At home there are a few ways to soften butter. Commercial butter is made spreadable by the addition of vegetable oil.
– To make butter more spreadable leave it out of the fridge until it is the correct consistency. If you need to soften it quickly put it in a bowl in the oven at the defrost setting or its equivalent which is 30C for five to ten minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t melt. For baking where you need room temperature butter you may need to remove it from the oven and leave it for about ten to fifteen minutes more until you can depress it easily with your fingertip. If you leave it in the oven for too long part of it will melt. Measure the butter before you place it in the oven so you only soften the amount you need.
– The easiest way to find spreadable butter is to buy it ready-softened in a tub. Check the ingredients list first – you will find a butter that has no additions but often the manufacturer adds up to a third vegetable oil to the butter. That’s why you can’t use some spreadable butters to replace real butter in baking because it is not 100% butter. You may not be eating butter at all in some cases. Always check. Lurpak for example do a spreadable butter that you can also use in baking though the only place we’ve seen it for sale is in the north of Ireland.
– Some companies are experimenting with feeding cows with rapeseed oil (which is a healthy vegetable oil) making the end butter naturally spreadable.
– At home we’ve found that using a butter curler to skim off slices of butter makes it easier to spread in cold weather. It also means that people don’t stick the knife back in the butter tub! It takes a little longer but it’s good fun. Pick them up on Etsy or in vintage shops.
– Ghee is butter that has been heated to clarify it and the solids that burn when cooking have been removed. It is used in Asian cooking and hot countries where the butter would spoil if it was not clarified. You can clarify your own butter at home easily (read how to do clarify butter and make ghee here) and it keeps for a long time in the fridge, though you are limited in terms of using it for baking. However if you are always throwing out butter it is a good way of reducing waste. We buy a tin in the Asian shop and use it for frying and meat and onions for curries and to add to dhal. It adds that special indefinable flavour that you find in Indian restaurants and can find hard to replicate at home.
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