best butter for baking that can be purchased in MSP
Your opinions, please:
Which butter, in your estimation, produces the very best baked goods? I am thinking of baked goods such as shortbread where butter is the key player. And where, here in MSP, can I purchase your butter of choice?
the high butterfat hope butter available through the heartland deli case (and elsewhere?) is the very best. i would use it for something extremely special, where cost is not an issue.
regular hope unsalted is very good and it is what i use for traditional cookies and cakes. it's widely available but is usually cheaper (by like, a buck) at a co-op rather than a kowalski's/lund's/byerly's type store. i do not think plugra or lol are very good, and they are more apt to not be fresh. i like using local butters that haven't been frozen or stored too long, to me the difference in flavor is apparent and very important.
My opinions tend to differ from most, but even in butter-centric baked goods I rarely see a difference between butters. It tends to be everything else in the dish that seals the deal. I use standard salted sticks from Rainbow / Cub or just Land O Lakes for all of my baking. I also subscribe to the theory that it's not the instrument, it's the musician....and my grandmother always told me that people can taste whether something was made with love, versus the brand of ingredients used by the baker. It sounds corny but I stick with it. So to directly answer your question: generic butter will still produce the baked goods and you can purchase it anywhere. Feel free to purchase more expensive/fancy stuff if you feel that will make the difference in what you bake.
I wouldn't use salted butter for baking -- most recipes assume unsalted, and it's important to control the quantity of salt precisely. In most baked goods, a little too much or too little makes a significant and detectable difference.
Otherwise, I tend to agree that there is little meaningful difference between brands -- and Land o Lakes is overall a high-quality butter.
I agree that: 1) in my experience, the brand of butter makes no noticeable difference to me when it comes to baking; 2) freshness matters much more (no off tastes picked up from spending a few weeks in the fridge, no oxidation); and 3) salt content of some baked goods is important, so use of unsalted butter may be very important, so I stick with unsalted for all baking (unless recipe otherwise instructs).
In short, any fresh, unsalted butter available at your local chain supermarket is as good in baked goods as any fancy-pants that you'd pay double the price for, but for that high price you got to say you used locally sourced, small batch, hand churned, organic butter from cows that were hand-fed clover and massaged to sleep each night in a heated barn.
A lot of the important taste & texture differences between artisanal butters disappear when they are used for baking. The Plugra, etc., lose their special qualities in the process. The butter just needs to be fresh.
I believe that the Cooks Illustrated taste test settled on Land O Lakes, in part because the wrapper for the sticks -- a trade secret, if I recall -- preserved the freshness better than did the papers & foils used for other brands.
Thanks, all. Very interesting to see the differences of opinion on this issue (which butter to use for superlative baked goods). I may have to shell out some bucks for Hope then make some shortbread with Hope and some with Cub brand and conduct a taste test.
As always, thank you for your gracious and generous responses. Happy baking!
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