Softened or cold butter for shortcrust pastry?
A lot of recipes tell you to use cold butter for the best flaky shortcrust pastry and shortbread. They advise to cut it in with knives and work quickly in order to keep the temperature down. Occasionally, recipes advise to use softened butter for making pastry. Which is better?
Softened or chilled?
My tried and tested technique is to use butter at room temperature to mix it into flour for shortcrust pastry. But then the pastry must be chilled in the fridge for any amount of time from an hour to several days.
Before cutting your biscuits or making the tart, the pastry must return to more or less room temperature, otherwise it will crack, break and crumble while being rolled. Cut or shaped biscuits and pastries need to be chilled briefly again for best results.
Of course it depends on a recipe - sometimes good shortcrust pastry is made with not only softened but even melted butter. Other times - when all the other ingredients are supposed to be cold too, e.g if using iced water for the pastry - keep the butter cold and dice it. But the above works for everyday short pastry very well.