The $2 Upgrade That Makes My Baked Goods Taste Infinitely Better

Cultured butter is the key to more flavorful shortbread, pound cake, pies, and more.

Different shapes of shortbread cookies
Photo: Getty Images

Most bakers know that the secret to better-tasting desserts often comes down to using high-quality ingredients. Ina Garten has long stressed the importance of using good vanilla; and everybody knows that using high-quality chocolate is the key to achieving next-level cookies. But the one powerhouse ingredient that doesn't get the attention it deserves is cultured butter. By simply swapping out your standard, sweet cream butter with cultured butter you can instantly take your bakes from good to great. The tangy, slightly savory flavor of cultured butter can upgrade a plethora of baked goods from pound cake to biscuits. Here's what you need to know.

What is Cultured Butter?

Conventional sweet cream butter is made by churning cream until it solidifies, but cultured butter adds bacterial cultures to the cream before it gets churned. These cultures ferment the cream and impart a tangy, sour cream-like flavor. The cream gets churned and the resulting butter is what is sold as "cultured" butter. The fermentation process makes the butter taste more buttery, rich, and dairy-forward with a pronounced tang. The butter has a bright acidity that cuts through fat and makes baked goods shine.

Using cultured butter in baking allows all of those nuanced flavors to carry through into the final product, adding a savory complexity to anything you bake. You might not know it's there, but you'll know something special is going on. Suddenly your desserts will have a more pronounced butter flavor and luscious, dairy-rich aroma.

How to Use Cultured Butter in Recipes That Call for Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter

Although cultured butter often has a higher butterfat percentage (around 82%) compared to your standard American sweet cream butter variety (which is around 80% butterfat), the difference is not dramatic enough to require any complicated conversions. Any recipe that calls for conventional butter can be baked with the same quantity of cultured butter.

Do note that cultured butter is commonly sold in 8-ounce blocks, not sticks. Each 8-ounce block can be cut in half horizontally to create two 4-ounce portions that are the same size as sticks. Also note that some cultured butter is already salted. If it's not specified on the label, I suggest reading the ingredient list to see if salt is added. If so, reduce the amount of salt in your recipe by ¼ teaspoon per 4 ounces/one stick of butter used.

Rhubarb Scones
Rhubarb Scones. Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

The Best Recipes for Baking with Cultured Butter

Because culture butter is a bit pricier than conventional sweet cream varieties, it's best to reserve it for recipes that let the butter shine. Any recipe that relies on butter as the prominent flavoring such as scones, shortbread, biscuits, or pie dough is prime for using cultured butter in. Most butter-based frostings would also benefit from the added flavor and can elevate a cake from good to great. However, any recipe that browns the butter or simply uses it as a building block and not a main flavoring component (such as brownies or heavily spiced items like carrot cake) is not worth the added cost of cultured butter. Stick to using sweet cream butter in those recipes and save the cultured variety for your simpler, more butter-centric bakes.

Ready to get baking? Here are some recipes that would be perfect for baking with cultured butter:

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