The price of butter hit a record seasonal high in April, fuelled by consumer demand and limited milk supplies. If you’re concerned by costs, are there alternatives?
Butter prices hit record monthly highs in April following lower than expected milk production, pushing the price 25 per cent higher than it was just a year ago.
But it’s not just milk supply affecting price: consumer demand for fats is growing, pushing the price higher.
Studies re-assessing the link between saturated fats and heart disease have encouraged consumers to re-embrace butter in cooking and baking, Farmers’ Weekly say.
So as the price increases, how concerned should those of us who bake regularly be? And are there any alternatives?
In baking, butter adds tenderness, moistness and smoothness to recipes – and a distinct taste – but, technically, other fats can also fulfil these functions.
So over the years I have experimented with alternatives, often under the guise of trying to be healthier – as nothing puts you off eating your cake than seeing exactly how much butter and sugar goes in it.
I’ve tried oils, cream and the odd vegetable to act as the wet ingredient and to provide the texture. But can anything really replace butter in baking?
What are the alternatives?
Many of the ‘healthier’ recipes I’ve come across – think those you find in ‘raw’, ‘clean’ and Vegan cookbooks – substitute avocados or coconut oil for butter, but on supermarket shelves these are often more expensive than butter.
For a moister and less perishable cake, substitutes such as vegetable oil are more common. I find this works well in chocolate cakes and is cheaper than butter.
— Food Republic (@foodrepublic) February 21, 2016
Rachel Allen has a recipe for a butter-less cake, which i stumbled across at the weekend while looking for a sponge recipe, where water stands in for the wet ingredients – but I’ve not given this a go myself.
In terms of that old popular baking staple, margarine, I can’t say I’ve used it in since the 90s. I got lost in the polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat battles of that era – and stuck to butter, with an approach of a little and not too often as part of a balanced diet.
(And, yes, I believe that cake can form part of a balanced diet, as long as you are not eating it everyday!)
Anyway, because of its higher water content, margarine can’t be substituted like-for-like in butter recipes – so it’s not as versatile as you might think.
What about toppings?
Most cakes aren’t complete without a filling or topping, so what are the alternatives to butter here?
A simple glacé icing – of just icing sugar and water mixed together – can make a wonderful sticky glaze on many cakes.
And of course, whipped cream can work wonders on a Victoria sponge, with jam to sweeten.
Melted chocolate too can finish off a cake. I also sometimes use edible flowers on my cakes or just leave them bare.
I am traditionalist when it comes to many cakes, with Mary Berry and Lorraine Pascale being my go-to advisors – so there’s little chance I’ll be giving up butter anytime soon.
Of course, I’ll continue to experiment round the edges with new alternatives where they offer something new to my repertoire.
But I’m used to the reliable taste and texture I get when baking with butter. And if that means paying a bit more for it at the till, I’m prepared for that.
Is butter key to your baking? Or do you use alternatives like avocados?