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Learning from my mistakes

One of my philosophies I espoused on my home page is this: We can learn from our mistakes.

No matter how much knowledge I have between my culinary education and professional work experiences, there is always room to learn more. . . AND to make more mistakes!

Recently, I took a gamble when buying ingredients for baking projects, and I lost.

I tend to be a purist when it comes to baking ingredients: don’t cut corners, only use the good stuff.  Substitutions never taste as good as the best quality ingredients.  But when I went to the grocery to stock up on butter during a recent sale (it keeps really well in the freezer), I found that I had actually missed the sale date.  So rather than purchasing butter at full cost ($3-4 per pound), I decided to try a less expensive store brand for $2 per pound. (MISTAKE #1!)  As it turns out, even though the butter was labeled “sweet cream butter” (which usually indicates it is unsalted), this particular brand was actually salted.

I always use UNSALTED butter for baking.  The reason is that most recipes call for salt, and using salted butter would make your product taste too salty.  It is possible to substitute salted butter for unsalted butter in a recipe, but then you also need to omit or reduce the amount of salt you use in the recipe.

So I decided that I would try the less expensive, salted butter and hope that I could make the necessary adjustments to my recipes so that it wouldn’t affect the taste adversely.

MISTAKE #2: I–for some inexplicable reason–decided to try the salted butter in my buttercream frosting recipe.  I thought that since salt is a flavor enhancer, it might actually make my buttercream taste better.  WRONG.  I made a big double batch of buttercream frosting for a birthday cake order, but I didn’t taste the butter before I made the recipe.  It wasn’t until after the buttercream was completely finished that I tasted it for flavoring and found that it was WAY too salty.

I contemplated making another batch of buttercream using unsalted butter as usual and then mixing the 2 batches together to try to minimize the saltiness of the original batch.  But when I tested a small sample of a 50-50 ratio of the two batches together, it was still way too salty.

So I finally decided to cut my losses and throw the salty buttercream away.  Talk about learning from my mistakes!  It was very frustrating to waste all my time and ingredients by throwing it all out.  But better to provide my customers with a quality product than to try to pass off an inferior product and hope that they won’t notice.

Lesson learned: save the salted butter for cooking or toast.  Always use unsalted butter in baking!