Should you use salted or unsalted butter in cookies?

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Often, cookie recipes ask for unsalted butter, but you might only have salted butter and are wondering if you should or can use salted butter in cookies.

Firstly, don’t panic: it’s going to be just fine, which we’ll explain in a minute (but you may to make a few adjustments).

“But the recipe calls for unsalted butter,” you protest. “This is going to be a disaster.”

Rest assured that you can use salted butter for cookies, but it’s important to adjust the existing salt in the recipe to account for this.

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Despite what the internet or your nearest well-meaning baker says, your cookies are going to turn out great 99% of the time when you use salted butter, and it’s not going to taste like a salt mine.

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Comparing salted and unsalted butter

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There are two types of butter sold in stores for baking, salted and unsalted.

There are actually differences in the taste and shelf life between the two!

To compare them, let’s start with the actual salt content.

Unsalted butter has no salt added (duh), while salted butter has about 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon of salt per stick of butter.

Moving on to other properties, let’s talk about the taste.

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Unsalted butter is going to have a more mellow taste, while salted butter is going to taste sharper because of the salt included in it.

Then, finally, the shelf life!

Unsalted butter doesn’t have the salt in it to help preserve it, so it’s going to have a shorter shelf life compared to a stick of salted butter.

Salted butter is the default in a lot of cooking, including spreads or being cooked into dishes that want a sharper taste, but often cookie recipes call for unsalted butter.

Why do most cookie recipes use unsalted butter?

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Not only do most cookie recipes use unsalted butter, but then they tell you later to add salt in another part of the recipe.

Isn’t it easier to just use unsalted butter?

Well, sometimes.

The big idea behind using unsalted butter in cookie recipes is so that you have more control over the salt that goes into the recipe.

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Remember, the recipe creator doesn’t know exactly what brand of butter you’re using, and it might be that the amount of salt varies per brand in salted butter, so to standardize it, they call for unsalted butter and tell you exactly how much salt to add.

While salt does often lead to a nicer taste in cookie recipes, the ultimate goal is for them to taste like cookies, not pretzels, so we want them to have a sweet flavor, not too much salt.

Using salted butter in your cookies

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Let’s say you only have salted butter for your cookies, and are wondering what the heck to do.

You’ve got two routes to go here.

The first one is you can just throw caution to the wind and use it and don’t make any other changes to the recipe.

Crazy, I know.

But honestly, in most recipes, it’s going to turn out okay and while it may have a slightly saltier taste, it’s not going to ruin the whole batch of cookies.

If you do want to use it, but want to try and do it properly, then you’re going to want to eliminate about 1/4 teaspoon of salt from elsewhere in the recipe.

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So if the recipe says add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and unsalted butter, then use salted butter and leave out the extra salt completely.

This will help you keep that flavor profile in check and end up with the right amount of salt in your cookies.

Sometimes, there are actual baking disasters (if you don’t have a leavening agent, for example, you’re going to have a bad time), but salted butter vs unsalted butter in cookies isn’t one of those that’s going to completely ruin everything.

Make a tweak to the rest of the salt in the recipe, or just throw the salted butter in as is because life’s too short and the chocolate chip cookies are going to be great regardless.

Hey! Want more expert cookie baking hacks? Check these out!

Should you use salted or unsalted butter in cookies? via @nofusskitchen
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