What is butter? This is a question most of us think we know the answer to but actually don’t. According to Bread and Buzz, if you want to figure out butter’s role in bread baking, it is crucial to get into the fundamentals of what this ingredient really is.
So, What Is Butter?
Butter is the fat produced when you churn or agitate fresh cream. The process of churning separates the liquid part of the butter (buttermilk) and the solid part (butterfat).
In most grocery stores, you will find a wide selection of butter from different brands. Often, these are made using cow’s milk. If you search long and hard enough, you will also find butter made using the milk of other animals, such as goats, buffalo, or sheep.
What Are the Types of Butter?
You will come across many brands using the term “butter” heedlessly, sometimes even interchangeably with margarine. As such, you would want to double-check the ingredients list if it is real butter you’re adding to your cart. Once you’re sure it is indeed butter, take note of the important distinctions between different types.
Salted Sweet Cream
The name clues you in on this type of butter’s additional content, which is salt. Each stick is estimated to have at least a quarter teaspoon of salt.
As great as this butter is as a spread for bagels and toasts, it doesn’t perform as well in baking due to its high sodium content. That’s because a single slip can result in some salty finished products. Then, there’s the issue of salt’s preserving quality, which tends to mask the real age of your salted butter.
Unsalted Sweet Cream
If there’s salted sweet cream, it’s only natural for there to be an unsalted version. This happens to be available in three categories: B, A, and AA. These letters refer to the quality, flavor, and texture of the butter in ascending order. You’ll find this type of butter to be a staple in most baking recipes because of how it helps manage sodium content.
Compared to its American counterpart, European butter is richer and softer due to its higher milk fat content. While the standard American butter has somewhere close to 80 percent of milk fat, European butter has around five percent more at 85 percent. In countries like France, it has even been written into law that butter should contain at least 82 percent milk fat.
The Importance of Butter in Baking
What are the key roles butter plays in the bread-baking process?
Butter is known for its high fat content. Its use in baking results in a creamy, moist texture that’s a must-have for your chocolate cakes, breads, and cookies.
Butter can infuse a variety of flavors into your pastries, from a caramelized, nutty taste to a barely-there, grassy sweetness. Of course, the flavor will depend on where the butter came from.
Then, there’s the fact that the “butter” flavor is in a league of its own and just can’t be copied. Butter-flavored products can only do so much to enrich your pastry.
One major component of butter is water, which evaporates when exposed to the heat of an oven. The process of evaporation causes steam, which gets stuck inside the gluten strands of the bread, giving it an airy crumb and flakiness. This then results in either your puff pastries, pies, or croissants.
Butter also makes baked goods more tender. To put this in perspective, imagine how tough lean bread is because of its lack of fat. Without butter to soften these pastries up, they remain chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. On the other hand, butterfat in certain breads inhibits the creation of gluten strands, leading to a softer and richer finished product.
Since butter remains solid at room temperature, it falls under the umbrella term known as “shortening.” This relates to the process by which fat cuts the production of gluten strands, resulting in the softening of pastry texture. It basically slows down the formation of gluten, bringing tenderness into the final product.
When Should You Use Cold or Soft Butter?
How perfectly you bake something with butter is also influenced by the state the butter is in.
If you’re looking to bake flaky pastries, such as scones, puff pastry, pies, or biscuits, cold butter is the way to go. Why so? Butter in a “cold” state separates itself from the dough, which is crucial to creating that flaky texture.
Butter that you cream with sugar needs to be softened. That means you need to warm your butter up before aerating it with sugar and mixing in the rest of the ingredients. In doing so, you’re able to create an entire network of air, sugar, and fat that helps achieve a fluffier finished product.
Using the Right Kind of Butter for Bread
First of all, you need to establish that the kind of bread you’re baking requires butter (yes, some breads don’t). Once done, make sure you are using the right kind of butter, or you’ll be disappointed with the results. The right kind of butter can offer a leeway in case you’re off on the ratio, while the wrong kind won’t be as forgiving on your product.