tycoon751/iStock/Getty Images

You’ve just broken a cardinal rule of cooking: “Read the recipe. Twice. Lay out all your ingredients to be sure you have everything.” And this is when you discover that the butter your recipe calls for should be salted, and all you have is unsalted butter. It’s not the end of the world, and by the time you’re ready to proudly serve your pals those salty chocolate chip cookies, you’ll be an expert in not only adding salt to unsalted butter, but even making your own butter. Period.

It Starts With the Cows

The logic of good quality butter starts with the quality of the cream that dairy cows produce. Grass-fed cows that have roamed the pasture produce the richest, creamiest milk, and the result is noticeable in the color of the butter. Buttercup yellow means the cow had a rich diet of the green stuff. You may even notice that winter butter is paler since the cows are fed wheat during the colder months. It’s that obvious. Chef James Martin says to always use the best-quality butter and flour you can afford.

It’s All About Control

So why do we even have both salted and unsalted butter? It’s all about controlling the salt content of your recipe. If you notice recipes calling for unsalted butter that also include “a dash of salt,” they’re leaving the overall salt content up to the cook. Shortbread cookies, pound cake and other dough-forward pastries are compromised when too much salt is added. You can always add salt to taste, but you can’t take it out.

Why Butter Is Salted

Salt is a preservative. Butter producers realized that the salted butter didn’t spoil as quickly as unsalted, giving it a longer shelf life. That’s why it’s important to check the expiration date on the package of unsalted butter that you’re buying. Unsalted butter spoils quicker than salted because the milk content is higher, and we all know what spoiled milk smells and tastes like.

Salting Unsalted Butter

Remove your sticks of unsalted butter from the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature until they get not too soft and not too hard. Keep your measurements straight: A stick of butter is 1/2 cup, or ¼ pound. The measurements are usually written on the paper sleeve wrapped around the stick. Put the soft butter in a bowl, mash it around, and then add ¼ teaspoon of table salt or fine sea salt to the butter and stir thoroughly. If you’re worried about having too much salt, use less and add after tasting.

Making Your Own Butter

Have you ever over-whipped cream and watched as it split? What you’re seeing is cream on its way to becoming butter. Keep whipping, and the milk solids separate from the cream, creating buttermilk. All this happens in about 5 minutes.

Put a strainer over a bowl and pour everything into it. You’ve made buttermilk for your bread! Run water through the butter in the strainer to rinse out the leftover buttermilk, making sure you rinse until the water runs clean. This prolongs the life of your butter by ensuring all the buttermilk is removed. The next step is up to you: Add salt or not, but remember to use table salt, not kosher salt. The grains of kosher or artisan salt are too large to blend in.

Getting Creative With Butter

Once you have soft butter, whether it’s homemade or store-bought unsalted butter, get creative. Add chopped garlic and finely sliced shallots, plus a few red pepper flakes and a dash of salt to the softened butter. Mix thoroughly, wrap it in plastic wrap, roll it into a log, and either freeze or refrigerate until you want to make shrimp scampi. Or garlic-y pasta. Or even fish with a kick. Your choices are now endless!

You’ve just broken a cardinal rule of cooking: “Read the recipe. Twice. Lay out all your ingredients to be sure you have everything.” And this is when you discover that the butter your recipe calls for should be salted, and all you have is unsalted butter. It’s not the end of the world, and by the time you’re ready to proudly serve your pals those salty chocolate chip cookies, you’ll be an expert in not only adding salt to unsalted butter, but even making your own butter. Period.

It Starts With the Cows

The logic of good quality butter starts with the quality of the cream that dairy cows produce. Grass-fed cows that have roamed the pasture produce the richest, creamiest milk, and the result is noticeable in the color of the butter. Buttercup yellow means the cow had a rich diet of the green stuff. You may even notice that winter butter is paler since the cows are fed wheat during the colder months. It’s that obvious. Chef James Martin says to always use the best-quality butter and flour you can afford.

It’s All About Control

So why do we even have both salted and unsalted butter? It’s all about controlling the salt content of your recipe. If you notice recipes calling for unsalted butter that also include “a dash of salt,” they’re leaving the overall salt content up to the cook. Shortbread cookies, pound cake and other dough-forward pastries are compromised when too much salt is added. You can always add salt to taste, but you can’t take it out.

Why Butter Is Salted

Salt is a preservative. Butter producers realized that the salted butter didn’t spoil as quickly as unsalted, giving it a longer shelf life. That’s why it’s important to check the expiration date on the package of unsalted butter that you’re buying. Unsalted butter spoils quicker than salted because the milk content is higher, and we all know what spoiled milk smells and tastes like.

Salting Unsalted Butter

Remove your sticks of unsalted butter from the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature until they get not too soft and not too hard. Keep your measurements straight: A stick of butter is 1/2 cup, or ¼ pound. The measurements are usually written on the paper sleeve wrapped around the stick. Put the soft butter in a bowl, mash it around, and then add ¼ teaspoon of table salt or fine sea salt to the butter and stir thoroughly. If you’re worried about having too much salt, use less and add after tasting.

Making Your Own Butter

Have you ever over-whipped cream and watched as it split? What you’re seeing is cream on its way to becoming butter. Keep whipping, and the milk solids separate from the cream, creating buttermilk. All this happens in about 5 minutes.

Put a strainer over a bowl and pour everything into it. You’ve made buttermilk for your bread! Run water through the butter in the strainer to rinse out the leftover buttermilk, making sure you rinse until the water runs clean. This prolongs the life of your butter by ensuring all the buttermilk is removed. The next step is up to you: Add salt or not, but remember to use table salt, not kosher salt. The grains of kosher or artisan salt are too large to blend in.

Getting Creative With Butter

Once you have soft butter, whether it’s homemade or store-bought unsalted butter, get creative. Add chopped garlic and finely sliced shallots, plus a few red pepper flakes and a dash of salt to the softened butter. Mix thoroughly, wrap it in plastic wrap, roll it into a log, and either freeze or refrigerate until you want to make shrimp scampi. Or garlic-y pasta. Or even fish with a kick. Your choices are now endless!

About the Author

Jann Seal

My seventh grade English teacher didn't realize what she was unleashing when she called me her "writer," but the word crept into my brain. I DID become a writer. Of advertising copy, dialogue and long-term story for several network soap operas, magazine articles and high-calorie contents for the cookbook: Cooking: It AIn't Rocket Science, a bestseller on Amazon! When I'm not writing, I'm cooking!