not stuff it into a measuring spoon or cup. You are, in effect, measuring your butter by weight. 1T of butter is really 1/32 of lb (1/8 of 1/4lb).

                    Also the recipe should not expect you to melt a bunch of butter, measure out 1/2c, and toss the rest.

                    Having said that, it is unlikely that quantity of butter is so critical that it matters whether you use 8T or 9. You could measure by the stick, with the measuring cup before or after melting, or with a scale and the dish is likely to turn out fine. You could even use 125g of butter (instead of 113g).

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: paulj

                      Paul, since when is 8 oz considered 1/4 lb. Last time I looked there were 16 oz in a lb. and to simplify your correct answer to the question that 1Tablespoon of butter is 1/32 of a lb. is really - 1 Tablespoon butter = 1/2 oz. I'm not sure where you were going with that 8T, not 9 but lets just say that a stick of butter(1/4 lb) is marked equaling 1/2 cup. Than you have 4 sticks in the pound, that’s (4) 1/2 cups = 2 full cups. We know that 1 cup = 8 oz so 2 cups = 16 oz which is a 1 lb. Confusing enough. I have a problem with this all the time. My brain starts doing the math before I can think, for some reason I want to equate 1 lb of butter to equal 1 cup, when it is really 2 cups. I just did this with my daughter the other day. We were making banana bread a moth ago out of one of her cook books and the recipe called for 1/4 cup butter so I put in a stick of butter. In my hast, my brain looked at the lb and saw I took a 1/4 of it and was fine. Funny thing was my daughter loved the bread as dense as it was and I didn't know any better because it was the first time I had made the recipe. Last week we made some more banana bread, this time a little slower. When I came to the 1/4 cup butter addition I remembered adding the whole stick the last time and realizing I had doubled the recipes amount. I pointed this out to my daughter (11 years old) so she understood how easy it (I) was to confuse the butter issue. She Nodded in agreement and said she understood but insisted that we made it "exactly" like the first time. Go figure?

                      1. re: TimCarroll

                        Sorry, I should have written 4oz for the quarter stick. It is still marked as 1/2c or 8 T

                        From the wiki article on butter
                        "The stick's wrapper is usually marked off as eight tablespoons (120 ml/4.2 imp fl oz; 4.1 US fl oz); the actual volume of one stick is approximately nine tablespoons (130 ml/4.6 imp fl oz; 4.4 US fl oz)."
                        The weight is 4oz, 113g.

                        When I wrote 8oz, I was thinking that 1T = 1 fl oz, when it is actually 1/2 fl oz

                        Anyways, in the US assume the recipe wants you to measure using the marks on the sticks, unless it is clear otherwise.

                        There was an example measuring melted butter on a Baking with Julia show last night. The guest chef drew a cup of butter out of a pan of melted butter, taking care not to pickup milk solids from the bottom. They talked about it being a quickie clarified butter. But even in that application, a couple of tablespoons either way would not have been an issue. She was spreading the butter (with cocoa) on phylo dough.

                        1. re: paulj

                          I see, now you’re talking fluid oz, that's different. That's volume, not weight. That makes a lot more sense.

                          1. re: TimCarroll

                            Did we find out how much of a stick of butter equals 1/2cup? LOL That's all I need to know but got a tad confused reading this thread. :)

                            1. re: JudiMorrison

                              4 ozs or 116 grams by weight, but be sure to tare the cup beforehand. Or one stick.

                          2. re: paulj

                            A lb of butter is not always packaged as 4 sticks. At our culinary school, we use butter that is one solid lb and as such, it is not marked off in tbsp measures. That said, assuming a recipe wants the cook to use marks to measure is also assuming that the recipe writer assumed that the cook is using premarked sticks.