When a recipe calls for a cup of butter, it can be tricky to measure if you only have a full block or stick of butter to work with. There are a few different ways to accurately measure out the right amount without needing to melt the entire block of butter first.
Use a Kitchen Scale
One of the most accurate ways to measure butter from a stick or block is to use a kitchen scale. Here’s how:
- Set the scale to zero, placing an empty bowl or other container on it.
- Add butter from the stick to the bowl, stopping when the scale reads 8 ounces (1 cup of butter is 8 ounces).
- Remove the amount needed and return the rest of the stick to the fridge.
Using a kitchen scale ensures you measure the exact weight called for in the recipe. No guessing or trying to eyeball a cup’s worth!
Use Measuring Spoons
If you don’t have a kitchen scale, don’t worry! You can still measure butter accurately using measuring spoons:
- Start with chilled, firm butter straight from the refrigerator.
- Use a spoon or butter knife to slice off a 1-tablespoon size piece of butter.
- Pack it firmly into a measuring tablespoon, leveling off the top.
- Repeat, adding tablespoons to a measuring cup, until you reach the amount needed (8 tablespoons = 1 cup).
Packing the butter tightly into spoons for measurement allows you to portion out the right amount for recipes. Just be sure your butter is cold and hard enough to slice and pack well.
Measure Sticks Based on Markings
Many stick butter packages are marked with tablespoon lines along the wrapper. While not quite as precise as weighing or using spoons, this method can work in a pinch:
- Look at the wrapper markings and find the 1-cup line (usually around 7 or 8 tablespoons).
- Use a knife to slice off butter at the 1-cup line.
- Remove that portion and return the rest of the stick to the fridge.
The wrapper measurements won’t be perfectly accurate, but can get you very close in most cases. You may need to make small adjustments after measuring to get exactly 1 cup.
Soften and Pack into a Cup
If needed, you can soften a whole stick of butter briefly to room temperature and then pack it into a measuring cup:
- Remove a stick of butter from the fridge and let sit at room temperature 10-20 minutes until just softened, not completely melted.
- Use a rubber spatula or spoon to pack the butter firmly into a liquid measuring cup, pressing it down and filling the cup to the 1-cup line.
- Scrape off any excess butter above the line and return the rest of the stick to the fridge.
This isn’t the most precise technique, but can work when you need softened butter anyway, like for baking. Just avoid over softening or melting the butter completely.
Partial Stick Shortcuts
If your recipe needs only 1/2 cup or 1/4 cup butter, there are a couple easy shortcuts:
- For 1/2 cup, cut off a stick at the 4-tablespoon line on the wrapper.
- For 1/4 cup, cut off a stick at the 2-tablespoon line.
The wrapper marks make it easy to quickly portion smaller amounts of butter needed for recipes.
Things to Keep in Mind
No matter which measuring method you use, here are some tips for success:
- Start with cold, firm butter straight from the fridge for best results.
- Avoid over softening or melting butter when measuring – this causes volume inaccuracies.
- Always pack spoonfuls and cupfuls as tightly as possible when measuring.
- Level off measured butter with a straight edge like a knife before use.
- If melting butter, measure it before melting for the most accuracy.
- Store any leftover butter immediately in the fridge.
Converting Between Sticks, Cups and Grams
When working with butter, it’s helpful to know these basic equivalents:
- 1 stick of butter = 8 tablespoons = 4 ounces = 1/2 cup = 113 grams
- 2 sticks of butter = 16 tablespoons = 8 ounces = 1 cup = 227 grams
- 4 sticks of butter = 32 tablespoons = 1 pound = 2 cups = 454 grams
So if a recipe calls for 1 cup butter, you know immediately that’s 2 sticks or 1/2 pound needed. Knowing the conversions by weight and volume helps ensure your recipes turn out right.
Common Butter Packaging Sizes
The most common sizes of packaged butter are:
- Single sticks: 4 ounces or 1/2 cup
- 1 pound packages: 4 sticks or 2 cups
- 1.5 pound boxes: 6 sticks or 3 cups
- 2 pound boxes: 8 sticks or 4 cups
- 5 pound bulk tubs
Larger packages are more economical for bakers, restaurants and frequent cooks. Individual sticks and 1 pound packs are good for home cooks.
Tools for Measuring Butter
Having the right tools can make measuring butter much easier. Useful items include:
- Measuring cups (both liquid and dry measure styles)
- Measuring spoons
- Kitchen scale
- Butter knife
- Rubber spatula
- Cutting board
It’s also handy to keep some wax paper, parchment paper or plastic wrap on hand. This allows you to portion out butter sticks and rolls them into logs for later use.
Storing and Handling Butter
To keep butter fresh and make it easier to measure:
- Always store butter tightly wrapped in its original packaging in the refrigerator.
- If you open and use part of a stick, rewrap tightly in plastic wrap before returning to the fridge.
- Let refrigerated butter soften at room temperature 10-30 minutes before measuring if needed.
- Avoid leaving butter to sit out and melt – this causes volume inaccuracies.
- When portioning butter from a stick, make clean cuts with a sharp knife for best results.
In some recipes, you can substitute equal amounts of:
- Margarine – use stick formulas only.
- Shortening – look for baking/all-purpose shortening.
- Oil – look for neutral tasting oils like canola or vegetable.
However, keep in mind that butter has unique properties that impact texture and flavor. Substitutes won’t replicate these exactly.
Healthier Butter Options
For those looking to use less butter or lighter options:
- Look for whipped butter – it contains air so you use less.
- Try reduced-fat or light butters with less saturated fat.
- Use butter/oil blends that cut some butter with oil.
- Replace up to half the butter in baking recipes with applesauce or other purees.
Be mindful that reducing too much fat can impact texture and flavor. Make adjustments gradually as needed.
When You Need Melted Butter
For recipes requiring melted butter:
- Measure out the cold butter first, then melt it.
- Melt butter slowly over low heat on the stove or in the microwave.
- Avoid overheating – melted butter should be hot with golden liquid on top.
- Let melted butter cool briefly before using so it’s not too hot for ingredients.
- 1 cup solid butter equals about 3/4 cup melted.
Measuring butter before melting gives you the most accurate amount. Melting changes the volume and makes it challenging to measure precisely.
How Temperature Impacts Butter
Butter’s consistency and behavior changes based on its temperature:
|Refrigerated (35°F – 45°F)
|Hard, firm solid
|Best for cutting, slicing, spooning
|Room temperature (65°F – 72°F)
|Soft, malleable solid
|Easier to cream and blend
|Melted (90°F – 120°F+)
|Use for sauteing, pan frying
|Butter is breaking down
Understanding its temperature behavior helps ensure you measure, handle, and cook with butter properly.
How to Soften Butter Quickly
To soften butter in a hurry:
- Leave out sealed stick for 15-30 minutes
- Grate cold butter with a cheese grater
- Slice into thin patties
- Microwave 5-10 seconds at a time
- Place in a zip-top bag and massage
Avoid leaving butter to fully melt. Softening just until malleable makes it easier to measure and use in recipes.
To add air and volume to butter:
- Start with room temperature, softened butter.
- Whip with beaters or mixer on high speed about 2-5 minutes.
- Butter will become paler, fluffier and doubled in size.
- Use immediately or chill to retain whipped texture.
Don’t whip butter that’s too warm or it can melt. Chilled whipped butter holds its shape better for piping and spreading.
Clarified Butter vs. Ghee
Both clarified butter and ghee are forms of “drawn” butter, meaning modifications are made to keep just the pure butterfat:
- Clarified butter is cooked to separate and remove the milk solids, leaving just golden liquid butterfat.
- Ghee is cooked longer so the milk solids caramelize, giving it a nutty flavor.
Due to removing the milk solids, both types have a higher smoke point than regular butter. They can be measured like melted butter.
Baking With Butter Successfully
For best results when baking with butter:
- Use room temperature butter – cold butter won’t blend well.
- Don’t over-mix batters once butter is added.
- Melt and cool butter for pastry recipes to avoid overworking dough.
- Understand creaming butter properly contributes to lift and texture.
- Avoid substituting margarine if a recipe specifies butter – it will affect texture.
With accurate measuring and proper handling, butter enhances both the flavor and textures of baked goods.
Is Butter with Salt the Same?
Salted and unsalted butter contain the same ingredients, just in different proportions:
- Unsalted butter – just cream and butterfat, no added salt.
- Salted butter – contains 1-2% salt as a preservative and for flavor.
In most recipes salted and unsalted butter can be used interchangeably. But salted butter gives off a slightly salty taste when used in sweets.
Lactose Intolerance and Butter
Butter contains very little lactose, the sugar in milk that causes issues for lactose intolerant people.
- Butter is about 90% butterfat, which has no lactose.
- The remaining milk solids have minimal residual lactose.
- Clarified butter removes the milk solids and lactose entirely.
Most people with lactose intolerance can consume small amounts of regular butter or clarified butter with no issues.
Cultured butter is made from cream that has been fermented with live cultures before churning:
- The culturing process enhances flavor and tang.
- Common types include crème fraiche butter and European-style butters.
- Measure, handle and substitute the same as regular butter.
The richer, more complex taste makes cultured butter ideal for spreading on breads.
Buttercream Frosting Tips
When making buttercream frosting:
- Allow ingredients to reach room temperature for proper blending.
- Beat butter alone first, then add other ingredients.
- Add milk, cream or other liquids very gradually.
- Don’t rush mixing process – beat for several minutes to aerate.
- Add flavorings like extracts at the end.
Proper mixing technique and temperature allows butter and sugar to cream together into a light, smooth frosting.
Making Compound Butter
Compound butters are flavored by blending in extra ingredients:
- Start with room temperature, softened butter.
- Whip until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.
- Beat in herbs, spices, citrus, honey, etc. as desired.
- Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
- Shape, roll and slice to use.
Easy flavor variations include lemon, honey, garlic herb, cinnamon sugar, bacon and more. Get creative with mix-ins!
Troubleshooting Butter in Baking
If butter is causing issues in your baked goods:
- Use the temperature and consistency called for in the recipe.
- Avoid overworking once butter is added – be gentle.
- Measure accurately by weight for best results.
- Make sure creaming process fully incorporates air.
- Adjust baking times/temps to account for environment.
Butter baking problems often stem from inaccurate measuring, improper mixing and failing to account for environment factors.
Whether creaming it into frosting or baking perfect pastries, learning how to properly measure and handle butter is an essential kitchen skill. With the right techniques and tools – plus an understanding of butter’s unique properties – you can confidently use, portion, substitute and melt butter for all your cooking and baking recipes.