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Melted Butter in Baked Goods

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On Facebook, Friend-of-The-Food-Geek Mary asks:

Here’s a query for you – it’s to do with baking with melted vs. softened butter – why does it matter? http://driedfigsandwoodenspool

Hi, Mary,

With many cookies and cakes, the traditional advice is to cream the sugar into the butter. Creaming, in this context, means to beat the sugar into softened, but still solid, butter until it is thoroughly integrated. This causes little bubbles to appear in the butter which, when baked, turn into slightly larger, and very evenly distributed, bubbles throughout your confection.

This is not the only way to make cookies or cakes, however. My favorite chocolate cake is a Nigella Lawson Chocolate Guinness Cake, which calls for melting the butter instead of creaming it. This is the ‘dissolved sugar method’ with cake making, though I don’t know of an equivalent method in cookie making. So melting the butter is not unheard-of, it’s just not as popular as creaming.

When you melt the butter, you’re making a trade: instead of a bit of rise and a particular texture, you want a cookie that will be less chewey. You are coating the flour with melted fat, which keeps water from mixing with the flour (after all, water and oil don’t mix without… encouragement). Less gluten means the cookies will be more tender.

Also, the water from the butter and the eggs, which is the only water in the recipe which led to this question, will be more likely to stick with the sugar instead of the flour, making a cookie that’s a bit more moist.

In the dissolved sugar method of cake making, having the sugar tie up the water is a much more explicit goal than it is with cookies. It’s a slightly tricky method to pull off, though, because…

In the dissolved sugar method, you dissolve your sugar in your liquid, melt the butter into it, add flavorings, mix the dry ingredients together, and add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. The last bit is the tricky bit, because if your liquid is warm enough to dissolve granulated sugar, then it’s probably going to cause the flour to clump together as if you were making gravy badly.

To avoid the clumping, probably the most effective way is to sift your flour into the liquids slowly. Alternately, you can reserve a portion of your liquid, don’t heat it up or mix anything into it, and combine it cold with your flour. It’s unlikely you’ll have enough liquid to do this effectively, but if you hate sifting, you can give it a go. Now I’m wondering just what would happen to a cake if you made a roux out of the butter and flour and treated the rest of the cake with the normal dissolved sugar methodology.

[Note to self: try this. Alternate toasting the flour or not toasting it. Expect texture to not work out.]

[Note to readers: if you try this, let me know how it goes.]

Here’s another thought: as you are already melting the butter, would there be extra flavor if you went ahead and turned it into brown butter, or does the cookie baking process already do that?

Gluten formation, texture, moisture, and rise are the primary ways the state of butter will affect your baked goods. Though, as you can tell, there are many other ways things could change, and I look forward to which new techniques will be the most rewarding.



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  • Elaine62 | 02/27/2021

    I just made chocolate chip cookies with melted butter. The recipe came to my news feed and the author had done many experiments to determine the length of time the dough should be refrigerated before baking. 400 cookies later 1 hour was the result.

    The cookies were baked at 350 for 10 minutes.

    This was my first experience with melted butter in cookies so I carefully followed the recipe including putting a temperature probe in the oven to check the temp.

    It slowly climbed to 350 and I put the first pan in. They were nowhere near done at 10 minutes so i left them another 4.

    I removed the pan of greasy flat cookies from the oven. Not a good start.

    I let the oven come back to temp... and here is where my question starts... and put the next pan in.. door open, cookies in, door closed ..that fast. The temp dropped 20 degrees (it's cold in my house). The pan was cold, the dough was cold after being in the refrigerator for an hour. I watched the temp and the oven never regained the 350.

    Second pan of greasy flat cookies..

    I dont want to blame the melted butter... I think it's the oven temp that caused the problem. So the question is...if I know I'm going to lose 20 degrees and fight to come back to temp should I set the oven at 370 to bake at 350 once the open door, cold pan, and cold dough bring that temp down?

    I'd welcome any comments.


  • User avater
    TheFoodGeek | 04/08/2011

    Excellent, I will have to do that next time. I'm also thinking of doing a no-bake, eggless cookie dough (i.e. for ice cream or handling a break up) with a toasted roux instead of uncooked flour.

  • User avater
    LisaWaddle | 04/07/2011

    Haven't toasted the flour, but I have browned the butter in a cookie and a blondie recipe that called for melted butter. Defintely adds flavor and I highly recommend!

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