I present to you two equally frustrating butter-based baking scenarios. In the first, it’s 8 pm on a cold winter night and you want to make holiday cookies, but the butter is frozen, and even if you move it to the counter now, it won’t be room temperature for, um, three years . In the second, you want to make pie on the hottest day of the summer, but the butter starts melting as soon as you take it out of the refrigerator (and considering that the key to flaky crust is cold butter, you’re doomed) . Call it the Rule of Butter: No matter what you want to bake, butter will never be at the correct temperature.
Enter, from stage right, melted butter. It can be made from rock-solid butter and droopy-oozy butter alike, and in a matter of minutes. Melted butter can also be incorporated into a batter or dough with just a spatula—no need to dig out the pastry cutter or stand mixer.
It’s because melted butter is so low-maintenance—quick to make, easy to use—that’s an essential ingredient in Jessie Sheehan’s new cookbook Snackable Bakes, in which all of the recipes can be prepared in 20 minutes. “I’m always thinking about time and speed and how to make a dessert as easy and as quickly as possible,” Sheehan tells me. “So I’m the person who will develop a recipe starting with melted butter. And if it can work, I’m going there.” Within the book, Sheehan “goes there” with peanut butter cookies, shortbread, and cakes—all of which often call for creaming room-temp butter with sugar until fluffy. And, get this, she even uses melted butter in her Easiest Ever Crust. A typical pie dough recipe will instruct you to rub cold butter into flour before quickly stirring in cold water and giving the mixture time to chill and hydrate, but Sheehan’s version takes about five minutes: Stir together flour, sugar, and baking powder, mix in melted butter and milk, and then press it into the pie plate. You don’t even need to get out a rolling pin.
of course, melted butter can’t achieve exactly what cold butter can† In the case of pie dough, cold butter steams in the oven, creating the air pockets that make for flaky layers; melted butter, on the other hand, creates a tender, more shortbread-like crust—buttery and delicious all the same, but firmer and more compact. In recipes that rely on creamed butter for structure, like cakes and cookies, melted butter won’t provide the same fluffiness. “While you can get away with melted fat in more places than you would think,” says Sheehan, who has even tried it in scones and biscuits, it’s about “managing your expectations.” Your pie crust may not turn out as flaky as one you’ve rested and folded, but what you lose in multiple, shattering layers you’ll save in time. And, sometimes, melted butter actually produces a more desirable texture. If, for example, the idea of a cakey or fluffy cookie makes you cringe, seek out recipes that call for melted butter, which produces denser, lower-profile results.
But what about the cases where you really do need room temperature butter, like buttercream? Sheehan is a big advocate of the microwave. Place an unwrapped whole stick of butter straight from your fridge in the microwave and heat in 10-second increments, flipping it over to a new side between zaps until it’s soft enough to yield easily to your fingertip. See? There’s always a faster way.