Butter vs. Margarine
Aside from taste and texture, butter and margarine act about the same when baking; so you can use either in recipes that don’t specifically call for butter. If choosing margarine, make sure to choose sticks that are at least 80 percent vegetable oil. But hold out for butter when you make sugar cookies, shortbread, pastry crusts, or candy that involves boiled syrup.
Other Types of Butter
Salted and unsalted butter can be used interchangeably for baking holiday cookies. When using unsalted butter, a little more salt may be required in the recipe.
Avoid using light margarine, whipped margarine, or spreads in your holiday cookies. Their high water content and low fat content provide poor results.
Perfectly Softened: Butter is soft (leaves a slight indentation when touched lightly) yet still holds its shape. Too Soft: Butter is overly softened and doesn’t hold its shape. Partially Melted: Butter is overly softened and has started to melt.
Let butter soften at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. You can also soften it in the microwave. If the butter is too soft, the dough will be too soft and will cause the cookies to spread too much. If the butter is too cold, it won’t cream well.
Always store butter in the fridge. Keep butter either in its original container or a re-sealable plastic food bag for up to a month. (This will keep the unwanted flavors of other foods out.) Find the coldest spot in the fridge to store butter, rather than the refrigerator door.
Thinking ahead? Freeze butter by wrapping the original carton in an airtight re-sealable plastic bag or aluminum foil. Freeze for four-to-six months. Once thawed, use within a month.
Cookie recipes call for butter in a number of ways: by the stick, cup, tablespoon, or pound. Wrappers on sticks of butter are usually marked into tablespoons to make it easy to measure.
If not using sticks, push softened butter into a dry measuring cup that has been coated with a cooking spray for easy removal. Press with a spoon or spatula to remove air pockets and level off with a knife.