Most cookie recipes that call for butter specify that it be softened, cold, etc. If a recipe doesn’t specify, what is the best/most neutral option? I’ve gone with out-of-the-fridge-but-not-yet-soft, but is there a better approach?
Thank you for that question, because it gave me a chance to catch up with Nancy Baggett, local cookbook author and cookie baker extraordinaire. I knew she’d have the right answer; we’ve featured more than 50 of her recipes in our Recipe Finder database over the years, and they’re always foolproof.
So: What to do with your cookie butter? “It depends on what the next step is,” Nancy says. “That should clue you in as to what you need to do.”
For example, “If it says to beat the butter with the sugar, right off that’s going to tell you something. That won’t work if the butter is still cold. . . . You need to have the butter softened some. If you’re using a very weak hand mixer, the cold butter could actually bend or break the blades or jam the machine.” Even a sturdy stand mixer, she says, could have difficulty processing chilled butter. You don’t want a heavy machine jumping around on your countertop.
“The other clue is if it says to cut the butter into the sugar or, more likely, into the flour. In that case, the butter should be cold. You can’t cut warm butter successfully into pieces. You’ll just mash it around.”
The bottom line: “Take a clue from the recipe itself. Normally, if it doesn’t say at all what to do, I would go for slightly softened, but that presupposes that you aren’t going to cut the butter in.”
She also says, “Obviously, the recipe writer should tell you!”
Clearly! Here’s a half-dozen of Nancy’s cookie recipes from our database. We promise that they all tell you how cold the butter should be — unless you’re supposed to melt it, in which case it doesn’t matter one bit how it starts out.
Rosemary-Orange Shortbread Cookies
Quick No-Bake S’mores Bars
Orange-Ginger Creams (these are great even without the buttercream filling)
Iced Cranberry-White Drop Cookies
Key Lime Sugar Cookies
Sherill’s Secret Soft Gingerbread Boys